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Dithering Manchester United overtaken in transfer rush
After an unconvincing start to the season, Manchester United supporters witnessed the equally unusual sight of their club frantically scrambling for players in the closing moments of transfer deadline day.
Their patience was finally rewarded, three hours after the deadline passed, when United confirmed the signing of midfielder Marouane Fellaini from Everton.
But for all his rugged qualities and eye for goal, the gangly Belgian with the afro haircut was not quite the stellar acquisition the club's fans had been hoping for, and the details of the transaction made for uncomfortable reading as well.
Everton revealed that United had paid £27.5 million ($42.7 million, 32.4 million euros) for the 25-year-old, which was £4 million more than they would have had to part with had they exercised an option in the player's contract that expired at the end of July.
United had also seen a joint-bid of £28 million for Fellaini and his Everton team-mate Leighton Baines rejected in late August, suggesting the English champions were forced into a corner when they returned for the Belgian late on Monday.
With Uruguayan full-back Guillermo Varela the only other close-season arrival at Old Trafford, it proved a chastening first transfer window for new manager David Moyes and incoming chief executive Ed Woodward.
United saw tentative approaches for players including Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara knocked back in the early stages of the transfer window, while last-ditch moves for Real Madrid left-back Fabio Coentrao and Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ander Herrera came to nothing.
There were also reports of a late approach for Madrid midfielder Sami Khedira, but when the dust settled, Fellaini was the last man standing.
"Good player fellaini.... But just not a man utd player," was the damning Twitter verdict of former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler. The Daily Telegraph newspaper spoke of "humiliation".
Moyes, however, claimed that Fellaini, with whom he worked at Everton, was "one of the best midfielders in the Premier League", while his most significant piece of transfer-window business may yet prove to be persuading unsettled striker Wayne Rooney to stay at the club.
Nonetheless, United's dealings could not be judged an outright success when framed against the flurry of arrivals elsewhere.
In total, England's top-flight clubs lavished an unprecedented total of £630 million on new players, as confidence sparked by a new £5.5 billion television rights package translated into a glut of expensive signings.
Tottenham Hotspur were the most conspicuous market actors, spending around £110 million on seven new players, but they also lost star forward Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and had their thunder stolen by Arsenal's audacious capture of German playmaker Mesut Ozil for a club-record fee of £42.4 million.
It will not allay fears about the weak backbone of Arsene Wenger's team, but for a club whose trophy drought will reach nine years this season, it felt like a long-awaited declaration of intent.
Manchester City and Chelsea, meanwhile, will doubtless have cast an amused glance at the deadline-day disorder, having finished adding to their squads well before Monday's chaos.
And while Liverpool also left it late, they had concluded all of their last-day business by lunchtime.
Even penurious Everton, Moyes's former club, moved decisively, reinvesting around £13 million of the money received from the Fellaini sale in a move for Wigan Athletic's James McCarthy and bringing Gareth Barry and out-of-favour Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku to Goodison Park on loan.
As the deadline approached and Fellaini was pictured hurtling away from Everton's Finch Farm training centre in his car, an apposite remark from former United captain Gary Neville began to reappear on Twitter timelines.
Writing in August, Neville had said: "What the transfer deadline gives you is a clear indication of which are the badly run football clubs."
Fortunately for United, who are already five points behind league leaders Liverpool, they now have four months to get their house in order before the transfer window re-opens in January.
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