Ratcliffe repeating first Solskjaer mistake with ‘Buy British’ transfer policy Man City would laugh at

Sarah Winterburn
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Ivan Toney and Marc Guehi with the Manchester United badge.
Sir Jim Ratcliffe, Ivan Toney and Marc Guehi with the Manchester United badge.

Buying British should be filed under ‘what your dad would do if he was put in charge of a football club’. Oh Manchester United.

The nationalities of the last eight first-team signings for Manchester City over the last two seasons: Croatian, Portuguese, Belgian, Croatian, Norwegian, English, Swiss, Spanish.

Spot a theme? Of course you don’t because there isn’t one. Like parties, transfer policies should not have a theme; unless the theme is ‘drunken karaoke’ in one instance and ‘very good players’ in the other.

Targeting only players under 25 is naive, targeting only Premier League-experienced players is expensive, targeting largely British players is both naive and expensive, and clubs that operate well in the transfer market – and Manchester City probably operate better than any other elite club for a relatively low net spend – have no such policies. They buy the players they need at the price they dictate.

Manchester United would do well to glance across the city at their less-noisy neighbours and try and replicate that uncomplicated and open policy, because targeting young, British players did not work any better in 2019 than putting all their eggs in Erik ten Hag’s Dutch picnic basket has worked in 2023.

And now in 2024, we are told that ‘Sir Jim Ratcliffe is set to instruct a new-look Manchester United recruitment team to prioritise homegrown talent as he aims to fire the club back to English football’s summit.’

What’s funnier? The idea that Manchester United could be back at ‘English football’s summit’ in the next five years, or that they might get there by narrowing their scouting to those already under their noses with some romantic notion about bringing back a British core?

It’s one of those policies that decision-makers think the fans really want, but no sensible Manchester United supporter would choose Harry Maguire over Ruben Dias or Jadon Sancho over Mo Salah. British is absolutely not always best, though it is almost always incredibly expensive.

The two names cited in these latest reports are Ivan Toney and Marc Guehi, who would cost around £140m between them because you are paying a Premier League tax and a British levy. Very good players both, but would City pay even half that price for the pair? If you have to think about that answer for even a second, you are massively overpaying. It’s no coincidence that the only one of the last eight first-team signings Man City likely regret is the Englishman.

Would Toney and Guehi improve this current Manchester United side? Undoubtedly. But that says rather more about their desperation for a prolific centre-forward and a mobile centre-half than the validity of a Buy British policy. A sporting director with an extensive and trusted scouting network could suggest at least 10 cheaper players with similar attributes in those positions. If you spend millions every year on searching for players and you still keep landing on the fella who caused you bother last week then something is amiss.

‘While United’s transfer policy under INEOS will ultimately dictated by financial limitations, there is a will from Ratcliffe to buy British,’ say the Mail.

‘The fact prospective signings have already experienced the rigours of English football is viewed as a key reason why INEOS feel buying British would be beneficial.’

File under ‘what your dad would do if he was put in charge of a football club’. Let’s go back to those eight Manchester City signings. How many had ‘already experienced the rigours of English football’ before they either became or joined Treble winners? Three. And exactly none of that trio started last Saturday’s top-of-the-table clash with Liverpool.

It’s almost like being British and having experience of the Premier League is less important than being excellent footballers.

This is not really how a serious football club should be run, with policies designed by non-experts based on 25-year-old memories for fans that don’t exist. But then Manchester United are a long way from being a serious football club.