Paul Scholes retirement at the age of 36 has heightened Manchester United’s already acute need for a midfield playmaker. Anderson’s inconsistency, Darron Gibson’s likely departure and Tom Cleverley’s youth means that Sir Alex Ferguson’s is desperately short of central midfield creativity. Rant offers 10 potential options, should Ferguson dip into the transfer market this summer, listed roughly in predicted transfer market value.
Javier Pastore, 21, Palermo > £35 million
Argentinian Pastore is in much demand on the back of a wonderful season in Italy. Firing the Sicilian club Palermo to eighth in Serie A and the Italian Cup final, El Flaco – “skinny” – has scored 11 goals in 34 appearances for Palermo this season. 21-year-old Pastore offers a beguiling blend of silky passing and dribbling skills and is comfortable in central midfield or at ‘number 10’. Pastore was included in Argentina’s 23-man squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup by Diego Maradona, making two substitute appearances. The midfielder is well within United’s typical age bracket but with a host of European clubs interested, including Chelsea, the asking price is now reportedly beyond £35 million.
Wesley Sneijder, 26, Internazionale > £30 million
Dutchman Sneijder failed at Real Madrid but has risen to the very top of the world game with Inter in the past two years. Sneijder was pivotal both in Inter’s Champions League win in May 2010 and Holland’s run to the World Cup final later that summer. Despite a muted season with Inter in the past year Sneijder’s price is near the very top of the market and the player earns more than £4 million net with the Italian club. Age and price appear to preclude a move to United, although Ferguson is a known admirer of the 26-year-old former Ajax player.
Luka Modric, 25, Tottenham Hotspur > £25 million
When Sir Alex talks about a player there’s a fair bet that he’s interested. Deeper-lying than either Pastore of Sneijder, Modric is the real star of the Tottenham side despite all the media plaudits for Gareth Bale. And while Rafael van der Vaart’s introduction to the Spurs side has seemingly reduced the number of assists recorded by the Zadar-born midfielder this season, Modric has become more pivotal to the Londoner’s play. Not likely to agitate for a move and Daniel Levy’s notoriously hard-nosed negotiation ensure that the midfielder will be expensive.
Marek Hamšík, 23, Napoli > £20 million
Napolitan hero Hamšík has taken the southern club to a Champions League placing this season, scoring 10 goals in 31 matches. Hamšík’s ability to break ahead of the ball is a reminder of Scholes’ youth, although the young Slovak lacks the former-United midfielder’s defensive discipline. And while the 45-times capped international falls within United’s age range Napoli’s qualification for the Champions League ensures Hamšík’s transfer is unlikely to come cheap.
Jordan Henderson, 20, Sunderland > £15 million
Named Sunderland’s Young Player of the Year for the second season running and capped by England this season, Sunderland-born Henderson is a man much in demand. Offering pace and composure, Henderson has shown maturity beyond his years, and although Sunderland is loathe to cash in on the youngster this summer a bid in excess of £15 million may force the Wearsiders’ hand. Liverpool is also reported interested in the player.
Eden Hazard, 20, Lille > £15 million
Star of Ligue 1 this season, Belgian Hazard has driven the northern French side to title glory. Creative and comfortable in a range of midfield positions, Hazard is likely to leave this summer even though the lure of Champions League football has been earned with Lille. The player’s goalscoring record is far from impressive for an attacking player but the fleet-footed player has impressed with his skillful use of the ball this season. Attitude and work-rate have been questioned though, which led to a period on the sidelines this season.
Samir Nasri, 23, Arsenal > £15 million
Contract-rebel Nasri may seem an unlikely transfer to United, especially Arsènse Wenger ruled out the prospect. However, with Nasri available on a free-transfer in a year’s time and pushing for a contract in excess of Arsenal’s typical structure the creative French midfielder is an option. Patrice Evra has openly courted the Marseille-born midfielder who can play centrally or in any wide midfield position. Missed out on last summer’s World Cup in South Africa but has performed admirably in a campaign that ended with nominations for both the Nasri PFA Players’ Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year awards.
Mario Götze, 19, Borussia Dortmund > £15 million
German international Götze has the world at his feet after playing a leading role in Dortmund’s Bundesliga win this season. Lauded by Matthias Sammer as “one of the best” to have come through the German under-21 set-up, Götze is rated by some as a better prospect than compatriot Mesut Özil, who has performed so well for Real Madrid this season. Six goals in 29 Bundesliga matches attests to the player’s ability to score from midfield, while 11 assists points to Götze’s creativity.
Shinji Kagawa, 22, Borussia Dortmund > £12 million
Dortmund’s other attacking midfielder has grown into the role following the move to Germany last summer. The Japanese international, who has scored eight goals in 18 Bundesliga appearances this season, has impressed with running from midfield, pace and an ability to beat his man. Kagawa’s rise this season is all the more remarkable for being left out of Japan’s World Cup squad last summer. Dortmund may be an unlikely seller but the chance to make a large profit by ‘flipping’ the 22-year-old may still be attractive.
Charlie Adam, 25, Blackpool > £10 million
The former-Rangers midfielder is certain to leave Bloomfield Road this season after Blackpool’s relegation from the Premier League. The player’s outstanding left-footed delivery from set pieces had Ferguson lauding the Adam’s corners as “worth £10 million alone” – it led to an inevitable rash of speculation. However, the Scot’s lack of pace and a tendency to over-elaborate are serious defects in the player’s game.