Manchester United fans welcomed the signing of attacking midfielder Donny van de Beek from Ajax this week. He’s 23, his price of £35 million (HK$360 million) is right for a coveted player with a proven Champions League pedigree. In addition, he’ll provide competition and backup when it’s needed in a packed fixture schedule and a return to top-level European football. United started last season with a squad which was too weak and became quickly exposed by injury. One signing is not enough. United need a star to improve their first eleven if they’re to push harder to close the gap on Manchester City and Liverpool – and stay above heavily bolstered Chelsea and an improving Arsenal. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing a good job on many levels. He’s a decent judge of a player, but when he said he needed two or three more to have a team capable of competing for the title, that was a minimum. And those players should be top players who improve the first eleven, not fillers. United’s squad still needs strengthening. It was apparent in the FA Cup games against Norwich and Chelsea when weaker sides were put out and struggled. Look at Manchester City’s bench and how they can switch six or seven players when playing a smaller Premier League side at home and still win. Or United’s bench in the 2008 Champions League final, which included Nani, Ryan Giggs, Anderson, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher and Mikael Silvestre. These were champions and established internationals from top teams. Park Ji-sung, a cracking player, didn’t even make the bench. That bench could affect the first 11 in any area. When the forwards looked light with ‘only’ Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Solskjaer, Ferguson signed Dwight Yorke and shared games between the four strikers – to treble-winning effect. If Roy Keane was suspended, United could bring in top player Nicky Butt. The current squad isn’t close – and that’s with no injuries. The first XI is talented enough to beat City and Chelsea twice away in one season, but games need to be shared out, otherwise younger or squad players will have to do too much. Mason Greenwood, 18, played 49 times in his spectacular breakthrough for United, fellow teen Brandon Williams played 36. Andreas Pereira played 40 times and Jesse Lingard, too. Naturally, they wanted to play even more but their coaches wanted them to feature less. United needed and still need more world-class players to make the club the force it should be. United are scouting young prospects well, trying to bring in more from Iberia, but it’s the first team which needs the biggest boost – on top of the one Bruno Fernandes signing, Paul Pogba staying, Dean Henderson returning and Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood improving. Solskjaer has received patience and support and he needs more. More money, more transfer windows and the fans on-side. He needs another player or two this window and another one or two in January. To stand still is to go backwards. Uncertainty is affecting all of football. United is a well-run business, but Covid-19 has been costly and there might be further rebates to broadcasters if games have to be postponed again because of a second wave, and a further loss of match day revenue with no incoming season ticket revenue – United take around £4 million (HK$41 million) per home match. Sponsors are dependent on the global economy and deep uncertainty invokes caution and cutbacks. United need to get rid of non-performers from a bloated squad, too – and that’s not easy when they earn top dollar. What’s the solution? Put them with the kids because established footballers hate that and will force themselves out? Subsidise their wages to move them on? Either way is unedifying, but it’s also the result of so many managerial changes at a club where the manager and not a sporting director chooses the players. United should still try to buy a big name. Covid-19 could have seen a buyers’ market as clubs cast around for cash. Instead, it’s resulted in caution and hoarding of premium talents. “£80 million (HK$823 million) is not getting you an established superstar this summer,” one leading agent told the Post . “Clubs don’t want to sell or need to sell – yet. With Madrid and [Barcelona] not buying, Chelsea have seen a gap and gone for it, but they’ve spent less in recent seasons because of a ban and they’re also owned by one the richest men in the world. They’re also overpaying to bring players in.” Top players have always been hard to prise away. If their move hasn’t required a huge transfer fee, you worry when a club lets one leave so easily, like Bayern Munich did with Bastian Schweinsteiger in 2015. United have been scarred by past signings. Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Schweinsteiger and Alexis Sanchez all failed for various reasons, but does that mean Manchester United never go for big names again? It shouldn’t. If it’s not to be Jadon Sancho, the number one target, it could be a plan B, C or D like Kingsley Coman. Both are very interested in joining United, but it’s looking like they’d have to push to leave their current clubs who don’t want to sell them. It’ll be hard. Extracting diamonds usually is.