With most English Premier League teams on a winter break, Romelu Lukaku and his Inter Milan club stole the headlines in the soccer world this weekend after beating cross-town rivals A.C. Milan 4–2 in the Milan derby. The comeback victory put Inter atop the Italian Series A over Juventus, the winners of the last eight league crowns. Lukaku, alongside ex-Manchester United teammates Ashley Young and Alexis Sánchez, has sparked a revival in Italy, prompting many people to question United’s decision to let him go. But while Lukaku and Sánchez could have helped the team this season, the decision to let them go reflected forward-minded thinking as United looked to bring in players that fit manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s long-term mission.
After inheriting an aging squad from José Mourinho last season, Solskjær embarked on a multi-year rebuild program. The first step was to get rid of all the dead-wood around at the club — the older players with lucrative contracts who were not producing much for the club. In jettisoning the likes of Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Sánchez himself, Solskjær managed to greatly reduce the club’s wage bill without losing much impact on the pitch. The second step was to sign talented young players with solid long-term prospects. This summer, United broke the world-record fee for a defender by acquiring Harry Maguire from Leicester, before further fortifying the defense by signing Aaron-Wan Bissaka from Crystal Palace. While the price tag may have been high for both, Maguire and Wan-Bissaka have immediately helped United’s defense and are figured to be starters in the backline for years to come.
The newest signee, Bruno Fernandes – who arrived from Sporting Lisbon in the January window – also impressed on his debut and seems to possess the necessary drive and skill to succeed in the Premier League.
In two windows, Solskjær has already made three big additions with players containing long-term potential, and, while there is still work to do in terms of results, it is an encouraging sign for a United team that is often criticized for their maneuvers in the transfer market.
One of the big reasons why United has fallen behind both Manchester City and Liverpool in recent years has been due to their inability to find success with their signings. City spent big money on players like Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva, while Liverpool splashed on Virgil van Dijk, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, as well as others, but the big bucks paid off. Despite being relatively unheralded upon their arrival, Salah and Firmino now lead arguably the world’s most deadly front triumvirate, while Laporte and van Dijk have staked their claim as the top two defenders in the world. United, on the other hand, spent vast sums on underwhelming players like Eric Bailly, which hindered the development of the team in the long run.
United’s big budget gives them the liberty to spend liberally in the transfer market, but after wasting much of that money on failed signings, they are finally starting to put the pieces in place for a rebuild. The worst thing they can do now is change course again for short-term results.