Griezmann factor highlights United’s summer strategy
The transfer rumour machine that surrounds Manchester United can be a frustrating affair. More often than not gossip claiming the imminent arrival at Old Trafford of big names fails to materialised into anything concrete. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement the fourth estate has confidently predicted the acquisition of Thiago Alcântara, Cesc Fàbregas, Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Thomas Müller and, everyone’s favourite, Nicolás Gaitán. None have ended up gracing the Old Trafford turf. Is Antione Griezmann the latest in a long line, or another record-breaking buy in the making?
It is no surprise that a large dose of scepticism is advised when the headlines focus on potential United acquisitions. Yet, José Mourinho’s arrival in Manchester heralded a new approach – United’s rate of success in the market has improved, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Paul Pogba moving swiftly from rumour to bone fide Reds. No longer must the United faithful accept the prospect of another transfer window riddled with hope and frustration. Mourinho, it seems, has not only brought an unerring arrogance back to the club, but transfer efficiency too.
"The transfer rumour machine that surrounds Manchester United can be a frustrating affair. More often than not gossip claiming the imminent arrival at Old Trafford of big names fails to materialised into anything concrete."
Frenchman Griezmann is the latest superstar associated with a move to Old Trafford. Typically, this might be the work of an agent working on a new deal. But Griezmann is without representation, and some of the column inches have been fuelled by the Atletico Madrid forward.
“I think they are a huge club with a really good infrastructure,” Griezmann is reported to have said last November. “I ask Paul [Pogba] about some of the players, and if they’re really that good, or if Jose Mourinho is really that good. Right now I don’t see me moving to a new club, but it would be awesome to play alongside Paul one day.”
Antione’s brother, Theo, added further fuel to the fire by tweeting a picture of Old Trafford last month and then, on 6 February, he commemorated those who died in the Munich Air Disaster with a respectful tribute. While Atletico’s president, Enrique Cerezo, has stated that he will fight to keep Griezmann at the club, it was reported by L’Equipe last week that United is prepared to stump up the Frenchman’s buyout clause – a whopping €100 million – for the striker to join the club next summer. Another transfer record broken, another star in Mourinho’s cohort.
If Griezmann does come to United, what problem does the acquisition solve? United’s biggest challenge this season has been turning draws into wins. While Mourinho’s United dominates many games, his side has failed to pick up all three points in fixtures against Arsenal, Liverpool, Stoke City, Burnley, Everton, West Ham United and Hull City. In fact, only Middlesbrough has drawn as many games as United in this season’s Premier League. It is beginning to look far less like bad luck, and more like something that is unmistakably wrong.
It is not that his side struggles to create chances, having fashion more than every club bar Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in Premier League this season. United’s finishing, however, is well below par, with the Reds seventh in the league for goals scored. Individuals can be singled out for criticised: Ibrahimović missed good chances against Burnley and Liverpool; Juan Mata failed to keep his composure against Stoke; Pogba fluffed a great opportunity to score against Hull. None of that trio is without talent, of course, but the consistency of performance comes under the microscope.
Griezmann’s class would fit well into Mourinho’s squad, although the system may have to change. The Frenchman plays most comfortably as a second striker, but is known to maraud inside from the wings when deployed as a wide forward. In terms of Mourinho’s formations, he looks like a comfortable fit in both the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 systems the Portuguese has used this season. The former accommodates a second striker, while the latter deploys an inside forward.
Perhaps the more pressing question is not where Griezmann would play, but who would be left out in the wake of another huge purchase. Ibrahimović is almost certainly going to be leading United’s attack this time next year, with his fantastic form rewarded by United triggering a contract extension. Mata, Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, Antony Martial, Wayne Rooney, Ashely Young and Jessie Lingard might not fare so well.
Speculation about Rooney’s future has increased after the club captain finally broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record. China or the MLS may well beckon for the 31-year-old in the summer. Young, too, was reportedly close to leaving in the January window and will probably depart in the summer, while Lingard has not been able to show the consistent quality needed for a regular starting position.
That leaves the talented lock-picks, Mkhitaryan and Mata, and the promising speedsters, Rashford and Martial. Each may be in direct competition with Griezmann should the Frenchman arrive. It would be wasteful to have any three of that five sitting on the bench. Yet, neither have any of the players commanded consistent loyalty from Mourinho. Rashford has spent much of the campaign on the bench, while Mkhitaryan was ignored all Autumn. Most recently, Martial has become the outcast, while Mata has completed a full 90 minutes just once this season. It illustrates that Mourinho’s squad is already top heavy without new players.
Yet, something must change too. Mourinho’s team was expected by many pundits to compete for the domestic title this season. Mourinho has significantly underachieved on that benchmark, although perhaps the talent at the manager’s disposal is not quite as strong as many predicted. It is also notable that during last summer’s transfer window a quick survey of United supporters would likely have concluded that fans were keener to bolster the defence and midfield than the forward positions. The club is stocked with plenty of attacking talent, if the manager can extract just a little more.
The real question might be whether United really needs Griezmann. The answer is probably no, but the financial power that United now boast means that there are far fewer obstacles in the way of making this deal happen than just a few years ago.
It also leaves a question of strategy. Should the club focus on building a team of galaticos, bursting at the seam with ability, but with very capable talent wasted on the bench. Or one that leans towards coaching the best out the players are already enrolled at Old Trafford?
All data: Squawka