This summer transfer window pointed to a curious trend at Manchester United.
While the Red Devils were shy and frankly disappointing in their first-team pursuits, they did exercise a lot of resources in bolstering their youth options.
The obvious names in this regard are Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo but the trend extends even to their younger arrivals, the very transfers that supporters raised their eyebrows at as the players were deemed too young to make a sizable dent in the fortunes of the first team.
However, it is entirely possible that in doing so, United may be emulating the strategy set in place by Real Madrid as of recent.
Essentially, Los Blancos are moving their transfer plans to acquire young players just before their breakthrough campaigns or destinations. This is in direct opposition to their erstwhile trend of signing big players and is evidenced by the fact that in the last four campaigns, Eden Hazard was their only top-tier, big-money signing.
A stark proof of the same can be seen in the fact that Madrid’s best young player of last campaign, Federico Valverde, was signed for a mere €5 million. Incidentally, Pellistri was purchased from the same club as Valverde – Penarol.
This trend seems to continue for other promising players within Zinedine Zidane’s roster – Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo, and Reinier Jesus Carvalho. All these Brazilians cost a decent bit. As such, the focus is clearly on signing promising youngsters to build the team around, even if they are pricey, and not just on populating the roster with Galacticos – expensive proven players well into their prime.
Now, this can be directly compared to what United have been doing and particularly the signings they’ve made as of recent. In the likes of Hannibal Mejbri, Diallo, and Pellistri, the Red Devils have a clear intent to try and acquire youngsters brimming with potential. A similar argument can be made of the LaLiga youth they splurged on this window, as well as the many other teenagers they persuaded to come to their famed youth academy over the last two years.
The crucial difference here is that Madrid and United are actually investing early on in the promise that these players hold. This is in sharp difference to what the likes of Ajax or Borussia Dortmund practice. At Ajax, their own academy is capable of producing talent that is sold for massive fees later on. For Dortmund, buying for cheap and then selling at an enormous premium seems to be the way.
However, both United are Madrid are not shy about spending money up-front on their youngsters. This is clearly seen in the €40 million with add-ons that the Premier League outfit dished for Diallo on deadline day and the €45 million that Madrid were willing to part ways with for Vinicius Junior.
Further proof of this model can also be seen in the purported targets of United early on in past windows. Both they and Dortmund were looking at Jude Bellingham and Erling Haaland who fit this motif and profile quite well. This may stem from the Jadon Sancho saga once more. Both United and Dortmund were interested in the Man City starlet back in 2017. Now, United have to pay an enormous premium to Dortmund despite being linked to him at the same time.
As such, the adoption of this Real Madrid model could be precisely so that such expensive errors can be avoided in the future. To return to the Dortmund paradigm wherein the two clubs shared transfer targets this summer, one can realistically expect this to be a recurring trend if United stick to this policy.
All in all, the key here is for investments to be made in potential much before they become breakthrough stars that can command enormous transfer fees. In that regard, signing these starlets one club before they emerge onto the radar will be the deciding factor. Further still, the record-breaking transfer of Neymar to PSG initiated a trend wherein nearly every senior established player ends up costing upwards of €100 million if a direct club transfer is involved. Such a policy would ensure that United need not splurge this much each time they are in the market for a specialist.
However, that is not to say that they won’t look to make expensive signings. Incidentally, both Real Madrid and Manchester United are in the market for big-money moves in the near future. The LaLiga giants will likely acquire Kylian Mbappe for a similar transfer fee while the Red Devils will have another go at Jadon Sancho next summer. The essential quality of adapting this trend is to ensure that the two clubs don’t have to make such deals two-three years later if the youngsters can be acquired early on for a relatively smaller fee.
All in all, this model has all the possibility to be sustainable and immensely rewarding if the waiting game is played well.