To put it nicely, Manchester United have endured great difficulty in finding a way to move on players they deem surplus to requirements in recent years.
Or, to put it not so nicely and tell the truth, United are really bad at recruitment. Specifically selling players. For a club as big as the Red Devils, they are almost laughably bad at it.
Once able to boast the fact that their academy players reached all corners of the globe and renowned for being a club where teams could buy players from and know what to expect, United these days are unable to shift the deadwood. That becomes an even bigger issue when you’re cycling through managers and resetting for a fresh rebuild every few years.
The same players stick around and overstay their welcome, the wrong players leave, and when the right ones do, it’s usually for a transfer fee that doesn’t compare to what United paid. Or in the worst-case scenario, for nothing. Paul Pogba re-signing for a world record £89million and leaving for nothing after six years is testament to that.
With that in mind, taking a look at United’s 10 biggest sales since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club makes for intriguing reading.
10. Javier Hernandez (2015)
Bought for: £6million
Sold for: £12million
One of Ferguson’s last true gems of a signing, Hernandez was the perfect impact player at United, but his days were numbered once the man who’d brought him to the club had retired.
After falling out of favour under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, United managed to sell Hernandez for £12million to Bayer Leverkusen in 2015. A good deal on the surface, until you look deeper and realise he performed extremely well in Germany and was sold two years later for £16million.
9. Chris Smalling (2020)
Bought for: £7million
Sold for: £13.6million (plus add-ons)
Arriving as one of the most promising young defenders in the country, Smalling would feature regularly for United throughout the 2010s, but never really kicked onto the level many expected.
He was loaned to AS Roma in 2019 after overstaying his welcome at the club, with many United fans desperate to see him gone. After a brilliant debut season in Rome, though, the Italian side purchased him permanently in a deal that could rise to £18.1million if all clauses are met. Not bad.
Chris Smalling: 99.9% fluent in Italian.pic.twitter.com/mrpjFgO4oK
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) October 11, 2022
8. Daley Blind (2018)
Bought for: £15million
Sold for: £14million (plus add-ons)
Four years after joining United from Ajax, Blind returned to Amsterdam to sign for his former club in a deal that essentially saw United break even, or perhaps make a nominal amount of profit factoring in potential add-ons.
Perhaps a player that was sold ever so slightly too soon, considering there were plenty worse than him at the club in 2018.
7. Memphis Depay (2017)
Bought for: £31million
Sold for: £14.73million (plus add-ons)
Here we go. Much more like the United we’ve come to know.
Depay was meant to be the next big thing, and his 2014 signing was considered a huge coup. A big move came at the wrong time, though, and after he failed to kick on, United decided to cut their losses in January 2017 by selling him to Lyon.
Reports claimed United did have a buyback clause in their contract as well as add-ons, which somewhat justified the low fee, but they never activated it. Wasteful.
6. James Garner (2022)
Bought for: £0 (academy)
Sold for: £15million
On the surface, this was a solid deal for United, and at the time was viewed as the Red Devils conducting a very rare piece of good and sensible business.
However, Garner had just returned to United following a terrific season on loan at Championship side Watford, and looked every bit ready to stake his claim as a deep-lying creator in a squad that lacked his sort of profile, with Paul Pogba being so often injured. United perhaps pulled the trigger a year too soon.
5. Danny Welbeck (2014)
Bought for: £0 (academy)
Sold for: £16million
Brace yourself, because we have nothing but positives to say about this deal. Shock, we know.
By 2014, it had become pretty clear that Welbeck wasn’t good enough to lead the line at United, and was little more than rotation at this point, predominantly due to constantly being injured. Arsenal offered them £16m to sign the academy graduate late on deadline day, and they snapped their hand off.
It’s a deal that has stood the test of time tremendously well.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 4, 2022
4. Morgan Schneiderlin (2017)
Bought for: £25million
Sold for: £24million
The phrase ‘Schmidfield’ should come with a trigger warning for United fans.
In the same summer United signed Bastian Schweinsteiger, they picked up Schneiderlin off the back of a brilliant season with Southampton. He looked seriously out of his depth in his first campaign as a United player, though, and didn’t get much of a chance under Jose Mourinho the year after.
The Red Devils were very lucky that Everton were silly enough to pay enough for Schneiderlin to essentially see them break even. Got away with it.
3. Daniel James (2022)
Bought for: £15million
Sold for: £25million
The best piece of business Manchester United have conducted, without question, since Ferguson retired.
James was brought in for a low fee from the Championship, boosted his stock and sold when in demand for a significant profit. Aside from academy players being sold, the Welsh winger is about the only player United have sold and profited from in recent times. Frightening.
2. Angel Di Maria (2015)
Bought for: £59.7million
Sold for: £44.3million
Having failed to get the move to Paris Saint-Germain that he’d been linked to, United coughed up a British record fee to sign Di Maria from Real Madrid in 2014.
A sublime, dinked goal, a massive loss of form and several reports about being unsettled later, he was sold the following summer. To PSG. At a cut-price.
The deal that sums up everything wrong with United in recent times.
1. Romelu Lukaku (2019)
Bought for: £75million
Sold for: £73million
Another one the Red Devils were perhaps fortunate to get away with, they just about broke even – give or take a few million pounds – when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided Lukaku was surplus to requirements.
The Belgian striker commanded a huge fee when signing from Everton in 2017 and started well under Jose Mourinho, but struggled to consistently fire at the highest level. Inter presented United with a brilliant get out and they were smart enough to accept the offer.