Welcome back to The United Way! In the last post I talked through the earliest decisions I’ve had to make to set the tone for the new era dawning at Old Trafford. In this post, we’ll be talking transfer strategy, outlining both the profiles of signings we’ll be looking to make, plus how we plan to approach scouting in order to find those players.

Different Types of Targets

As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Manchester United may not be the force they were in the Sir Alex Ferguson era on the pitch, but off it they are still an absolute juggernaut, and having vast resources available means that recruitment could be approached in many different ways. 

We could spend the next few years signing one or two world-class players every year for huge fees, hoping that they can raise the level of the existing squad to take us to new heights. Or, we could go the other way and sign a horde of young wonderkids, accepting that there will be some short-term teething problems but with potential huge long-term benefits. 

Either of these would be a perfectly reasonable, and fun, approach to take to the save. But I’m looking for something slightly more realistic, with a few more shades of grey; therefore, I’ve put together a fivefold transfer strategy to guide me throughout my time at Old Trafford.

Don’t Be Afraid To Spend Big When Required

‘Spending big’ is of course a very subjective term, but Manchester United have never been afraid to splash the cash. Given the amount of poor high-profile signings the club has made, especially in the past decade or so, it would be easy to suggest that continuing to sanction expensive signings would be a poor strategic decision.

However, I reject the idea that a high transfer fee cannot represent value for money. It’s not easy to identify value when big money is involved, but it is out there. There are a couple of ways that I will take this into consideration throughout the save. 

When it comes to potential first-team ready signings, I think it’s especially difficult to identify true value for money. Players can come in for huge money and perform exceptionally well, but if the side is already at a good level then how do you quantify the value they’ve added? 

In my mind, the only player brought into the first-team fold for big money in the last decade to truly prove value for money is Bruno Fernandes.

One player. In a decade. 

It’s an awful record, but the difference for me between the signing of Fernandes and some of the other relatively good high money signings we’ve had (arguably Mata, Herrera and Shaw would be some of the next on the list) is that he obviously, and immediately, raised United’s level beyond what it had been. Between his debut on February 1st 2020 and the end of that season, Manchester United were the best side in the Premier Division, two points better than rivals City, but this was only enough to help secure a third place finish – a sign of how United’s season had been going previously. 

To try to maximise our chances of getting another Fernandes, and less of the likes of Fred, Mkhitaryan and Wan-Bissaka, I’ll only be looking to target first–team players in their prime if they fill an obvious gap in the squad, or I feel I can get instant performances from them that may push us towards a title or cup win. If there isn’t a player like that on our radar, then I’ll focus instead of giving opportunities to a young player at the club, or look to spend less bringing one in if we don’t have an obvious candidate.

When it comes to signing younger players, who maybe won’t have quite the same pressure to succeed right away, I’ll still happily spend big on the right player, but I will need to be convinced they are an elite level talent. With some players you just know, and I won’t pay above market value for a player without being confident they’re destined to stay at the very top of the game for a long time.

Be Wary of Premier League Tax

There is very little true value for money when signing players from Premier League rivals any more. The amount of money in the league means that even lower mid-table clubs are often demanding £50m plus for their players, not to mention the wages players are often on, and wanting pay rises from. 

Of course, Sir Alex Ferguson often had success in poaching players from other Premier League sides, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie being two prime examples. However, Rooney had already shown the world his talent at Everton and then lit up Euro 2004, while van Persie was identified as the striker to bring home Manchester United’s 20th league title, and he duly delivered.

In the current day, United are strongly linked with Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite. He’s an excellent player and as a fan, I’d like United to sign him if they can get a deal done. However, in terms of the save, it’s the type of deal that I’d probably look to avoid. 

For the money that Everton would likely demand for Branthwaite, there are almost certainly similar profiles in other divisions that would cost less and would have lower wage demands, so the question then becomes whether a player already in the Premier League offers advantages that warrant the extra expenditure. 

This isn’t me making a rule that I’ll avoid signing players from the Premier League, it’s more about having the awareness to look for alternatives from cheaper sources that may offer the same profile or ability. If none are out there, or the outstanding candidate is at a Premier League club, then we will still pursue them.

Search for Value in the Championship

Manchester United, certainly in recent years, don’t have much activity (or luck) when it comes to picking up players from lower divisions. I’m not talking about players to join the academy here, as United are actually fairly good in this area, but players ready to come in and make an impact at first-team level. 

There have been a few, the likes of Tomasz Kuszczak and Michael Owen were both signed as cheap cover from relegated sides, but I’m talking more about the likes of Daniel James, Wilfried Zaha and Nick Powell. 

Powell was a bit more of a prospect and further away from first-team involvement after his move from League Two side Crewe Alexandra, but James and Zaha were both signed for around £15m each, with the idea being that they would go on to be great additions to the squad for modest fees, due to the league they joined from. This didn’t work out particularly well, especially for Zaha, and it’s rare lately to even hear of United being linked with a player from the Championship or below. 

Compare this to Crystal Palace, who have recently been excellent at picking up and integrating Championship talent, and it’s clear to see that this pathway absolutely can work, providing that sides are willing to commit to first scouting and then developing these players.

Ebere Eze, Michael Olise and most recently Adam Wharton are the most notable cases of this, but Palace also have the likes of Sam Johnstone, Joel Ward and Jordan Ayew who have been solid since signing from Championship clubs, plus Nathan Ferguson who was a hugely exciting prospect before a horrible run of injuries. 

There are absolutely players currently in the Championship talented enough to make the leap and have an impact at United; the likes of Wilfried Gnonto, Kyle Walker-Peters, Archie Gray and Crysencio Summerville immediately spring to mind, so it’s definitely a market I would like to tap into, rather than letting others unearth the gems and then paying a premium for them further down the line.

Agree Smart Pre-Contract Deals

One of the biggest weapons in our transfer strategy could, and should, be pre-contract deals. With player power higher than ever before, and the sheer pull the club still has despite our current predicament, we should be able to approach players whose contracts are expiring and bring them to the club without the need for a transfer fee.

Juventus and Bayern Munich are generally considered the masters of securing elite players on free transfers, with the most famous being Andrea Pirlo’s move to Juve, and Bayern poaching Robert Lewandowski from rivals Borussia Dortmund. However, Juve can also boast the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Paul Pogba and Dani Alves, while Bayern have also signed Leon Goretzka and Rafael Guerreiro in recent years.

United actually don’t have a bad record with free transfers; Zlatan Ibrahimović and Edinson Cavani are both loved by the majority of United fans, while Christian Eriksen also had a solid first season at the club. It’s also been a popular way for United to sign backup goalkeepers, with Sergio Romero, Víctor Valdés, Lee Grant and Tom Heaton all joining on frees.

I’ll be looking to secure deals early where I can, although I won’t rule out signing free agents if a player does fall through the cracks. I’ll primarily be looking to supplement the squad with decent squad players and young talents through this route, although if a genuine star looks attainable then it would be daft not to explore it!

Use INEOS Links Wisely

Purchasing a stake in Manchester United is not the first venture into football for INEOS. The group wholly owns French side OGC Nice, as well as Swiss outfit FC Lausanne-Sport. Added to this a partnership with RC Abidjan from the Ivory Coast, and United actually become INEOS’ fourth investment in football. 

With these new links established, it seems foolish not to look to utilise them to strengthen us. I have manually added affiliate links between United and each of the other three clubs, with varying conditions that I would consider realistic to each relationship.

Now of course, in real life there is talk that United are actually unable to sign players from Nice, with their publicised pursuit on Jean-Clair Todibo seemingly brought to a halt due to UEFA’s multi-club ownership rules, and the fact that both United and Nice will compete in the Europa League in the 2024/25 season. 

This is another example where I’m looking to tread the fine line between trying to adhere to real life situations, but also having a save that is interesting and enjoyable. I have no doubt that Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS will fight any potential ban on inter-group transfers, and therefore as it’s not a restriction within Football Manager I don’t feel it necessary to self-impose a ban. 

Manchester United are always linked with a host of names when transfer windows approach, it’s the nature of the beast amongst the world’s elite clubs. However, there have been names that have cropped up a lot since INEOS’ arrival, and so I’ve created a shortlist of those names to give me an early pool of talent to scout and potentially target.

Season One Transfer Strategy

The squad needs a huge amount of work, we covered that in the last post. However, how much of that work we’ll be able to undertake will depend entirely on how well we can sell, as finances one day one are bleak. There is £140k per week free in the wage budget, which isn’t unsubstantial, but with only £500k in transfer budget, early deals will have to be players whose contracts are coming to an end.

Huge shout-out to Jamie/CarrileroFM for his blog templates!

The first priority is to plug the biggest gaps in the squad. In order of importance, I will be looking for a centre-back, a defensive midfielder and a forward. However, I won’t sign three players with contracts expiring just because they fill a need. If the right profile isn’t out there then we will bide our time and see what we can do when some funds come in.

We of course know that a huge amount of wage budget will be freed up at the end of June. If we convert some of that into a transfer budget, I’d expect us to have around £30-40m to spend – probably enough for one good squad addition. So without other departures, we’re going to struggle to bring in all of the profiles we need.

When it comes to identifying targets that we may be able to sign for a fee, I’ll be looking to dive into my INEOS driven shortlist, which at current looks like this:

In addition to this, the frankly enormous scouting and recruitment team I’ve inherited have been working on recruitment focuses in some of the major European nations and Argentina, so anybody found through this will also be evaluated.

Key Targets

  1. A right sided central defender. Strong aerial presence is a must; comfort on the ball and good pace are also important.
  2. A holding midfielder to replace/compete with Casemiro. Needs to be comfortable being the deepest midfielder and doing the dirty work, but an ability to contribute as a more progressive passer/running would aid rotation.
  3. An experienced centre forward to offer competition and rotation for Højlund. Profile actually isn’t as important, doesn’t need to be the same type of player as Højlund, but does need to offer a reliable goal threat.

Additional Targets

  1. A second central defender; preferably young with a lot of potential, and predominantly left sided. Budget would depend on outgoings but would be likely to target a budget option with potential resale value.
  2. A top quality right-winger. This deal would be dependent on a high money sale of Antony/Sancho. Both footed, tricky, agile wingers would be the profile – more of a creator than a wide forward.
  3. An experienced third-choice goalkeeper, aka the Scott Carson role. Cheap wages, no expectation of playing time, desirable personality. Enough ability to play if absolutely needed.
  4. Replacements for any unexpected departures. Would need to take each of these as they come.

The amount of wage budget we will be freeing up leads me to believe that we will be able to achieve our three key targets, by hook or by crook. That may be all we manage to do though, as interest for unwanted players doesn’t feel overly likely unless we accept knock down fees or burden a large portion of their salaries for the final year of their contracts.

Long-Term Strategy

As the save progresses, I’ll be overseeing the creation and distribution of recruitment focuses myself, to ensure that we’re finding as many viable targets as possible. Our scouting department will be the envy of practically every club in the world, and if we can get the best from them then we will have a massive advantage in the transfer market. 

I’ll be splitting recruitment focuses into three main types; Talents, Established, and Short-Term.


It goes without saying that focuses that fall under the ‘talents’ bracket will be looking for younger players. Of course, we want to be finding our next Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo, but I think sometimes the impact of improving and selling on younger players can be underappreciated at the biggest clubs, and therefore I’ll be looking to cast a wide net. 

Talent focuses will be set as ‘ongoing’ in major nations and regions where we would expect to find exciting talent. To keep things fresh, the scouts and analysts assigned to each focus will be rotated periodically. In terms of criteria, it will be incredibly vague – just an age limit and a minimum potential ability requirement of 2.5*. This will allow me to pick up three main types of young player; the absolute superstar who is an instant must-sign, the decent young player who could challenge for first-team minutes and be a solid squad player until they’re sold on, and the extremely raw youngster who can join the youth teams to develop.

As well as these, I’ll also occasionally run some more short-term focuses in areas where talents are a little more rare. In these, I’d be looking for the cream of the crop in that area, so the search parameters will be slightly higher, but still vague in a sense of only being age and ability. 

One last attempt to find young talents will see us scouting youth group international tournaments while they run.


‘Established’ focuses won’t be running consistently, but will instead be set between transfer windows if I believe that there is a position in the squad that I need to fill with a player in their prime, either to add depth or to improve our quality in the position.

As these are going to be shorter, snappier projects, I’m happy to assign a large number of scouts and analysts to them, knowing that they can return to other work once complete. This means that to search for one position I can add a lot of nations to one focus, rather than needing a large amount of what would essentially be the same search.

As these focuses will vary case by case due to the needs of the squad, it’s hard to describe exactly how they will look, but in general I’d expect to be searching for one position but potentially a couple of different roles, and will set ability parameters depending on whether we have the budget and need for a new star player, or whether we’re looking for a more budget friendly depth option.


The type of focus I’d anticipate using least, ‘short-term’ focuses will be few and far between, and set to fill a very specific need. The biggest use I can think of for this sort of focus will be mid-transfer window, if we’ve sold a player we weren’t expecting to and need to find a replacement quickly. In this instance I would set a top priority focus in regions we’re the most familiar with, in order to find potential solutions. 

I’ll also likely look to create a focus each December to find players who may be of interest to us entering the last six months of their contracts.

So there we have it, the recruitment strategy is set, and the hard work starts now. If you’d like to see shorter, more regular updates from the save, including who we manage to sign in the first window, I’d recommend heading over to my thread on the SI forums HERE where you’ll find all of the content posted here, plus results and smaller pieces of news that won’t necessarily be mentioned in blog posts.

Until next time…


  • adam_otbfm

    Adam, known in the Football Manager (FM) realm as @adam_otbfm, is a fervent gamer and content creator. With a penchant for football simulations, Adam delves into the intricacies of FM, sharing his findings on his blog "On the Break." His creative ventures include replicating football legends like Kaka in the virtual pitch, showcasing a blend of nostalgia and modern gameplay. Adam's musings extend to social platforms like Twitter, where he actively engages with the FM community, sharing his gaming journey with @SJK_Seinajoki. His insightful content and avid participation enrich the FM community, making him a valued member in this virtual football world.

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