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 (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.
Forced into a corner
United had also seen a joint-bid of £28 million for Fellaini and his Everton teammate 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. 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.