Manchester United believe their disappointing summer – which would have left them without a single new signing if Marouane Fellaini had not sacrificed £4m to seal a move from Everton – was the product of extreme circumstances in which David Moyes had only eight weeks to undertake his entire strategy in an unfamiliar transfer market.
Moyes delayed his move to United by six weeks after his appointment was announced, and had only two days at Carrington to familiarise himself with the scouting system, meet scouts and discuss targets before taking up his position on 1 July. An earlier move would have been impossible, with Sir Alex Ferguson needing to see out his tenure and Everton not wanting Moyes to leave before the end of last season.
The result was an uncharacteristically chaotic deadline day, with United pursuing Ander Herrera and Fabio Coentrao, inquiring about Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil and Real's Sami Khedira and landing none of those players. The Independent understands that United also came perilously close to failing in their pursuit of Fellaini, when Everton were demanding £27.5m late on Monday night and Moyes was unwilling to offer more than the £23.5m escape clause in Fellaini's contract, which he expired on 31 July. By driving to Everton's training ground and lodging a transfer request on Monday evening, Fellaini sacrificed £4m in loyalty bonuses. That allowed Everton to agree to a £23.5m deal because the overall gain to them was £27.5m.
Moyes is understood to be disappointed to have failed in his attempts to sign a second, more creative midfielder in the window but the collapse of the bid to sign Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera late on Monday came down to the manager's refusal to pay £4m more than his value. When Bilbao reused to negotiate below the £30.5m figure set in the player's buy-out clause, Moyes instructed chief executive Ed Woodward to walk away. There was no increase on last week's initial £26m bid.
The same philosophy was borne out by Moyes' unwillingness to pay out £27.5m to Everton for Fellaini. Moyes has always been unwilling to pay over the odds for players, though he is understood to rate the 24-year-old Herrera highly and may well go back to Bilbao in January.
Moyes has admitted seeking top players is a new experience for him, though United do not have a record of signing from tier one European sides. In recent years there has only been Owen Hargreaves from Bayern Munich in 2007.
Moyes, who has promoted 18-year-old Belgian midfielder Adnan Januzaj to the United first team squad, has allocated the number 31 jersey to Fellaini, who is expected to make his debut against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on 14 September.