Realism needed over Manchester United's transfer policy

Sports Mole assesses the belief that Manchester United have always competed in the transfer market for the best players in world football.

"Manchester United are not only the biggest club in this country, but the biggest club in the world. I don't think any of the aura is fading whatsoever. There is no issue about signing big players - not by my trips and the things I am hearing. The number of big players wanting to join Manchester United is incredible. Maybe players want to go to other clubs for the money, but if you ask them where they really want to be, which club they really want to wear the badge of, they want to wear the badge of Manchester United."

Whoever David Moyes is trying to convince with that statement, only he knows. Perhaps it's himself.

The truth is that when United were competing at their fighting weight on the pitch under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, even the greatest boss of them all found it difficult to convince the "big players" that their future would be best served at Old Trafford. Almost guaranteed success both domestically and in Europe could not persuade the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Patrick Kluivert and Ronaldinho, so why would Cesc Fabregas, for example, join Moyes's ailing outfit?

Moyes, though, is not the only person to believe that the Red Devils have a history of signing the game's best players. The last few months have been littered with pundits who have urged the United boss to recruit world-class talent to keep in line with the club's supposed traditions.

Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Celtic during their Champions League group match on October 1, 2013© Getty Images

Take presenter Jeff Stelling, who recently wrote in his Sky Sports News column: "David de Gea, Rafael, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley are all good, young players who are only going to get better. But are any of them really world class? That's what United were used to bringing in before."

So, just who are these "word class" footballers that "United were used to bringing in" then? Make your own mind up with the list below that contains every player that United have signed since they won their first league title under Ferguson's stewardship in 1993.

1992-93: Dion Dublin, Les Sealey, Eric Cantona, Pat McGibbon
1993-94: Graeme Tomlinson, Roy Keane
1994-95: Andy Cole, David May
1995-96: William Prunier, Nick Culkin
1996-97: Jordi Cruyff, Karl Poborsky, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ronny Johnsen, Raimond van der Gouw, Tony Coton
1997-98: Teddy Sheringham, Erik Nevland, Jonathan Greening, Henning Berg
1998-99: Bojan Djordjic, Dwight Yorke, Jesper Blomqvist, Jaap Stam
1999-00: Mark Bosnich, Mikael Silvestre, Quinton Fortune, Massimo Taibi
2000-01: Fabien Barthez
2001-02: Luke Steele, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Diego Forlan, Laurent Blanc, Roy Carroll, Juan Sebastian Veron
2002-03: Rio Ferdinand, Ricardo
2003-04: Liam Miller, Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Smith, Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Tim Howard, David Bellion, Lee Martin, Dong Fangzhuo, Louis Saha
2004-05: Gabriel Heinze, Wayne Rooney, Guiseppe Rossi, Florent N'Galula
2005-06: Edwin van der Sar, Michael Carrick, Ben Foster, Ji-Sung Park, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic
2006-07: Michael Carrick
2007-08: Nani, Anderson, Carlos Tevez, Owen Hargreaves, Fabio da Silva, Rafael da Silva, Manucho, Rodrigo Possebon, Tomasz Kuszczak,
2008-09: Dimitar Berbatov, Zoran Tosic, Ritchie de Laet
2009-10: Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen, Gabriel Obertan, Mame Biram Diouf, Paul Pogba
2010-11: Chris Smalling, Javier Hernandez, Marnick Vermijl, Bebe, Anders Lindegaard
2011-12: David de Gea, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Paul Scholes
2012-13: Shinji Kagawa, Robin van Persie, Alexander Buttner, Nick Powell, Angelo Henriquez, Wilfried Zaha
2013-14: Marouane Fellaini, Sandy Janko, Guillermo Varela

How many of those were genuinely "world class" players at the peak of their powers upon their arrival at Old Trafford? In this writer's opinion, two - Veron and Van Persie. A large percentage of United's biggest talents have been produced by the club, dating back to Sir Matt Busby. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. The likes of Ronaldo, Rooney and Ferdinand did not emerge from the Carrington academy, but they arrived as raw youngsters before playing a major role in recent success.

Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrate the latter's goal in October 2007.© Getty Images

It means that it is time for Moyes to get shrewd with his transfer kitty. He was quite right to show that he was after the biggest names during the summer, particularly when you consider that he would have been keen to stamp his mark early on. The Fabregas saga should have told him all that he needs to know - the very best rarely sign for United, which is why he could well be wasting his time scouting the likes of Juventus's Arturo Vidal and Pogba, if that's who indeed he was watching last weekend. More often than not, the modern day footballer prefers culture and the sunshine to a wet and windy January in Manchester, unless you are able to offer the mega bucks that are being shelled out at the Etihad Stadium.

Take Ferguson, who in 1998 was in need of a centre-forward. The word on the street was that he was eager to capture either Batistuta and Kluivert, but the former remained in Florence, while the latter swapped Milan for Barcelona. Instead, Ferguson looked closer to home, signed Yorke from Aston Villa and United won the treble. Then there was the pursuit of Ronaldinho, soon to become the world's best player, in 2003. Once again Ferguson lost out to Catalonia, but Ronaldo arrived from Sporting Lisbon soon after. Vidic, Evra and Carrick to name but three are other examples of this and while it may not have worked out, the 2007 signings of Anderson and Nani show that United have often had to try to hone the best, rather than purchase the best, even at their strongest and regardless of the Glazer family, who have drained the club of money since taking ownership.

So, what does that mean for Moyes if Fabregas, Vidal, Pogba et al are out of his range? Perhaps they are not of the standard that he and even United supporters had hoped for, but for a start the likes of Southampton's Adam Lallana and Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye would make big improvements to what is the most deficient United midfields in recent times.

It's time to get realistic.

Manchester United's Scottish manager David Moyes leaves the field after the UEFA Champions League football match between Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk at Old Trafford on December 10, 2013
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