Man United's transfer thoughts
There are three striking things about the last two weeks of the transfer window when it comes to Manchester United.
Before we look at those, though, it's important to mention Swansea: after all, it was their fine performance against at Old Trafford that has prompted so much soul-searching among the losing team's support.
Garry Monk's stewardship of the Swans has got off to an impressive start and the addition of Ecuador World Cup star Jefferson Montero looks particularly canny. With that acknowledgement, let us now turn back to Manchester United and to those three striking things.
1. The enthusiasm of Marcos Rojo is happily reminiscent of Patrice Evra
Marcos Rojo, Sporting Lisbon's Argentine defender, has spent much of the past couple of weeks trying to engineer a move. At a time when United have just finished bidding farewell to one fiery left-sided defender, in the form of Evra to Juventus, they appear to be welcoming another.
Rojo's proposed addition to the squad is a very welcome one, since he can operate both as a left-sided centre-back and as a left-back. Moreover, of course, he was part of the excellent Argentina defence that backboned its team, with Lionel Messi as its figurehead, to this summer's World Cup final. If there were any questions about his ability to handle the emotions of big occasions, then he answered the majority of them in the course of that tournament.
The 24-year-old has a tendency to pick up yellow -- and occasionally red -- cards but also has plenty of potential and the ability, now and then, to score goals. Beyond that, at a point when United are struggling to attract their transfer targets, his desire to join the club is reassuring.
Much is made of what it means to be "a Manchester United player" and part of that is an overwhelming passion for the shirt. Evra had it, Ander Herrera has it and all of the early indications are that Rojo has it, too.
2. Louis van Gaal holds the whip hand
There is an argument to be made that, in these last two weeks of the window, Van Gaal might have the strongest bargaining hand he'll ever get at Old Trafford. Here is the reasoning:
On his arrival at the club, having just led the Netherlands to third place at the World Cup, Van Gaal headed straight into the preseason tour, where his new team's success put the question of transfers at bay. This question was also deferred by the acquisitions of Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, not to mention the announcement of several sponsorship deals that were eye-watering in their magnitude.
Yet now, following the defeat to Swansea, the scales have fallen from people's eyes. Yes, United were missing nine players but not all of those were sure-fire starters if fit, far from it, and in any case that is what a robust squad is for. And that squad was found sorely wanting.
This is why the next two weeks are particularly important for Van Gaal. The overwhelming majority of supporters seem to be firmly convinced that he is the right man for this job but if he is not able to spend money very soon it will become easier and easier for the club's board and owners to lay the blame for inadequate results at his door, rather than their own. In order that they cannot wait this transfer window out and then begin to shift the blame, he must use the increasing discontent of the supporters at this relative lack of investment as leverage against, specifically, the Glazer family.
The greatest fear for supporters, in fact, should not be that Van Gaal is not given the money he needs; it is that, before the end of his three-year contract, he becomes consistently dissatisfied that the job he took at Old Trafford is not the one that he was offered, and leaves.
3. United must avoid being bottom of the elite
Manchester United are in a situation where the five other clubs traditionally closest to them in competitive terms -- Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham -- all have excellent managers, as good as they have had in recent years.
From Manuel Pellegrini to Mauricio Pochettino, there is not a weak link among them, and Everton's Roberto Martinez (though working with fewer resources) can claim to be their equal, too. Those other squads, too, have largely been wise enough to strengthen in key areas, at the same time that United's squad, in Van Gaal's own words, remains "broken."
Here is the problem, then, at Old Trafford: there is no relatively straightforward way back into the top four, let alone the top two. The club is suddenly in a situation where their nearest rivals have significant spending power and thus they cannot afford to waste transfer windows yet, in terms of their most essential needs, they have arguably wasted most of the past three, since and including last summer.
If anything, their struggles so far with Van Gaal will truly highlight the extent of the problem: a truly world-class manager, his difficulties in getting results will soon show that the true problems lie elsewhere. If Manchester United are not careful, then their continuous underinvestment in the first-team squad since 2005 (as well, of course, as unfortunate injuries to the odd key player, and the odd bad buy) will hurt them severely in the long term.
In short, they could end up as a club making occasional incursions into the top four, as opposed to regular ones.