Ever since Ed Woodward took over from David Gill as Chief Executive of Manchester United, he has been trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat in terms of a jaw dropping transfer. He has had a series of near misses and has secured some big name flops, but he has finally managed to hit the jackpot with Paul Pogba.
Mistakes made chasing lost causes
In his first transfer window, he and United were led a merry dance by Cesc Fabregas. He fluttered his eyelashes in United's direction and both David Moyes and Woodward spent the majority of the summer flogging a dead horse. The Spaniard played United like a fiddle and secured a new deal at the Nou Camp. A Fabregas deal wouldn't have made the football world sit up, but he would have added a lot of quality.
The failed pursuit of Fabregas meant United took their eye off other targets, and that meant missing out on a big fish. They tried to hijack Real Madrid's deal to take Gareth Bale to the Bernabeu and apparently bid more than Madrid. Tottenham agreed the fee, but Bale already had his heart set on Spain and United were thwarted.
Woodward was extremely ambitious considering it was all new to him and it showed his intentions, but it would set the tone for things to come. As we know Maroune Fellaini was the only signing, and even though the following January United broke their transfer record to get Juan Mata from rivals Chelsea, it still didn't have the feel that it was sending any shock waves.
In the summer of 2014, Woodward talked about being comfortable with spending money to the point that United could break the world record transfer. It was clear that money was burning a hole in his pocket, and he did pull off two pretty big coups. Angel Di Maria was bought for an mammoth £59.7m and was swiftly followed by a loan move for the deadly Radamel Falcao from Monaco.
Di Maria had just helped secure a Champions League trophy for Madrid but their signing of the star of the World Cup, James Rodriguez, forced the Argentine out of the door. The transfer fee was probably inflated, as was Mata's, but it was setting a trend that Woodward for one did not seem to mind. Two broken transfer records in the space of a few months, and a massive loan deal for one of the worlds best strikers.
Big names flopped
Unfortunately, Di Maria couldn't settle and Falcao couldn't overcome his injuries and after just one season both were gone. So two near misses and two big name flops and by the end of the 2015 summer transfer window it would be three and three. Sergio Ramos did what Fabregas had done two years earlier. Unsettled at Madrid, he made big noises about coming to Old Trafford.
It was another saga that would only serve to get the player in question a better deal with their employers. United it seemed, and maybe Woodward in particular were looking gullible. They were willingly paying over the odds, and chased after any reasonably decent player that showed the slightest bit of interest in a move to United, yet in reality had no intention of going through with a move.
Maybe this did resonate, because in amongst the Ramos debacle, United did do quite a bit of business and early in the window at relatively good value - including another big name in Bastian Schweinsteiger. He didn't come for a huge fee, but as he turned 31 years of age before kicking a ball for United, it wasn't surprising. It probably shouldn't be that much of a surprise that it looks like he will follow Di Maria and Falcao in being a one season 'wonder'.
Woodward hasn't shown a huge amount of savvy in the transfer market. He has at times took a scatter-gun approach, he has wasted a lot of money, and despite United winning the FA Cup, at the end of last season they did not look in any better shape than when Sir Alex Ferguson retired, and arguably a lot worse off. Yet it wasn't all down to Woodward.
Managers didn't help Woodward
Moyes was a good appointment, but he really couldn't hit the ground running. Both he and Woodward made mistakes early on, but there is no question that Moyes would have blown as much cash as Woodward would have let him. He was like a kid in a sweet shop after years of penny pinching at Everton, but they couldn't get those mega deals over the line and that led to more upheaval.
Louis van Gaal coming in after the World Cup didn't really help. United did deals for Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera very early on, but wit the Di Maria and Falcao signings, you couldn't help feeling that there was a little bit of desperation, and with hindsight it may even be questioned if van Gaal even sanctioned the deals. Certainly he never seemed to take to either player, though their performances may have had something to do with that.
You can now draw a line under everything that's gone before. Despite sacking two full time managers in three years, and effectively ending a legend's association with United, by bringing in Jose Mourinho Woodward finally had a platform on which to work towards his holy grail. Not with ageing has beens, cast off's or half decent players, but with pure quality.
Each new signings have gone up a notch
Eric Bailly was the first, and surprised a few people. £30m for a player with roughly 50 La Liga appearances behind him is steep, but he looks solid and it was only the appitiser. The starter, Henrikh Mkhitaryan came next. Bundesliga player of the year, classy playmaker. Not a groundbreaking signing, but definite quality and at around £27m, it was whetting fans' appetites.
When Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced he was leaving Paris St Germain, he helped orchestrate a guessing game as to where his next destination might be. The smart money was on a reunion with Mourinho, but Zlatan teased. He teased and teased until his contract ran out, and then never even let United do the announcement, breaking the news himself.
It could be argued that at 34 years of age, he could go the same way as Falcao or Schweinsteiger, but of whom were considerably younger. Yet both had suffered injuries, and that is something that Ibrahimovic has been lucky with. As with his appearances so far, he may lack a touch of mobility but he is clearly fit. He has created a buzz at Old Trafford, and is some main course.
So what for dessert? The cherry on the icing on the cake came with the soap opera of the summer, the return of Paul Pogba. The fee has been much talked about. Believed to be £89m with add ons, there are plenty of critics claiming he is overpriced. Certain managers think the fee is crazy. Most non-United fans are apoplectic. Ed Woodward is probably like the cat who got the cream, and it's doubtful he cares one jot what other's think.
Mourinho hit the nail on the head when he said Madrid don't complain about paying world record transfer fees, they celebrate the fact. I think Woodward may have popped a champagne cork as well. He understands what he has now finally accomplished. His background is marketing, and this is not about how much the fee is, it is symbolic. And it's a marketing dream.
The cost is irrelevant
Manchester United have the most expensive footballer in the world. Not Real Madrid. Every time record fees are mentioned, Manchester United will be mentioned. And Adidas. They have been chomping at the bit for this to happen as well. They never agreed a £750m sponsorship deal for United to sign Daley Blind and finish fifth. Not that Blind is a bad player mind, but you get the point. They want a Pogba, draped head to to with their brand.
If United paid £50m for Pogba, people within football may say it was about right, value for money. It's not about the money. Arsene Wenger is fretting over paying 30 or £40m on a striker he desperately needs, and whilst his frugal policy is admirable, if he doesn't wise up soon then he and his team won't even be the perennial also ran's that they so consistently are.
Whatever excess United paid for Pogba will be taken care of with sponsorships and shirt sales, and the only thing remains is for the thoroughbreds to run their race. The Premier League has the best managers in the world, has more money than any other league and is going to be cut throat this season. United do have a responsibility to deliver on the pitch now.
Mourinho and his bunch of merry men have to ensure that this ends as more than a marketing ploy, because Ed has done his bit. He finally got his got his man. He can put his feet up now.