Rating a billion dollars of Man United signings since 2018

Manchester United have built a billion-dollar team (roughly €990 million) since 2018, but the club have won just one trophy — the 2022-23 Carabao Cup — in return for such a huge investment in players.

Managers Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Erik ten Hag have all signed players for big money since the start of the 2018-19 season, including Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Antony. A total of 31 players have arrived at Old Trafford during that five-year period, but how many have proved to be value for money?

With United set to undergo a change of management on the football side of the club when Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS group take control of recruitment as part of their 25% investment — a move that keeps the Glazer family as majority owners — ESPN has rated the signings (1 = bad; 10 = incredible) made by the club during a five-year period in a (failed) attempt to challenge for the biggest honours.

(All transfer fees below are in euros, via Transfermarkt. Also, asterisks next to player names below denote that the players are no longer with Man United.)

Mark Ogden: In different times, Fred would have been a reliable squad player, somebody capable of doing a job while a higher-quality midfielder was rested or unavailable. But Fred was a mediocre player in a mediocre team.

Rob Dawson: If he had played in a better midfield, he would have looked better. But he didn’t.

Ogden: Good cover at full-back on both flanks, but not good enough to be a regular in a team with ambitions of winning major honours. Was very lucky to be given a five-year contract at the end of last season.

Dawson: Good going forward, but sometimes gets caught out defensively. Still young and has all the attributes to be a very good full-back.

Ogden: He played just three games in three seasons, but was only signed as a third-choice keeper, so ticked a box as an experienced professional.

Dawson: Low cost and a good character in the dressing room.

Ogden: Burdened by an excessive fee as world’s most expensive defender, the England international has endured some tough times, but he now looks like he has taken strength from adversity and is becoming a regular again.

Dawson: Started well, but his form tailed off alarmingly until a recent upturn. At his best when he’s allowed to defend deep, like at Leicester, it’s arguable that he was never going to be successful in a team that wants to play a high line.

Ogden: Probably the only signing in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era who has lived up to expectations. Scores goals, creates them and is rarely absent due to injury. He has his critics, but United’s recent past would have been much bleaker without him.

Dawson: Put simply, he’s United’s best signing post-Ferguson.

Ogden: Another Old Trafford survivor. A great one-on-one defender, but his positional awareness and limited ability on the ball has caused him and United problems. Like many others, he would have been useful cover, but he has not been good enough to take United to the next level.

Dawson: Another player who was signed on the back of playing well for a team that suited his level of ability. Has worked hard to improve under Ten Hag, but it remains to be seen.

Combined rating: 5.5/10

MF Daniel James*, Swansea City, €17.8m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: Started brightly, but faded very quickly once opponents realised he was all pace and offered little else. A rarity in being a United signing on whom the club made a profit when offloading him to Leeds.

Dawson: Might have turned into a useful squad player had he stayed longer than two seasons, but in the end, United got a good return when he left in 2021.

Combined rating: 5/10

FW Odion Ighalo*, Shanghai Shenhua, loan (fee: €12m)
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: United had hoped to sign Erling Haaland from FC Salzburg, but ended up with Ighalo on loan from Shanghai Shenhua in a deal that epitomised the club’s chaotic transfer dealings. But he scored some goals and gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a centre-forward, meaning he cleared a very low bar.

Dawson: Did what he was brought in to do as a short-term solution to fill a gap in the squad, scoring five goals.

Combined rating: 5/10


SIGNED DURING THE 2020-21 SEASON

MF Donny van de Beek, Ajax, €39m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: The Dutch midfielder has been shown to be too slow and unable to deal with the physical demands of English football, but despite three miserable years at United since arriving from Ajax, he is still at the club because they haven’t been able to offload him. One of the worst signings the club has ever made.

Dawson: Given the transfer fee and lack of return on investment, he will be remembered as one of the worst signings of the past decade.

Combined rating: 2/10

FW Amad Diallo, Atalanta, €21.3m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: Has made just nine appearances in almost three years since being tipped as an emerging star following his arrival from Atalanta. Still has time to live up to the hype, but already looks like another expensive mistake.

Dawson: This season was supposed to be his breakthrough at United after a successful loan at Sunderland, but he was unfortunate to pick up an injury during preseason.

Combined rating: 4/10

DF Alex Telles*, FC Porto, €15m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: Another panic signing who would never have been regarded as a United player during the club’s era of success. Came and went without making any kind of impression.

Dawson: Signed as cover at left-back in a relatively inexpensive deal from Porto but never looked like he was good enough.

Combined rating: 3.5/10

FW Facundo Pellistri, Penarol, €8.5m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: Beginning to make an impression on the first-team almost three years after arriving from Uruguayan team Penarol. Full of energy and tenacity, but it’s too early to say whether he will be good enough.

Dawson: Still only 21, so time is on his side, but there are already doubts about whether he will develop into a first-team regular.

Combined rating: 5.5/10

FW Edinson Cavani*, Paris Saint-Germain, free transfer
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: His first season was good and his second season not so good, but Cavani’s goals and performance during his first season helped Solskjaer’s team to runners-up spot in the Premier League and the Europa League final. Looked a class act in Year 1, but it all went wrong when he lost his first-team place, and his shirt number, to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Dawson: Ten Premier League goals in his first season was a good return for a player signed on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain, but he didn’t look like he wanted to be there in his second year.

Combined rating: 6.5/10


SIGNED DURING THE 2021-22 SEASON

FW Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund, €85m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: Two seasons of unfulfilled potential following his £73m signing from Borussia Dortmund and now locked in a stand-off with Erik ten Hag that has seen him banished from the first-team and heading for a January exit. A disastrous signing.

Dawson: As his feud with Ten Hag rumbles on, it’s likely he’ll leave in January. He could turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes United have made.

Combined rating: 4/10

DF Raphaël Varane, Real Madrid, €40m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: A big-name signing from Real Madrid, but another example of United paying big money for an aging player with his best years behind him. Injuries have hampered his time at United.

Dawson: A good player who did well under Ten Hag last season. Concerns now that his legs are going and he’s still got 18 months to run on a big contract.

Combined rating: 6/10

FW Cristiano Ronaldo*, Juventus, €17m
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: A vanity signing from Juventus simply because United feared their former great was about to sign for Manchester City. Scored plenty of goals, but upset the balance of the team and ended up having his contract cancelled after just over a year back at Old Trafford.

Dawson: Had a good season in a bad team in his first year back at Old Trafford, but it unravelled very quickly. On a salary that was through the roof, it was fortunate for United that they didn’t have to pay him off.

Combined rating: 5.5/10

play

1:01

Was Ronaldo a good or bad signing for Manchester United?

Mark Ogden looks back on Cristiano Ronaldo’s second stint at Manchester United.

GK Tom Heaton, Aston Villa, free transfer
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ogden: Hard to judge considering his lack of appearances, but United haven’t used him properly. Should have played more games to put pressure on David de Gea, but was consistently overlooked.

Dawson: Signed on a free transfer from Aston Villa and has played three times in three years. He’s a reliable third-choice goalkeeper.

Combined rating: 5/10


SIGNED DURING THE 2022-23 SEASON

FW Antony, Ajax, €95m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Ten Hag pushed United to sign the winger from Ajax, despite reservations within the club about his fee and ability to thrive in England. But keen to back their new manager, United caved in and sanctioned a huge fee. All told, Antony has been a massive disappointment.

Dawson: The Brazilian winger is the second most expensive signing in the club’s history at more than £85m. Given the size of the fee, his obvious limitations and an underwhelming impact since joining from Ajax, he’s on course to become one of United’s notorious transfers.

Combined rating: 2.5/10

MF Casemiro, Real Madrid, €70.65m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: A panic signing after missing out on Frenkie de Jong, but the former Real Madrid midfielder had a big impact last season before being hit by injury and suspension. Looks off the pace this season, however, and now faces a long spell on the sidelines again until Christmas.

Dawson: Helped United recover from a poor start last season to win the Carabao Cup and qualify for the Champions League. Hasn’t looked the same player so far this season and is out until Christmas with a hamstring problem.

Combined rating: 6/10

DF Lisandro Martínez, Ajax, €57.37m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Had a shaky start, but bounced back to bring tenacity and organisation to the defence. A strong character and has been missed since suffering a metatarsal injury last season — an injury that returned and is keeping him out again.

Dawson: A contender for player of the year last season after adding some much-needed aggression to the centre of United’s defence following his £56.7m move from Ajax. Two metatarsal injuries suffered since April are a concern.

Combined rating: 6.5/10

DF Tyrell Malacia, Feyenoord, €15m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: A good signing given that he’s young, has potential to improve and has done well when selected. Injury has halted his progress, but Malacia is a rare example of United getting value for money.

Dawson: A young player signed for a modest fee to be back-up left-back to Luke Shaw. Judged against the rest of United’s transfers over the last decade, he’s not a bad one.

Combined rating: 6.5/10

play

2:19

Dawson: Man United’s recruitment the worst of any big club

Rob Dawson and Mark Ogden explain how Manchester United managed to spend a billion dollars on transfers, with only one trophy to show for it.

FW Wout Weghorst*, Burnley, loan (fee: €2.9m)
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Nobody could question his work-rate or commitment during his loan spell last season, but he was a million miles from the quality United needed. Effort isn’t enough at Manchester United.

Dawson: Signed on loan from Burnley to fill the gap in the squad left by Cristiano Ronaldo. Worked hard when called upon, but didn’t score a Premier League goal.

Combined rating: 4/10

GK Martin Dúbravka*, Newcastle, loan (fee: €2.3m)
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Back-up goalkeeper who did what he was signed to do.

Dawson: A goalkeeper signed on loan as back-up to David De Gea. Only played twice and then returned to Newcastle.

Combined rating: 5/10

MF Christian Eriksen, Brentford, free transfer
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Was a breath of fresh air last season when he quickly made the frustrating Paul Pogba (who left the club again after a disappointing tenure) a distant memory. Intelligent, committed and an eye for a pass. But United needed the Eriksen of five years ago, not the aging player they signed as a free agent.

Dawson: A good player signed in a smart deal, but it’s typical of United’s recruitment that because of other failings, he’s been asked to do too much. Looked tired towards the end of last season after playing more than 40 games for the first time since 2018-19 with Tottenham.

Combined rating: 7/10


SIGNED DURING THE 2023-24 SEASON

FW Rasmus Hojlund, Atalanta, €75m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Too early to judge, but he shows great promise and effort. He could be a star for United, but he desperately needs his teammates to provide him better service in front of goal.

Dawson: United hope that his £72m move from Atalanta will turn out to be a fantastic piece of business, but at just 20 years old, he’s very raw. He’s still waiting for his first Premier League goal and the club will have to work hard to ensure they get the most out of his potential.

Combined rating: 5.5/10

MF Mason Mount, Chelsea, €64.2m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Injury has impacted his start to life at United, but even when fully fit, it’s difficult to work out where he fits into Ten Hag’s team. A good player, but a strange signing to make when other areas of the squad were in greater need of reinforcement.

Dawson: It’s only been a couple of months since his £55m move from Chelsea, but it already looks like Erik ten Hag hasn’t got a place for him in the team. Being left on the bench for a Manchester derby is not a good sign but he still has time to turn things around.

Combined rating: 4.5/10

GK André Onana, Inter, €50.2m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: I’m backing Onana to be a top signing for United. His critics after early season mistakes are forgetting how many costly mistakes David de Gea made during his final campaign at the club — mistakes that prompted Ten Hag to replaced him. Onana takes risks, but recent performances have highlighted his ability.

Dawson: Brought in to replace David De Gea and change the way United play, the Cameroon international endured a difficult start to life at Old Trafford, but he’s slowly starting to settle. For many fans, the jury is still out.

Combined rating: 5.5/10

MF Sofyan Amrabat, Fiorentina, loan (fee: €10m)
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Yet another late signing in a transfer window to highlight United’s chaotic recruitment. Had a great World Cup with Morocco last year, but early performances suggest he lacks the mobility to succeed in the Premier League.

Dawson: It’s been a slow start for the Morocco midfielder, and he was substituted at half-time in back-to-back games against FC Copenhagen and Manchester City. Hasn’t helped his transition to come into a team that is not playing well.

Combined rating: 4.5/10

GK Altay Bayindir, Fenerbahce, €5m
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Why sign a back-up keeper, but then play your No.1 in every game? Will be expected to play when Onana is on Africa Cup of Nations duty in January, so Ten Hag should have tried him out in the Carabao Cup.

Dawson: On paper, a solid signing as a second-choice goalkeeper, though he’s yet to play a game.

Combined rating: 5/10

DF Jonny Evans, Leicester City, free transfer
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: United were mocked when they signed their former player, who was considering retirement after being released by relegated Leicester this summer, but Evans has been one of their best players this season. That’s a tribute to his pedigree, but a damnation of many of his under-performing team-mates.

Dawson: Former academy graduate signed on a free to act as experienced cover in defence, but he’s already played far more than expected.

Combined rating: 6/10

DF Sergio Reguilón, Tottenham, loan (fee unknown)
Manager: Erik ten Hag

Ogden: Has given United balance at left-back after being signed as cover for Shaw and Malacia, but Ten Hag has overlooked him in recent games.

Dawson: Emergency loan signing from Tottenham to cover injuries to Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia but has already lost his place in the team.

Combined rating: 4.5/10


CONCLUSIONS

Ogden: I think a further indictment of the club’s poor recruitment is that so many of the players signed in recent years are still on the payroll and not contributing to the team. They’re not good enough to play, but they earn so much that United can’t move them on.

Dawson: To Mark’s point, the problem facing United now is that the mess is so big that it could take years to untangle. It’s very hard to make big contracts disappear and they’re already running into Financial Fair Play issues when they try to sign new players. That means taking more risks and, possibly, deepening the issues if they don’t pay off.

Ogden: The good news for United is that change is coming with Jim Ratcliffe taking charge of football operations. After wasting so much money on so many players, things can surely only get better.