Football Features

Ranked: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Man Utd signings

By CJ Smith

Solskjaer's best Man Utd signings

Published: 17:13, 17 August 2021

Manchester United have had one hell of a summer transfer window.

After finishing second but 12 points behind rivals Manchester City last season — as well as losing the Europa League final to Villarreal — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knew he had work to do if his side were to be true contenders this time around.

The Red Devils got to work early with the £73m signing of England superstar Jadon Sancho, while Tom Heaton returned to the club after 11 years away to provide some extra depth between the sticks after Sergio Romero’s contract expired.

And in their latest big move, United confirmed the signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid for a fee in excess of £40m, finally providing Harry Maguire with a genuinely top-class centre-back partner.

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How the new arrivals will do remains to be seen. But what about the other players to join Manchester United during Solskjaer’s reign so far? Here at Squawka, we’ve ranked them all.

9. Donny van de Beek

Signed from: Ajax
Fee: £35m

After impressing as part of the Ajax side to reach the Champions League semi-finals in 2018/19 — and continuing his fine form in the next campaign — much was expected of Donny van de Beek when he arrived at Old Trafford last year.

But the 24-year-old has suffered a wretched time of it so far, starting just four Premier League games for the Red Devils and having to settle for playing time mainly in the cups.

This has been an extremely unusual use of a £35m player and though it isn’t exclusively Van de Beek’s fault, the fee and the lack of time on the pitch combine to make him Solskjaer’s worst signing so far. Of course, he could still wrestle his way into contention and move up the rankings.

8. Amad Diallo

Signed from: Atalanta
Fee: £18.17 plus add-ons

In just 263 minutes of action for Man Utd so far, Amad Diallo has shown plenty of promise with a goal and an assist. But at 19 and with it appearing increasingly likely that he’ll be heading out on loan this season, we’re just going to have to wait and see.

An exciting talent, yes. But there have been plenty of those to fall by the wayside over the years and Diallo would be an expensive casualty if that were to happen. Early signs suggest that won’t be the case, though.

7. Odion Ighalo

Signed from: Shanghai Shenhua
Fee: Loan

Man Utd’s scramble for a striker back in January 2020 was as desperately uncomfortable to watch as it likely was to be involved in. Eventually, they landed former Watford man Odion Ighalo on loan from Shanghai Shenhua. His initial loan was believed to cost £4m, while United reportedly had to pay another £10m to keep him ’til January 2021. And he didn’t even score a Premier League goal!

Nevertheless, Ighalo did chip in with a few important goals during United’s runs to the FA Cup and Europa League semi-finals in 2020 and always put in maximum effort, sealing his cult status among supporters.

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6. Alex Telles

Signed from: Porto
Fee: £15.4m

Alex Telles has struggled for fitness and form during his time with Manchester United, though he has shown the odd glimpse of his true talent.

But more importantly, he’s provided genuine competition to Luke Shaw, in turn bringing the very best out of the former Southampton man — something England greatly benefitted from at Euro 2020 this summer.

“I’ve always said that, when you’ve got players of the highest quality in the team, then the thing that ends up benefiting is Manchester United; the team,” Telles told the club’s official website earlier this year.

“Since I’ve arrived here, I’ve worked as hard as I can and I’ve done everything I can to show that I deserve to be here. I think I’ve done that.

“At the same time, I’m really happy for Luke Shaw, who has made great progress and has been playing really well. He trains really well and he’s done excellently in the matches as well.

“When you’ve got a situation like that, then the team can only benefit from it. And it’s Man United that wins from that [situation].

“In terms of the two of us, we both motivate each other and push each other further forward. We help each other. That’s really, really important throughout the team, independent of the positions we play.”

5. Dan James 

Signed from: Swansea City
Fee: £15m

Dan James is frustrating and exciting in equal measure. On the one hand, his end product just hasn’t been good enough so far, though he is still only 23. On the other, his electric pace and relentless work ethic have made him a valuable option from the bench for Solskjaer.

In reality, the Wales international needs to produce more in the final third to be considered a real success at Old Trafford and you get the feeling he simply has to take the next chance he gets to impress in the starting line-up, especially with Sancho through the door.

4. Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Signed from: Crystal Palace
Fee: £45m

Is there a player in the Premier League right now with more contrasting facets to his game than Aaron Wan-Bissaka?

The former Crystal Palace man is an absolute defensive wall, routinely featuring among the league’s top tacklers and stopping the very best wingers around in their tracks. He also loves to use his pace to drive into the final third and isn’t afraid to dribble.

The problem is, get Wan-Bissaka with the ball at his feet and he falls to pieces. His decision-making when it comes to passing is disastrous and while he does have the ability to deliver a decent cross, it often takes multiple attempts to get it right.

Even so, his sheer defensive quality does probably outweigh the negatives when putting the 23-year-old under the microscope.

3. Edinson Cavani

Signed from: Free agent (previously at PSG)
Fee: Free

Like Ighalo, the arrival of Edinson Cavani to Man Utd was seen as something of a panic signing in the absence of other late-window options. ‘We need a striker, any striker. Yes, he’ll do’.

Obviously, Cavani has a much bigger profile (and more talent) than Ighalo and that’s been apparent on the pitch. Thus far, the Uruguayan has netted 17 goals and set up a further six to fire the Red Devils to runner-up spots in the Premier League and Europa League, often keeping much younger options like Anthony Martial out of the side. For a free transfer, that’s incredible value.

The 34-year-old looks like he’ll continue to be United’s stop-gap ahead of another potentially busy summer in 2022. Honestly, though, Solskjaer could do much worse on a short-term basis.

2. Harry Maguire

Signed from: Leicester City
Fee: £80m

With an £80m price tag on his head, Harry Maguire was always going to come under intense scrutiny. Often, the level of criticism he’s received has felt incredibly unjust.

Peeling away the layers and looking objectively on the field, the England international has been transformational for the Red Devils. Maguire ranks fourth in the Premier League for interceptions (133) and fifth for aerial duels won (314) since he joined United in 2019. What’s more, he’s taken the captain’s armband and been a real leader for Solskjaer.

Anyone left in any doubt about Maguire’s ability were given a sound reminder by his stellar performances at Euro 2020. If he can continue that form this season alongside Varane, Man Utd will prove an incredibly tough nut to crack.

1. Bruno Fernandes

Signed from: Sporting CP
Fee: £47m

You can call him a ‘set-piece merchant’ or ‘Penandes’ all you want, but the effect Bruno Fernandes has had on this Manchester United side has been almost unmatched, especially when comparing him to past January signings in the Premier League.

To date, the Portugal international has 43 goals and 25 assists in 81 appearances across all competitions. And to answer those who would persist in saying he’s useless away from set-pieces, Fernandes ranks first in the Premier League for open-play chances created (102) and assists (16) since his debut on February 1st 2020, while he’s fifth for goals scored (15).

Without Fernandes, there’s no way United could have reached the Europa League final or finished above the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea last season. And if they’re to go one better and lift a trophy this year, you can bet he’ll have a big say along the way.

Fernandes has been quite simply revolutionary for Solskjaer.

*Nathan Bishop and Facundo Pellistri are not included as they haven’t made a senior appearance for the club and are out on loan.