Ranking Man Utd’s 30 transfers under Ed Woodward from worst to best
It’s fair to say Ed Woodward hasn’t the most popular man with Manchester United since taking over the role of overseeing transfers following the departures of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill in 2013.
David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have been the men identifying (but not always getting) the players they would like, with Woodward copping most of the flak for both the missed signings and the players who’ve come in but underperformed.
We’ve ranked every first-team signing under those three managers from worst to best. Don’t worry, you get to some good ones eventually.
30. Alexis Sanchez – Free
It was thought United had pulled off something of a coup by landing Sanchez, who was also wanted by Manchester City and Chelsea.
The former Arsenal forward moved to the Red Devils as part of a swap deal which saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan depart in the opposite direction.
Forty-five games, five goals, countless awful performances and millions of pounds later, he was shipped off to Inter Milan on loan to offload his extortionate, and we mean extortionate, wages (according to The Athletic, United continued to pay Sanchez £200,000 a week to play for Inter).
Then, just to get rid of him once and for all, United paid Sanchez something between £5million and £10million to allow him to join Inter permanently.
Basically, it was downhill ever since he played that piano in his announcement video.
29. Victor Valdes – Free
After 500 appearances between the sticks for Barcelona, Valdes signed an 18-month contract with United in 2014.
He made two appearances before being placed on the transfer list by Van Gaal after refusing to play for the reserves.
28. Guillermo Varela – £2.4m
The Uruguayan, who signed from South American club Penarol, was David Moyes’ first signing as United manager, though he had been on trial at Old Trafford before the Scot’s arrival.
Varela failed to appear under Moyes, instead spending a season on loan at Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid Castilla, but he broke into the first team amid an injury crisis under Van Gaal, playing 11 times in all competitions in 2015-16.
The right-back was sent on loan to Eintracht Frankfurt the following campaign, only to miss the German Cup final and have his deal terminated after going against the club’s wishes and getting a tattoo which ultimately became infected.
Upon his return to Old Trafford, he was sold back to Penarol.
27. Lee Grant – £1.5m
After joining from Stoke City for £1.5million in 2018, Grant made his debut as a substitute in United’s League Cup defeat to Derby County, where they lost on penalties.
His second appearance came in a Europa League defeat to Astana, but as far as third-choice keepers go, he’s fine.
26. Morgan Schneiderlin – £25m
The France international was part of the exciting Southampton side which also included the likes of Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana. Unlike those two, Schneiderlin’s big move did not pay dividends.
Like Depay, the midfielder lasted 18 months at Old Trafford before being sold by Mourinho in January 2017. It didn’t go any better for him at Everton.
25. Memphis Depay – £31m
The No.7 shirt means a great deal to United supporters.
But Depay failed to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Eric Cantona and was instead sold to Lyon after 18 months, 53 appearances and seven goals.
He’s been pretty good in Ligue 1 since, mind.
24. Matteo Darmian – £12.7m
The right-back signed from Torino in 2015 and started across the defence in his first season at the club.
However, his appearances steadily dropped in each of his seasons at Old Trafford, to the point of him making just seven in 2018-19.
At the end of that season, he finally got his long-rumoured return to Italy when he signed for Parma.
23. Angel Di Maria – £57.7m
Depending on how much onus you put on money paid in return for performances and goals, Di Maria could be even further down this list – but he was decent at times.
Coming in as a British record signing under Van Gaal, Di Maria enjoyed a good run in the lead up to Halloween, but the Argentina international’s form deserted him entirely thereafter, and he was sold to PSG for £44million the following summer.
“He was unhappy at the club,” Di Maria’s translator, Debora Gomes, told Esporte Interativo in 2017. “Firstly, he couldn’t communicate with anyone. And second because he realised the club bought him not because the club thought, ‘Oh, he will bring titles to us because he is a good player.’
“No. Because they simply wanted to sell his shirts. This I heard inside the club, the people talking. ‘Di Maria sells T-shirts, so let’s buy him’. So he was not happy.
“Then I realised, after Sir Alex Ferguson left the club, the club lost interest in football. It’s money, money, money. It’s making money and that’s it.”
That goal against Leicester was good, at least.
22. Bastian Schweinsteiger – £6.7m
A textbook case of a legend of the game moving to England too late in their career.
21. Henrikh Mkhitaryan – £30m
After being voted Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Season, Mkhitaryan moved to United tasked with adding the creativity to Mourinho’s attack.
After a slow start, the Armenian showed glimpses of his quality but fell out of favour and joined Arsenal in January 2018 as part of the swap deal for Alexis Sanchez.
20. Marcos Rojo – £16m
Signed by Van Gaal in 2014, Rojo is another defender whose spell at Old Trafford has been marred by injury.
The Argentina international made 41 appearances in all competitions as United won the League Cup and Europa League in 2016-17, but he has made only 27 since then, with most being in second-string cup sides.
In January 2020 he was loaned out to Estudiantes, where he started his career.
19. Diogo Dalot – £19m
Dalot signed from Porto in 2018 and made 23 appearances in three positions in his first season at United, playing on the wing and filling in at left-back as well as at his natural right-back role.
Perhaps better bombing forward than defending at this stage of his career, Dalot has improving to do – but at 20, he has plenty of time to do it.
Mourinho described Dalot as the “
18. Daniel James – £15m
Many eyebrows were raised when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer not only made a 21-year-old who had never played above the Championship his sole attacking signing in the summer of 2019 but then thrust him straight into the starting XI.
An electric start was followed by a much more difficult period, but given his rapid rise into a club suffering a nervous breakdown, James can feel relatively satisfied with his first season.
17. Fred – £52m
The Brazilian was United’s marquee signing in the summer of 2018, but he rarely got the pulses racing during his first season at Old Trafford.
His second season at the club brought progress, notably trying to drag his side back into the game in the defeat at Anfield, but that price tag still weighs quite heavy on his shoulders.
16. Harry Maguire – £78m
Maguire became the most expensive defender ever when he joined United for an eye-watering amount of money in the summer of 2019, and that’s the main reason why he’s not higher on this list.
He’s been steady, but for that sort of money you’d be expecting Van Dijk-level performances. So far, Maguire hasn’t hit those heights. But there’s still time.
15. Romelu Lukaku – £75m
Like a lot of players on this list, Lukaku was OK on the whole but didn’t quite live up to expectations that came with his potential and transfer fee.
His first campaign at United yielded a healthy 27 goals in all competitions, but that dropped to 15 in 2018-19, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer often leaving him out following his appointment.
The Norwegian subsequently sold Lukaku to Inter Milan in the summer of 2019, and it’s fair to say things have gone pretty well for him in Italy…
14. Daley Blind – £13.8m
Blind followed Van Gaal to United in 2014 and became a reliable member of the squad thanks to his versatility before returning to Ajax in 2018.
He was steady if unspectacular, which is a compliment when it comes to this list.
13. Luke Shaw – £27m
Shaw’s progress was curtailed due to a horrendous leg break, and the left-back had a fractured relationship with Mourinho.
The 24-year-old now faces competition from youngster Brandon Williams at left-back but continues to show glimpses of why he was such a highly-rated youngster.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 4, 2018
12. Eric Bailly – £30m
Bailly was signed from Villareal in 2016 as Mourinho’s first signing. And he’s often been United’s most impressive centre-back when fit.
Staying fit, however, has been the problem.
11. Sergio Romero – Free
Reuniting with his former AZ manager Van Gaal, Romero was signed as a back-up goalkeeper in 2015.
He has largely been deployed in cup competitions, keeping a clean sheet in United’s 2-0 win over Ajax in the Europa League final. If anything, he’s deserved more opportunities.
10. Aaron Wan-Bissaka – £50m
United have been crying out for top quality full-backs for years, meaning the bar was set quite low for Wan-Bissaka. How you judge his first season at Old Trafford perhaps depends on whether you judge him by United’s previous or more recent standards.
He’s undoubtedly excellent at the defensive side of things and rarely gets beaten. Even when a player thinks he’s got passed there’s usually a long leg from nowhere to clip the ball to safety.
He has to improve on the attacking side of his game, but he’s certainly got time on his side. Overall, a promising first season.
9. Nemanja Matic – £40m
“At this moment, he is a giant, not for his size but for the way he plays,” Mourinho told Goal in summation of one of his favourites.
Matic has had his ups and downs in his three years at United, but like several players he’s looked rejuvenated under Solskjaer and was handed a new three-year contract in June 2020.
“He remains hugely ambitious and determined which will be vital as we look to achieve our aims over the coming years,” Solskjaer said. And if Ole thinks that, we agree.
Matic with a brilliant goal against the Palace! ⚽️✔ pic.twitter.com/NHGqKYpg7N
— Manchester United (@ManRedDevils11) March 7, 2018
8. Victor Lindelof – £30.75m
The Sweden international is unlike many of the players on this list so far in that he’s improved as he’s gone on since joining in 2017.
Brave, a good reader of the game, comfortable on the ball and an obvious leader, Solskjaer clearly sees him as a key part of the team going forward.
7. Paul Pogba – £89.3m
Pogba was the world’s most expensive player when he returned to United from Juventus in 2016.
His form has been up and down throughout his three seasons at Old Trafford, frustratingly so, and the same question continues to be asked: is he a player United should build a team around, or should they give up and move on?
We’re in the former camp, but the fact he splits opinion means he can’t be any higher on this list.
6. Marouane Fellaini – £27.5m
Despite receiving plenty of criticism, Fellaini was a regular under three different United managers, lasting longer than many more illustrious names.
He found himself a handy niche as a battering ram but was also trusted as a holding midfielder in some big games by Mourinho before being let go by Solskjaer in January 2019.
5. Ander Herrera – £28.8m
A slow starter at Old Trafford, Herrera found the role which has most suited him during Mourinho’s first season in charge.
The Spaniard was no longer an automatic pick after the arrival of Matic, but he remained a popular player until the end and was a surprisingly good shithouse, which always goes down well with the fans.
4. Juan Mata – £37m
Signed by Moyes, Mata impressed under Van Gaal and adapted to Mourinho when many expected the duo to be incompatible.
He’s also written absolutely loads of blogs. Frankly, we love him.
3. Anthony Martial – £36m
Joining for a fee which could have risen to as high as £56million had Martial achieved certain targets, like winning the Ballon d’Or, there’s a nagging feeling that Martial has underachieved against United’s initial expectations.
A record of 71 goals in 222 appearances over five seasons isn’t bad for a player who’s often been utilised on the wing, but most would have been expecting more when the France international announced himself back in 2015 with that memorable debut goal against Liverpool.
Still, 2019-20 was his best season yet and if he can improve on that in the years to come he’ll seem like a snip.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Free
Many people doubted whether Ibrahimovic could make an impact on the Premier League after joining United at the age of 34.
Twenty-eight goals in all competitions silenced the doubters only for his season to be cut short by a knee injury which he struggled to recover from before joining LA Galaxy.
Still, he has been one of the few players to rise to the occasion at Old Trafford since Ferguson’s departure, and as a free transfer, he was an outstanding signing.
1. Bruno Fernandes – £47m
Is this ranking a bit premature? Yes, but where else could you place him right now? This is a man who’s made such an impact that he’s been spoken about in the same breath as Eric Cantona.
In Europe’s top five leagues, only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski got more goals and assists and combined than Fernandes in the second half of the season following his January move to Old Trafford. And no team won more points in the Premier League in that period. His stats are simply incredible.
United have got lots wrong in the transfer market under Woodward’s watch, but they got this one very right indeed.