Manchester United signing Marouane Fellaini and manager David Moyes during Fellaini's unveiling at Old Trafford, Manchester.. September 2013.

The last five Man United managers’ first signings – and how they fared

After impressing at Feyenoord, Tyrell Malacia has become the first signing of the Erik ten Hag era at Manchester United.

But Ten Hag’s predecessors at Old Trafford have often struggled when making their first purchase in the transfer market.

We’ve looked back at the last five permanent United managers and their first signings to see how those players fared. Note: we’ve not included any players that initially played for the reserves of the academy.

Viv Anderson

After taking over at United in 1986, Alex Ferguson’s first move to refashion his squad was the £250,000 signing of Anderson from Arsenal.

“I had a chance to stay at the Arsenal,” Anderson told the United podcast. “I had a contract. But he [Ferguson] convinced me when I went up to see him that he was driven and he wanted to make United great again so I wanted to be part of that. So the driving force behind it was always him.”

The defender, who was briefly on United’s books as a teenager, made 69 appearances for the club and used his experience to help guide the younger players. 

But he began to lose his place in the side during 1989-90 and was left out of the matchday squad for the FA Cup final win as midfielder Paul Ince filled in at right-back.

Ferguson’s signing of Denis Irwin marked the end of his time at United, and he joined Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer in January 1991.

Marouane Fellaini

Despite the fact that United won the Premier League title in Ferguson’s final season, David Moyes knew that he needed to make some first-team signings in the summer of 2013.

But moves for Cesc Fabregas, Gareth Bale, Thiago Alcantara and Leighton Baines all failed to materialise during a difficult transfer window.

It looked like they weren’t going to sign anybody at all until Moyes hit the panic button on deadline day and bought Fellaini, who he knew from his time at Everton.

“You can ask my staff – the last thing I wanted was for Marouane Fellaini to be my first signing,” Moyes told Radio 5 live in 2017. “I knew, coming from my old club, the look was never going to be good.

“I’ve got to say we looked at Matic as well. He hadn’t done well for Chelsea and had gone back to Benfica. He was a consideration.

“We probably did need a more defensive type player in hindsight. Someone who would sit and play, make passes from the middle of the park. But we didn’t get a lot of the things we hoped for.”

The midfielder endured a disastrous debut season as United finished seventh in the Premier League, and he became a much-maligned figure at Old Trafford due to his awkward and combative style.

He was expected to leave following Moyes’s departure but turned things around and proved to be an important player for both Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, making over 150 appearances for the club.

While a lot of United fans still see him as a symbol of the disappointing post-Ferguson era, the Belgium international did actually have his uses at Old Trafford and came up with some important goals.

But Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still deemed him to surplus to requirements, selling Fellaini to Chinese club Shandong Luneng in January 2019.

“My first season in Manchester was difficult, but I left as a respected player,” Fellaini said. “I gave my very best for this club, played so many games and almost only scored important goals.

“I worked with super players and managers at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Then you can only look back with a smile.”

Marouane Fellaini Manchester United goal

READ: Nine of Marouane Fellaini’s most crucial goals for Manchester United

Ander Herrera

Moyes tried to sign Herrera on transfer deadline day in 2013 but United refused to pay the £30.4million release clause in his Athletic Bilbao contract.

The Scot still laid the groundwork for a potential transfer and Louis van Gaal, who was named as Moyes’ permanent successor, gave the go-ahead to complete the deal in the summer of 2014.

But Van Gaal never seemed to have complete faith in the Spain international, failing to give him a consistent run in the starting XI.

Herrera still established himself as a fan favourite at Old Trafford due to his work rate, commitment to the cause and excellent shithousery.

The midfielder later became Jose Mourinho’s lieutenant on the field and won the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award after helping United win the League Cup and Europa League in 2016-17.

He also produced many outstanding performances in big games, including a 2-0 win over Chelsea in 2017 when he man-marked Eden Hazard out of the game.

Herrera called time on a five-year stay at Old Trafford when his contract expired in 2019 and joined Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer.

Eric Bailly

Bailly was a relatively unknown prospect when he left Villarreal and completed a £30million move to United in 2016, but Mourinho tipped him for a bright future.

“Eric is a young central defender with great natural talent,” Mourinho told United’s website. “He has progressed well to date and has the potential to become one of the best around.”

The centre-back certainly got off to a good start, picking up the Man of the Match award in United’s 2-1 win against Leicester City in the Community Shield.

He was even compared to United legend Nemanja Vidic after producing some brilliant performances in his debut season, helping Mourinho’s side keep clean sheets at Anfield and the Etihad.

But he’s prone to a calamitous moment and a series of injury problems have derailed his progress, restricting him to just 45 Premier League appearances in the last five seasons.

The Ivory Coast international is currently behind Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof in the pecking order and his future at Old Trafford is uncertain.

Daniel James

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made two £50million-plus signings in the summer of 2019 but his first deal was the £15million purchase of Dan James, who had been impressing for Swansea City in the Championship.

He enjoyed a sensational start to life in the Premier League and scored three goals in his opening four games, including a strike against Chelsea on his debut.

But the winger failed to maintain that form, scoring just three more goals in his next 46 Premier League appearances for the Red Devils.

While his pace and work ethic endeared him to Solskjaer, he often frustrated United fans with his poor decision-making in the final third and a tendency to run down blind alleys.

The Wales international fell out of favour during his second season and was sold to Leeds for £25million in 2021 following Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford.

“I think everyone goes through part of their career where you don’t realise something is happening until you look back and have good people around you to analyse that,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“I started thinking, ‘What does he do that I can do?’ rather than thinking just about my game and being myself. It got to the point where I was being a bit safe in games.

“I got bought for my direct play, running in behind, running with the ball, trying things and not being afraid to lose the ball but slowly I started to come away from that and play a little safe.

“When I stepped back it was remembering to be direct, to be that person. Safe is dangerous in the position I play. You’re not there to do that – you’re there to score goals and make assists and run yourself into the ground on and off the ball.”

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