Cristiano Ronaldo’s appeal to leave Manchester United, and the salvo of slammed doors across Europe in response to his request, isn’t the only surprising development of this summer’s transfer window.
There have also been emerging trends in England that defy the usual rules of Premier League ins and outs. One new element actually harks back to the past, while other purchases and sales indicate a clear shift in how clubs are operating in the market.
England’s transfer habits are evolving, and here’s why.
Too much trust in the manager’s address book?
This trend largely relates to two rival clubs from either side of the Lancashire-Yorkshire divide – Manchester United and Leeds United – and it can’t be expected to last.
The days of Peter Taylor spotting players and Brian Clough turning up at their houses uninvited to launch a charm offensive are long gone. Top-level transfers now tend to be a more sophisticated affair, requiring opinions and approval from scouts, statisticians, agents, managers, directors, owners, lawyers, and leagues before a deal is struck. Even clubs with modest resources don’t necessarily retreat to the Clough model: The Canadian Premier League, which only kicked off in 2019, outsources a lot of its recruitment to Twenty First Group, a company that uses technology and analytics to uncover market inefficiencies. When a part of the recruitment chain has to be broken, statistics still survive.
Now, Leeds and Manchester United haven’t gone full Clough-Taylor in this window, but analytics and scouting are clearly taking a back seat while Jesse Marsch and Erik ten Hag scroll through their list of contacts. There’s a retro feel to both clubs’ recruitment.
At Leeds, Marsch has reunited himself with Brenden Aaronson and Rasmus Kristensen (his former players at Red Bull Salzburg), and Tyler Adams (who played for him at both the New York Red Bulls and RB Leipzig). The signing of winger Luis Sinisterra from Feyenoord may have followed the more modern route of player purchases, but Marc Roca joined from Bayern Munich after he worked under coaches who, like Marsch, were part of the Red Bull stable. That could’ve only helped move the deal along.
Ten Hag has also stuck to what he knows. Lisandro Martinez followed the manager from Ajax for at least €57 million – a huge fee that hints at the Dutchman’s desperation to work with the defender again. United’s links with a pricey move for Antony, the winger that Ten Hag plucked from Sao Paulo in 2020, won’t relent. Christian Eriksen was brought aboard six months after he worked on his fitness with Ajax’s youth team. The left-back position was strengthened with Tyrell Malacia, a standout in the Dutch top flight with Feyenoord.
The two clubs are clearly making a public show of support for their managers, which is quite admirable given how common hasty sackings are in this era. It’s welcome for Ten Hag, who needs strong backing in his bid to end almost a decade of abject underachievement at Old Trafford. And it’s welcome for Marsch, who’s finding Marcelo Bielsa – one of the most popular figures in Leeds’ history – a tough act to follow at Elland Road.
But, ultimately, Leeds and Manchester United will be dipping their rods in shallower waters than their rivals if they continue to refer to their managers’ address books. Eredivisie and Red Bull connections can only get you so far. Soon, they’ll have to reacquaint themselves with the scouts and dataheads.