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Big spenders

How Manchester United have wasted £1 billion on transfer signings since Ferguson's retirement

9:00 AM EDT 7/3/22
Manchester United big spenders GFX
Despite the massive outlay, United are no closer to winning the Premier League title

Manchester United have spent more than £1 billion ($1.2bn) in transfer fees since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, with Erik ten Hag now embarking on the latest squad overhaul this summer. The Dutchman has already recruited Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia for a combined £62m ($75m), with Christian Eriksen arriving as a free agent.

More money will likely be spent before the close of the summer transfer window, with Ten Hag hoping to sign Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong and Ajax winger Antony to strengthen a squad that has made an embarrassing start to the new Premier League season.

It is staggering that United remain a club in crisis, given how cash has been splashed over the past nine years.

Indeed, once performance-related add-ons are factored in, their base outlay on recruitment currently stands at £1.008bn ($1.218bn) on 42 different players.

And it is a measure of their spending post-Ferguson that not one of his signings feature in their 15 most expensive transfers.

More importantly, it is a sign of the amount of money wasted over the span of nearly a decade without the Premier League title – and five years since they last won a trophy.

New chief executive Richard Arnold has to end that period of shambolic transfer dealings – and the mantra of his first summer window has been to spend wisely.

Only time will tell how United’s latest reboot works out but, as this list proves, money is no guarantee of success...

  • Victor Lindelof Man Utd 2021-22

    #15 Victor Lindelof | £31m | Benfica | 2017

    The first of four centre-backs on this list, Lindelof was signed by Mourinho as a ball-playing defender, intended to form a long-term partnership with Eric Bailly.

    Has served United commendably, but there are serious doubts as to whether he is a top calibre central defender, which is why so much money has been spent on Maguire, Varane and Martinez since his arrival.

    Likely to struggle for regular playing time under Ten Hag.

  • Raphael Varane Man Utd 2021-22

    #14 Raphael Varane | £34m | Real Madrid | 2021

    Varane was a target for Ferguson before his move from Lens to Real in 2011.

    So, it looked like smart business when Solskjaer moved for the France international, with a fee of £34m ($41m) a relative bargain for an all-time great still in his prime.

    But he was underwhelming in his first season at the club – and faces a fight just to hold onto his place following the arrival of Martinez.

  • Donny van de Beek - Manchester United 2022/23

    #13 Donny van de Beek | £35m | Ajax | 2020

    One of the stars of Ajax’ run to the Champions League semi-final in 2019, Van de Beek looked destined to be a star.

    But it just hasn’t happened for him at United, with fans left dumbfounded by his lack of opportunities.

    That could change now he’s been reunited with former Ajax manager Ten Hag – but the arrival of Eriksen and pursuit of De Jong may push him further down the pecking order.

  • Anthony Martial

    #12 Anthony Martial | £36m | Monaco | 2015

    Louis van Gaal described the French starlet as his gift to Ryan Giggs, his then assistant, who was tipped to succeed him as manager. Best laid plans and all that…

    Martial has too often felt like a problem, rather than a gift. A succession of managers have tried to coax consistency out of him, with little joy, despite his undeniable talent.

    The fee United eventually paid for him, rose to around £50m ($60m) with performance-related bonuses.

  • Juan Mata Manchester United 2021-22

    #11 Juan Mata | £37.1m | Chelsea | 2014

    A club-record signing for David Moyes, who believed Mata would be the star of his Old Trafford rebuild.

    Moyes had spent the previous summer deliberating over Thiago Alcantara and ultimately failing to convince Cesc Fabregas to join.

    In the January window, United moved swiftly for Mata, with Moyes planning to pair him with Toni Kroos the following summer.

    Those plans were abandoned when the Scot was sacked in April, having missed out on Champions League qualification.

  • Nemanja Matic Manchester United 21/22

    #10 Nemanja Matic | £40m | Chelsea | 2017

    Matic felt like a coup when Mourinho willed him away from Chelsea – and the Serbian added steel to a United midfield that had been lacking it for some time.

    But his best years were behind him and he became emblematic of United’s lack of pace and invention in the middle of the pitch in comparison to rivals like City.

  • Bruno Fernandes Man Utd 2021-22

    #9 Bruno Fernandes | £47m | Sporting CP | 2020

    Without him, Solskjaer would have struggled to survive his first full season in charge.

    United were in dire straits before the Portugal midfielder was signed in the January window for an initial £47m ($57m).

    Scored 12 goals in 22 games to fire United into the Champions League and make himself an instant hero.

    United could have signed him the previous summer, but opted to wait. Who knows what they might have achieved if they’d had him for the entire campaign?

  • Lisandro Martinez Ajax 2021-22

    #8 Lisandro Martinez | £48.9m | Ajax | 2022

    One of Ten Hag’s first big calls as manager, his former Ajax centre-half is key to his plans to overhaul United’s playing style, given Martinez is good with the ball at his feet and able to play out from the back.

    However, there are already concerns over whether he is tall enough to deal with the Premier League's most imposing centre-forwards, with the 5'9'' (1.75 metre) Argentine having struggled terribly in his first couple of games.

  • Aaron Wan-Bissaka Manchester United 2021-22

    #7 Aaron Wan-Bissaka | £50m | Crystal Palace | 2019

    United infamously ran through a database of 804 right-backs across the globe before settling on Wan-Bissaka – an Englishman playing for Premier League rivals Palace. And they had to pay a premium for him, too.

    An excellent one-on-one defender, his weaknesses going forward remain an issue. Could leave this summer if an acceptable offer comes in.

  • Fred Manchester United Liverpool 2022-23

    #6 Fred | £52m | Shakhtar Donetsk | 2018

    Another Guardiola target, the Brazilian looked set to move to Manchester City the previous January – but United swooped when their rivals failed to meet Shakhtar’s asking price.

    Fred has been a figure of ridicule at times – but has gradually begun to win round United fans.

    He was one of the few highlights of last season’s miserable campaign but there are still questions over whether he is United class.

  • Angel di Maria

    #5 Angel Di Maria | £59.7m | Real Madrid | 2014

    The Argentina winger sent fans wild after his arrival from Real when he was immediately handed the iconic No.7 shirt.

    Despite an impressive start – scoring three times in his first five games – things unravelled quickly.

    His struggles to settle weren’t helped when his home was robbed – but it is remarkable United couldn’t make it work with such a stellar talent.

  • Jadon Sancho Manchester United City 2021-22

    #4 Jadon Sancho | £73m | Borussia Dortmund | 2021

    A long-term target for United, Sancho eventually arrived at Old Trafford in the summer of 2021, with the club believing they had landed a future club legend.

    But Sancho wasn’t helped by Solskjaer’s sacking just a few months into the season and his struggles to settle saw him lose his England place.

    There were signs of his quality towards the end of the campaign and Ten Hag expects him to be a key part of his attack.

  • Romelu Lukaku Man United

    #3 Romelu Lukaku | £75m | Everton | 2017

    Tasked with the job of filling the shoes left by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lukaku started in stunning form – scoring 11 goals in his first 10 games.

    He then netted once one in his next 12, but still ended the season with 27 in all competitions.

    The Belgian couldn’t follow that up, though, and was sold to Inter, with Solskjaer struggling to fit him into his system.

    His actual cost will have been much closer to £90m after add-ons.

  • Harry Maguire

    #2 Harry Maguire | £80m | Leicester | 2019

    Jose Mourinho had wanted the England international a year earlier – and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made him his top target in his first summer window in charge.

    United beat Pep Guardiola to Maguire’s signature and quickly installed him as captain.

    Impressed in his first two seasons – but struggled badly last term, leading to heavy criticism from fans.

    Desperately needs to rediscover his form under Ten Hag.

  • Paul Pogba transfert Manchester United 105 M€

    #1 Paul Pogba | £89m | Juventus | 2016

    The Frenchman was meant to be a statement of intent from former executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, and United owners, the Glazers.

    Ferguson had been infuriated when Pogba walked away from United’s academy as a free agent – and Woodward made it his mission to bring him back.

    A world-record signing from Juventus, the midfielder would lead France to victory at the 2018 World Cup – but was a major disappointment back at United.

    He could produce moments of magic, but was far too inconsistent to inspire the club to former glories.

    Returned to Juve as a free agent this summer.