There is perhaps no better summation of the current state of Manchester United than the fact they are pursuing a 33-year-old striker, who only a year ago, was playing in China and has well-documented ego issues.
Even then, Marko Arnautovic is no guarantee to join the Red Devils as Serie A outfit Bologna rejected United’s $AUD11 million bid.
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As if we needed another reminder of the famous club’s alarming fall from grace. A large chunk of that failure, according to leading pundits, can be attributed to the dire state of the club’s recruitment, especially in Erik ten Hag’s first transfer window since taking over at Old Trafford.
Entering through the arrivals hall at Manchester Airport has been Lisandro Martinez (Ajax, $96m), Tyrell Malacia (Feyenoord, $24m) and Christian Eriksen (free).
A punter doesn’t need a degree in rocket science to recognise that all three signings haven’t exactly been plucked from obscurity, or from various databases operated by United’s recruitment team.
Ten Hag coached Martinez last year, Eriksen used to play for Ajax and the manager knows Malacia from his exploits in the Eredivisie.
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In an age where clubs are poring over data and statistics in an attempt to find the right player, all three signings reek of a footballing comfort blanket.
Ten Hag and Arnautovic even worked together briefly when the two were at Dutch club FC Twente.
Even the so far ill-fated pursuit of Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong – who ten Hag managed at Ajax – is further evidence the United boss has gone for what he knows and hasn’t dared to be bold in the market.
The Telegraph’s Jason Burt was blunt in his analysis of United’s dealings in the summer window to date.
“There is simply no other way to describe it,” Burt wrote.
“The recruitment is – and has been for some time – simply terrible and while that points to United’s lustre fading it is also an indictment of those who have overseen it and whether they are right for the job.
“Hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted and where is the strategy?”
Aside from the incomings, United’s striker situation has only served to further cement the club’s status as a laughing stock.
Against Brighton, the Red Devils started with Eriksen playing as a false nine with Marcus Rashford out on the left, Bruno Fernandes operating in a central attacking midfield role and Jadon Sancho on the right.
The Seagulls had Danny Welbeck, a player United sold in 2014, leading their line and he made it a personal mission to torment Harry Maguire in United’s defence.
Meanwhile, Eriksen looked like a lost child in an airport as he just didn’t quite know what to do before being shifted into a more familiar midfield role after half time and put in a noticeably better showing.
Granted, ten Hag’s hand was forced given Anthony Martial’s injury and Cristiano Ronaldo’s glaring lack of match fitness.
But, as Burt points out, United pinning their hopes on those two is a problem within itself.
“He (Martial) is injured but last season United were desperate for him to stay at Sevilla – which was never going to happen – and one official said he would happily drive him back to France as long as he left the club,” Burt wrote.
“Now he is the saviour in attack.”
As for Ronaldo, his saga is one Burt believes “ten Hag has handled reasonably well but might become a millstone that drags him down if he has no-one else to play instead of the wantaway Portuguese who can actually score some goals.”
The striker shortage is just another glaring example of a shambolic transfer plan that The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell describes as “too often reactive.”
“United’s recruitment process is undermined by decision and negotiations are jammed by rigidity,” Whitwell said.
“Pursuits are too often reactive rather than proactive.
“Manchester City won the title and signed Erling Haaland. Liverpool came second and brought in Darwin Nunez.
“United finished sixth in their worst campaign in Premier League history and are trying to sign Marko Arnautovic aged 33. It feels like a spoof.”
Of course, there is time left in the transfer window for ten Hag to prove he can broaden his horizons on transfer targets and already it looks like that is likely to happen, but is it for worthy targets?
Should United come back for Arnautovic, that move looks likely to get across the line.
But aside from his family, friends and perhaps a few patriotic Austrians who moonlight as United fans, there likely won’t be a rush of people purchasing jerseys with Arnautovic’s name on the back.
The Athletic reported United are working on a deal to bring midfielder Adrien Rabiot to the club from Juventus as the Frenchman looks set to secure his dream move to the Premier League.
Yes, the same Rabiot whose mother shouted at Kylian Mbappe’s father when the star forward missed a penalty in the shootout that sent France crashing out of Euro 2020 to Switzerland.
A penny for Mrs Rabiot’s thoughts when she’s sitting in the stands at Old Trafford watching her son play, should the move materialise.
Then there’s the whispers of United being in talks with Red Bull Salzburg over Slovenian striker Benjamin Sesko.
Just 19 years of age, Sesko would be expected to hit the ground running and immediately deliver for the Red Devils.
How would he handle the sky-high expectations from a fanbase that demands success, yet has had precious little to crow about in recent years?
Even then, Sesko is no guarantee to join United as reports cite Paris Saint-Germain have joined the race for the teenager’s signature and could leave ten Hag scrambling for options.
At some point, things will get better at the Theatre of Dreams.
But for now, fans must make do with the Theatre of Nightmares and the club’s current transfer plans will ensure they last longer than anyone associated with the club wants it to.