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With Goliath gone, what will become of David’s United?

If Manchester United perform as well in their start to life in the English Premier League without Alex Ferguson as they appear to have done in the transfer market, then they could trot out for their sixth game of the season, at home to West Brom on September 28, with just three or four points and in the bottom half of the table.

There is time for United to dig deep and add Geoffrey Kondogbia in midfield or Leighton Baines at left-back. There is even time for United to sell Wayne Rooney for a king’s ransom and replace him with Marouane Fellaini or, better still, Wesley Sneijder. But no matter how they perform between now and September 2 when the market closes, United’s choices over the past few weeks seem ill-advised.

Thiago was there for the taking; he’d been a long-term project and United met the player’s father plus his representative, Pere Guardiola. The club did its research about the young man it was proposing to buy – I was a small part of that process. Two different Manchester United people involved in trying to secure Thiago called me and asked about my knowledge of the player, his attitude, his potential and his lifestyle off the pitch.

Wages were fine but the terms that Mazinho and Guardiola wanted, (a fixed-price get-out clause if Thiago wasn’t playing regularly enough) and how to approach the complicated financial situation around the stated buy-out clause in his Barcelona contract, slowed things sufficiently for two things to happen.

First, David Moyes began to assert himself and let United know that while the club had been coveting Thiago for nearly three years, the Italian-born Spaniard of Brazilian parentage (what a playing DNA that is!) wasn’t his top priority.

Second, Pep Guardiola followed up on a phone call he had made to his former pupil, Thiago, four weeks earlier and persuaded Spain’s under-21 European Championship -winning captain to join the European club champion.

Then there is Cesc Fabregas. In late May, Ryan Giggs knew, and was happy to share, that the Spanish World Cup winner was not only United’s No.1 target, he was most likely coming. We are now in mid-August. No Cesc. United haven’t quite given up and, I suppose, when I witnessed Mo Johnston pose with a Celtic shirt at Parkhead one day and then sign for Rangers a couple of nights later, you have to admit that anything can happen.

But from the outset it has appeared that Ed Woodward, replacing United’s market expert David Gill, and Moyes have been fed red (and white) herrings.

Told by Fabregas’ agent Darren Dein and by Robin van Persie that the player wanted a move to Old Trafford, I guess you have to roll your sleeves up and try.

You prepare your finances, you check your sources, you bid. But when the selling club says ”no” over and again and when the player makes no public acknowledgment that he might be open to the move, instead twice knocking the subject out of the park when interviewed about it, then you begin to suspect your initial information.

A week ago Fabregas announced: ”My dream has always been to play at Barca and nothing has changed. I’m very, very happy here and I never thought about leaving.” Players have been known to be economical with the truth, but those aren’t the words to repay United for three bids plus their briefing that the Catalan remains their top priority.

This hasn’t been a great start. It’s also worth pointing out that if the club wanted Thiago and Moyes wanted Fabregas, they patently think United are short in the attacking-midfield department. Just as fate has handed Moyes three thorny player situations, the EPL computer has had a little malevolent cackle at his expense. If microchips could speak this one said: ”So you fancy taking over from Fergie do you?”

Game one, Swansea away, is loseable. Michael Laudrup has bought so well that South Wales will have many party nights this season. From then until West Brom, United have Chelsea at Old Trafford plus Liverpool and Manchester City away.

If things go badly, the visit of Crystal Palace in the middle of it all could be the only safe three points. City have done early and high-quality business; they are stronger and more unified, too.

Chelsea, pining for Rooney, have only moderately improved thus far and I have no doubt whatsoever that they offered United, verbally, a chance to put either David Luiz or Juan Mata, or both, in the Rooney deal they were trying to construct.

Yet Jose Mourinho should benefit from being out of the hornets’ nest he created at Madrid. He’ll know his way around. Moyes knows he will be constantly under the magnifying glass. While the pre-season matches, including the 3-1 home defeat to Sevilla that showed how to pass the ball, have been underwhelming, it’s true that he’s been working his players terrifically hard (with many double sessions) and there will come a moment when that kicks in.

Moyes and United give the impression that it would be healthier for them if the league started in three or four weeks – match fitness refined, off-pitch homework completed. But the club has a shrewd, resourceful, and determined man in charge. Should England’s champions start badly then many in the media and in the stands will shout ”Panic! Disaster!”. He won’t and nor should he.

Mike Phelan, Rene Meulensteen and Eric Steele, the three central coaches under Ferguson, all left the club in the summer. They have been replaced by Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods, while Phil Neville and Giggs have also been given coaching roles.

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