Why don't Manchester United IMPROVE players anymore?

Why don’t Man United IMPROVE players anymore? Rio Ferdinand said Bruno Fernandes is their only signing in 10 years to get better at the club and he’s right… despite £1.15BILLION in outlay, players from Pogba to Di Maria, Martial to Lukaku have withered

  • Rio Ferdinand made the claim in the wake of Man United’s loss to Everton
  • Ex-defender said Fernandes was the only player in 10 years to actually improve 
  • Despite an outlay of over £1bn since 2012, very few signings have got better
  • A case might be made for the likes of Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw
  • But a huge number of expensive signings have gone backwards at Old Trafford
  • Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Anthony Martial are just three prime examples 

It was a scathing critique but a scarily accurate one.

As all connected to Manchester United went through another bout of introspection following last Saturday’s lacklustre defeat to Everton, Rio Ferdinand made a bold statement.

The former defender said that out of all United’s signings in the last decade, only Bruno Fernandes has actually developed as a player during his time with the club.

Rio Ferdinand suggested that Bruno Fernandes is the only Manchester United signing in the past decade to have improved while at Old Trafford

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Ferdinand said Fernandes has improved his game since arriving at Old Trafford in 2020

‘I don’t know any others that have come and you actually go, “Oh, he’s actually miles better! We’ll get more money for him now!” There’s none,’ he said.

It took a Cristiano Ronaldo hattrick to help see United past Norwich on Saturday and Ferdinand’s point rang true again.  

Given United have spent around £1.15billion on new signings since the beginning of Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season as manager a decade ago, that is a damning indictment of how a wildly successful club has been allowed to decline.

Those 10 years have seen four managers and a fifth to come this summer, a constant churn of largely inadequate players and just a handful of trophies.

During the Ferguson glory years, pretty much every player would improve during their time at Old Trafford. As the saying went, the only way after United was down and for many years that was true.

But since 2012, as Ferdinand said, pretty much every player brought in – including many at enormous cost – has either treaded water or got worse while at the club.

Sir Alex Ferguson signed off by lifting the Premier League trophy in the 2012-13 season

10 years of drift and decline have followed with United now miles away from winning trophies

And few things more clearly illustrate the lack of joined-up thinking and absence of a consistent culture as United have chopped and changed managers than this sweeping lack of player improvement.

Fernandes really is the exception. Since arriving mid-way through the 2019-20 season, the Portuguese playmaker has generally been first class for United.

His transfer fee may now approach £68million with all the extras but that looks a bargain, certainly in comparison with other big money arrivals at United.

Even allowing for a drop-off in goal and assist returns this season, not to mention the odd stroppy moment, Fernandes has both improved United and been improved by being at United relative to the man who arrived from Sporting Lisbon.

Not that United would have any desire to sell the 27-year-old on in the near future but, by Ferdinand’s logic, he would be one of the few to not only hold but increase their transfer value.

Fernandes was excellent for United last season but has often looked frustrated this campaign

There haven’t been many. If you go back 10 years, it could be argued that Robin van Persie briefly improved after his £24m move from Arsenal in 2012 in that he finally won the Premier League title.

But the Dutch striker was already a top class striker and a major factor in him agreeing the switch was the chance to work under Ferguson.

His final two seasons with United – after Ferguson’s retirement – were plagued by injuries and he wasn’t able to maintain the same scoring standards.

Juan Mata, a signing of desperation midway through the ill-fated David Moyes season in 2013-14, might arguably be added to Ferdinand’s list.

For two or three years, he was the chief lock-picker in United’s midfield and helped them win the FA Cup in 2016 and the Europa League the following year.

Robin van Persie achieved his title-winning ambition before his time at United tailed off

But let’s not forget that Mata scored 33 goals and provided 58 assists in two-and-a-half seasons at Chelsea, helping them win the Champions League, so it was more continued excellence rather than improvement.

A stronger case could be made for Ander Herrera, signed from Athletic Bilbao for £32m in 2014, and would make almost 200 United appearances over five seasons.

He was the club’s player of the year in 2016-17, when they won the EFL Cup and the Europa League, which says a lot about his abilities.

And the other candidate for improvement is Luke Shaw but this took a considerable amount of time after injury woes and a frosty relationship with Jose Mourinho.

Ander Herrera falls into the very small category of players who improved when with United

Luke Shaw took a good while to get better but flourished under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 

Only under the more constructive coaching of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did Shaw hit the best form of his career last season. Though in common with a good few others, his form has slumped in recent months.

But that’s about it. As Ferdinand alludes to, the list of players who have gone downhill since coming to United is much longer.

United paid a world record £89m for Paul Pogba but it’s hard to argue he has become a world class footballer during his time there

Paul Pogba is the prime example, the man United broke the world transfer record to sign from Juventus for £89m in 2016.

Only very rarely in the five years since has the midfielder looked world class for United, a fact made all the more baffling by his World Cup-winning exploits for France.

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As Pogba prepares to depart United this summer, very few fans will be shedding any tears and his backwards slide is highlighted by the lack of concrete interest in signing him, even for nothing.

Pogba is 29 and should be at the peak of his powers. United haven’t even enjoyed the powerhouse Pogba who dominated games for Juventus, let alone coach him into an even better player and he was booed off on Saturday after cupping his ears to the fans. His relationship with the supporters appears to be at an all time low, and that’s saying something. 

What about other bank-busting buys? Angel Di Maria was a European champion when bought for £67m in 2014. He never settled in Manchester and United were forced to cut their losses just a year later.

Anthony Martial’s transfer fee has grown incrementally larger since 2015. The striker was 20 when he arrived with the potential to be one of the world’s best.

He’s enjoyed some good moments, especially in his first season, but the general trend has been downwards. Now 26, Martial is out on loan at Sevilla because Solskjaer didn’t want to play him.


Angel Di Maria (left) and Anthony Martial (right) are among expensive United flops

He didn’t get picked by France when they won the 2018 World Cup and he isn’t likely to be involved in Qatar later this year. Another expensive waste.

Harry Maguire, who cost £80m in 2019, was very good last season and for England at Euro 2020 last summer. But the club captain has been a liability at times this season and it would be a push to argue he has improved while at United.

Fellow defenders Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who all came with pretty chunky transfer fees, have hardly become world beaters during their time at Old Trafford.

Harry Maguire was in good form last season but has slumped again in the current campaign


Alexis Sanchez (left) and Romelu Lukaku (right) also never reached their potential at United

Then there’s the big list of dross who have been and gone, none of whom improved in any way, shape or form with United: Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku et al.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of transfer outlay squandered on players who didn’t improve United’s team nor improved enough personally so they could sell on at a profit.

So Rio is right and whoever comes in as United’s next manager has the unenviable task of rebuilding them from the ground up.




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