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Video – Manchester United fans have just suffered maybe the biggest insult of the Glazer era during Brighton defeat

The worst aspect of Manchester United’s performance on Sunday was not David de Gea’s goalkeeping, Luke Shaw’s dithering, Marcus Rashford’s finishing, or Erik ten Hag’s tactical experiment.

Before the game, a fan mounting the steps in the south stand on their way to their seat paused and caught my notice. “Is that true, Arnautovic?”

 

“I hope not, for the sake of United.” The cheerleader chuckled and crossed his fingers. Unfortunately for United fans, this is correct.

 

United have made a €8 million bid for a 33-year-old former Stoke and West Ham forward who last played in England three years ago, spent two of those years in the Chinese Super League, and plays as if he belongs in a different decade.

 

Arnautovic’s development was at its lowest point on a day when United suffered an opening day defeat for only the seventh time in Premier League history.

 

Lower than David de Gea using his feet instead of his hands, lower than Luke Shaw jogging while Danny Welbeck sprints, lower than Scott McTominay’s six touches outside the Brighton area, lower than Moises Caicedo, who United desired 18 months ago, bossing their midfield again.

 

Lower than Bruno Fernandes’ regression, Marcus Rashford’s finishing, Erik ten Hag’s Christian Eriksen experiment, and the dilatory substitutes.

 

Bidding for Arnautovic has reached its lowest point in nine years. It’s a betrayal to the fans that renewed their season tickets and marched down Warwick Road on Sunday believing United would change their ways. It was a continuation of the previous chastening chapter.

 

If Arnautovic was connected to any other Premier League side, your first thought would be, “no, there’s got to be a better choice.” At the very least, Bournemouth would be an outlier. That is where United are right now.

 

The transfer window is turning into a farce: Benni McCarthy, Tom Huddlestone, and Marko Arnautovic all join clubs in the same window. The joke is on United.

 

Signing Arnautovic would be worse than borrowing Odion Ighalo on deadline day. That was presumably an outlier, prompted by Rashford’s long-term injury. Edinson Cavani, 33, touched down on deadline day seven months later. According to sources, this was “opportunistic” and “pragmatic.”

 

United hoped Cavani could emulate Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s impact two years ago. The narrative has been rewritten: United has compared Arnautovic to Ibrahimovic.

 

Ten Hag believes Arnautovic is the type of man who would boost a low-confidence dressing room and provide United with an alternative offensive option off the bench; a wily forward who can operate with his back to goal.

 

At the club, some have drawn comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson’s instinctual signings of Laurent Blanc, Henrik Larsson, and Michael Owen. None of them were outright successes.

 

Ferguson’s worst transfer market decision was to swap Jaap Stam for Blanc. Blanc won the Premier League in 2002-03, but he appeared in all five of United’s defeats. Following Blanc’s final league start, a Boxing Day defeat at Middlesbrough, United went on an undefeated run to reclaim the title.

 

Larsson was an overrated mid-season addition (three goals in 13 games) that disrupted Wayne Rooney and Louis Saha’s flowing chemistry. Owen was an affront to supporters, a free agent who ushered in Ferguson’s thrifty last four years.

 

Thirteen years later, the Glazers lack Ferguson’s genius and beatable domestic opponents to disguise the squad’s flaws. United has stalled, and Arnautovic is prone to doing so as well.

 

Avram Glazer, on his third trip to Old Trafford in three years, accompanied his brother Edward and sat behind football director John Murtough for the Brighton game. A row down was the CEO, Richard Arnold, and in front of him was David Gill, who had previously held that position. Ferguson and I were in the same section of the directors’ box.

 

“That match yesterday was not lost by the players on the field, it was lost before they ever came to the ground, and it was lost by three men,” Jimmy Hill said after Crystal Palace humiliated United 5-0 in manager Frank O’Farrell’s last pitiful stand in 1972.

 

“The three individuals you see there are chairman Louis Edwards on the right, Sir Matt Busby in the center, and Frank O’Farrell on the left. And it was lost on me more by the two on the right than by the one on the left.”

 

The approaches for Ighalo, Cavani, and Arnautovic follow a recruitment relaunch in 2019. United fueled the narrative that they were looking to recruit 23-28-year-olds with a predilection for British talent. They “manipulated the statistics” and cast a wide net that included 804 right-backs. Arnautovic might not have made the 804-man forward list that summer.

 

This summer is meant to be the foundational phase of United’s squad makeover. Even if United had signed their top targets, Frenkie de Jong and Antony, the strategy would still be wrong.

 

Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen, and Lisandro Martinez are all former Eredivisie players. Arnautovic has done the same at Twente under Ten Hag and Steve McClaren. Anthony Elanga was eight years old when they last coached him.

 

It’s no way to run a non-league club, let alone the self-proclaimed largest club in the world. United managers have a two-and-a-quarter-year average shelf life. Mauricio Pochettino would be irritated by the influx of Eredivisie gurus.

 

The fact that United is bidding for an Austrian international and a teenager from a Red Bull outfit is tragicomic. Ralf Rangnick is well-versed in both markets, and it appears that United’s decision-makers have dialed the red phone, much like Commissioner Gordon dialing the hotline to Wayne Manor in an emergency, to consult Rangnick on the fly. Rangnick would not have advised Arnautovic.

 

United employs a football director, a deputy football director, a head of recruitment operations, and a technical chief scout, and they continue to pursue Arnautovic.

 

Ajax signed Premier League rejects Daley Blind, Dusan Tadic, Davey Klaasen, Steven Berghuis, Sebastian Haller, and Maarten Stekelenburg during Ten Hag’s tenure. Arnautovic is just that. Ten Hag is no longer with Ajax.

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