The signing of Villa's Ashley Young warrants scrutiny of the Manchester United manager's purchases of England-based players in recent years.
Sir Alex Ferguson's transfer policy is off the chart
At the risk of being banned from his press conferences, Sir Alex Ferguson's purchases of British-based players in recent years warrants further scrunity.
Ashley Young yesterday agreed a five-year contract to join Manchester United for at least £16 million (Dh93.8m), meaning manager Ferguson has spent around £121m on securing the combined services of the Aston Villa winger, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Antonio Valencia and Chris Smalling.
Ferguson will argue, with some justification, that a haul of 11 trophies since Ferdinand was signed in 2002 vindicates the significant spending spree, but the inflated prices shelled out for those half-a-dozen players raises question marks either over United's scouting network or the judgement of the great Scot himself.
Each of those players could have been secured at a significantly lesser price at a much younger age.
Take Smalling, for example. He was on trial at Middlesbrough before homesickness saw him end up at Fulham for a fee of £10,000 from a non-league club. Two years later Ferguson eventually spotted the defender's raw talent but the price had now risen to £10m.
Surely, Smalling should have appeared on the radar of United's network of scouts, led by Ferguson's brother, Martin, much sooner?
The same with Ferdinand and Carrick. Both were rated highly during their teenage years at West Ham United, yet Ferguson waited until they had been sold to Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur for £18m and £3.5m respectively, and added to their burgeoning reputations before persuading the club's board of directors to part with £30m and £18.6m for them two years later.
Likewise, Valencia cost Wigan Athletic around £5m in 2007 from Villarreal. United paid £16m for him two years later.
Granted, the value of a player increases once United express their interest but, still, that is quite a mark up.
Spurs profited again from Ferguson's apparent reluctance to take a risk on a player unproven at Premier League level. The scouts at the north London club should be applauded for spotting the potential of Dimitar Berbatov in 2006 and Daniel Levy, the chairman, praised for negotiating a deal of £10.9m with Bayer Leverkusen for the Bulgarian.
The languid forward eventually figured two years later on Ferguson's horizon but, by that time, his price had risen and United shelled out a whopping £30.75m for him. And yet Ferguson had the temerity to complain about the lack of value in the transfer market in 2009, claiming prices were inflated.
Young is another case in point. Many thought Martin O'Neill, the then Aston Villa manager, had paid too mich to land the winger from Watford in 2007. Yet his judgement proved shrewd and he is on the verge of earning Randy Lerner, the Villa owner, a profit of £6.5m and leaving United's money men wondering why they did not sign him for £9.5m four years ago.
Supporters of Ferguson, of which there are thousands, will argue hindsight is a wonderful tool and that United have earned the right to pay exorbitant transfer fees because of their unprecedented success — they made £92.4m alone for reaching the Champions League final in May — his transforming of the unheralded Crisitiano Ronaldo into a £70m player and point to three of the all-time bargains he pulled off by signing Peter Schemeical, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Eric Cantona for just over a combined £3m.
Yet, on the other hand, more judicious deals in recent years like those would have cushioned the debt of the club, which currently stands at more than £450m thanks to the maligned ownership of the Glazer family, ahead of the looming Financial Fair Play regulations.
However, Ferguson's surprise summer spending spree on Young and Phil Jones might have been, in part, to appease Wayne Rooney who questioned the ambition of the club last year and threatened to leave before signing a new improved deal.