Rebuilding Manchester United
With little left to play for in an altogether disastrous Manchester United campaign thoughts turn to the summer’s principal highlight. A period when great men come to the fore and the hapless are mocked with little mercy. Time for dreams to be made and then shattered; where the hopes of millions are peaked and snatched away. No, not the World Cup in Brazil, with its clichéd samba dancers and hackneyed corporate messages, but a far more entertaining sport: the summer transfer window.
The coming window is perhaps the most crucial in United’s recent past, with half-a-dozen players leaving the club and potentially as many arriving again. After last summer’s incompetent mishandling of bids for Ander Herrera, Cesc Fabregas and Leighton Baines, among others, it is one in which vice chairman Ed Woodward and manager David Moyes must excel. Should the club fail to capture its main targets – or worse still succeed in luring those further down the list – the mediocre pattern set this season may be ingrained for longer than anybody wants.
There will certainly be a number of outgoing players, although United can feel confident that David de Gea is going nowhere, despite the Spaniard not yet having signed a new contract. Still, with Barcelona’s potential transfer ban, and Catalan eyes affixed on 21-year-old Borussia Mönchengladbach stopper Marc-André ter Stegen, there’s little to drag de Gea away from Old Trafford just yet.
It’s a different story with Anders Lindegaard, however, with the Dane keen to play more often after starting just three games in all competitions for United this season. It will surprise few if Lindegaard moves on, while Ben Amos, now a not-so-young 24, could also leave this summer. The Englishman has started just seven games for United six years after making his début for the club.
In defence captain Nemanja Vidić is already committed to Internazionale next season, while Rio Ferdinand may retire or, if he chooses not to, be retired. So long, Rio, it has been – mostly – a pleasure. Meanwhile, it remains more likely than not that left-back Patrice Evra will also move on after the World Cup. That leaves manager David Moyes chasing three international-standard defenders – two-left backs and at least one top class central defender.
Midfield has caused much consternation in recent seasons. Anderson will certainly be sold once the Brazilian has completed a six-month loan spell with Fiorentina, while Darren Fletcher is not guaranteed a spot in United’s engine room next season.
Fletcher’s impressive return from a lengthy illness has added some bite to the Reds midfield, but United will strengthen in that area ahead of the new season. If Moyes does not add at least an attacking and a defensive midfielder to his squad this summer United will remain well short of rivals at home and abroad.
Misfit Nani is unlikely to repeat last summer’s about-face and remain at Old Trafford – Italy or Spain beckon for the 27-year-old winger. Meanwhile, few supporters will shed a tear if Ashley Young departs even if it is not thought likely. Bizarrely the former Aston Villa player remains a Moyes favourite. Ryan Giggs is not and will surely retire.
Instead it appears likely that playmaker Shinji Kagawa, who has impressed in recent games, will be force out of Old Trafford. There remains the lingering suspicion that the Japanese player is simply not of the ilk preferred by United’s incumbent manager. It means Moyes may add to his attacking resources this summer, especially in wide areas.
Another player almost certainly moving on is Javier Hernández, with the Mexican reportedly told that United will listen to offers for the 25-year-old. Hernández has scored 59 goals in 148 appearances for the club and will presumably command a substantial fee this summer. As would Robin van Persie, whose happiness has been the subject of far too many column inches over the past six months. It is doubtful that the club is prepared to let a player of the Dutchman’s class depart.
As for those who may join, well, the field is open. The question remains whether United will spend the sums leaked to Woodward’s favourite members of the fourth estate in recent weeks – or not. In that spirit here’s Rant’s low-down on some of the best – and not so good – available in this summer’s window.
Gold | Luke Shaw, 18, Southampton – the multi-talented English full-back is set for the very top after an outstanding season in the Premier League. Quick, defensively sound, and positive on the attack – Shaw (above) has the potential to be as good as any in world football. Such is the youngster’s talent that he is not only pushing for a place in England’s squad this summer, but may even force his way into Roy Hodgson’s starting XI. Whatever fee it takes to capture Shaw is likely to be steep for a rookie full-back, but perhaps a sound investment given the player is not yet out of his teens. Blue chip quality for a golden price. Circa £30 million. 31 Premier League appearances, 61 tackles, 33 interceptions, 115 clearances, 119 crosses, 0 goals, 1 assist.
Silver | Ricardo Rodriguez, 21, Wolfsburg – the Swiss-born, Germany-based, full-back of Spanish-Chilean extraction, has excelled with Wolfsburg this season as Die Wölfe challenge for a Champions League place. Rodriguez possesses many of the traits Moyes prefers in his full-backs – speed, excellent delivery from the flanks, and solid defensive instincts. Rodriguez’ eye for goal and high assist count will also factor into any bid. There are a few rough edges to the player’s game, although Rodriguez’ age-profile means that he is unlikely to be a bargain. That said Wolfsburg rarely hangs on to its star players. A potential diamond with a little rough. Circa £17 million. 30 Bundesliga appearances, 89 tackles, 59 interceptions, 85 clearances, 161 crosses, 5 goals, 7 assist.
Bronze | Filipe Luis, 28, Atlético Madrid – Brazilian full-back Filipe has enjoyed an outstanding campaign with Atlético as Los Rojiblancos head towards a first La Liga title since 1996. Strong in the tackle, forceful going forward, and experienced, the Brazil international is enjoying the finest spell of a career that has blossomed late. Filipe played for five different clubs before joining Atlético in the summer of 2010. Still, there is no guarantee the 28-year-old will make Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Seleção for this summer’s World Cup. Circa £15 million. 27 La Liga, 7 Champions League appearances, 132 tackles, 45 interceptions, 58 clearances, 114 crosses, 0 goals, 2 assists.
Wooden Spoon| Guilherme Siqueira, 27, Granada/Benfica. – Siqueira was seemingly moments away from signing for Real Madrid last summer after a transfer four-way between United, Real, Granada and Benfica. Real wanted Granada’s Siqueira, United a loan deal for Fábio Coentrão, only for the Brazilian to board a plane for Portugal where he signed a season-long loan with Benfica. Siqueira will move again this summer – to United only in desperate circumstances. Circa £5 million. 17 Liga Sagres, 3 Champions League, 4 Europa League appearances, 86 tackles, 38 interceptions, 48 clearances, 10 crosses, 1 goal, 0 assists.
Alternatives: Fábio Coentrão, 27, Real Madrid, £12 million. Alberto Moreno, 21, Sevilla – £12 million. Layvin Kurzawa, 21, Monaco – £10 million.
Gold | Mats Hummels, 25, Borussia Dortmund – the outstanding German international is the envy of many an élite club. Whether Hummels can be prized – or tempted – away from Dortmund is another question. Strong in the tackle, a superb reader of the game, and classy in possession, Hummels is not a stereotypical modern German centre back. Hummels style – more reminiscent of Franz Beckenbauer than any contemporary – stands out above all. Indeed, the defender remains ‘one that got away’ for Bayern Munich, having come through the club’s youth ranks before a 2008 transfer to Dortmund. There is little to regret for the 25-year-old, who is certain to be in Germany’s squad for the World Cup this summer. Circa £30 million. 19 Bundesliga, 6 Champions League, 6 Europa League appearances, 65 tackles, 68 interceptions, 150 clearances, 7 blocks, 2 goals, 1 assist.
Silver | Mehdi Benatia, 27, Roma – the Moroccan is likely to be a man in much demand this summer, although Roma’s probable qualification for the Champions League makes a transfer that much more difficult. It has certainly been Benatia’s most impressive season to date after an £11 million transfer from Udinese last summer. The player’s strength and defensive nous has stood out in an excellent campaign. Yet, his rise hasn’t been easy: rejected by Marseille, send on loan to Tours and Lorient, dumped into Ligue 2 at Clermont, before signing for Udinese on a free transfer in 2010. Circa £20 million. 30 Serie A appearances, 65 tackles, 83 interceptions, 200 clearances, 20 blocks, 5 goals, 0 assists.
Bronze | Eliaquim Mangala, 23, Porto – France international defender Mangala (above) has taken a circuitous route to what seems an inextricable rise to the very top. Born in Paris, Mangala moved to Belgium at the age of five, joining regional side UR Namur as a teenager. Tranfer to Standard Liege followed in 2008 where the player converted first from striker to left-back, and then to central defence. It took just shy of £5 million to take the gifted athlete, if sometimes raw defender, to Porto in summer 2011. With agent Jorge Mendes in Mangala’s corner, Porto will make a healthy profit on a player who has played more than 20 times for the French Under-21 side, but is not guaranteed to make Les Bleu’s squad for Brazil this summer. Circa £30 million. 20 Liga Sagres, 6 Champions League, 42 tackles, 29 interceptions, 176 clearances, 16 blocks, 5 goals, 1 assist.
Wooden Spoon| Ezequiel Garay, 27, Benfica – Garay’s name is regularly mentioned in dispatches, although it is hard to look past the Argentinian’s abject failure at Real Madrid. Perhaps the opportunity came too early in Garay’s career; perhaps the 27-year-old simply isn’t equipped for the very top level. The truth is that Garay’s pace is just a touch short and his distribution a little too raged, but then there is that defender’s instinct that often compensates for other deficiencies. Garay has probably done enough at Benfica to earn one last shot at an elite club. Whether that should be United is an open question. Circa £18 million. 26 Liga Sagres, 6 Champions League, 5 Europa League appearances, 41 tackles, 52 interceptions, 207 clearances, 12 blocks, 7 goals, 0 assists.
Alternatives: Neven Subotic, 25, Borussia Dortmund – £18 million. Nicolas N’Koulou, 24, Marseille, £12 million. Matthias Ginter, 20, SC Freiburg – £10 million. Joël Veltman, 22, Ajax, £8 million.
Gold | Arturo Vidal, 26, Juventus – goal scoring all-rounder Vidal has shone in Juve’s hugely successful Serie A title defence this season. Perhaps the most complete midfielder in European football, bar Yaya Touré, Vidal is strong in the tackle, but talented enough to pick out the match-winning pass. The Chilean has seemingly grown with each season in Italy following a £8 million transfer from Bayer Leverkusen in 2011. Indeed, there is little incentive – bar a huge transfer fee – for The Old Lady to let their star man leave. There is always a premium for the very best – and Vidal is that – but is it one that United will meet this summer? Circa £45 million. 30 Serie A, 6 Champions League, 5 Europa League appearances, 2015 passes/83.3% success, 88 shots, 63 key passes, 18 goals, 5 assists.
Silver | Toni Kroos, 24, Bayern Munich – German international Kroos (above) has enjoyed an outstanding campaign in the heart of Bayern’s midfield. Flexible enough to play box-to-box, in front of the back four, or at number 10, Kroos has appeared in more games for Guardiola’s side than any other midfielder. Yet, he is embroiled in a contract negotiation process that has often threatened to spill over onto the pitch. Paid around £70,000-per-week – far less than his market value – the Kroos camp has made little secret of the player’s willingness to move. It will still take a huge bid to pursued Bayern to sell before summer 2015. Circa £40 million. 27 Bundesliga, 10 Champions League appearances, 2944 passes/92.7% success, 77 shots, 52 key passes, 6 goals, 6 assists.
Bronze | William Carvalho, 21, Sporting – rumours that United has already sealed a £35 million transfer for the Sporting midfielder are premature, although there is little doubt the Reds are interested in completing a deal. The delay, as ever, surrounds an acceptable fee. Still, with Mendes as the player’s agent, Carvalho will be moving for big money at some point over the summer. If completed United will gain a tough-tackling defensive midfielder, who has visibly grown over the campaign. Carvalho is far from the finished product – and is still not guaranteed a place Paulo Bento’s Seleção this summer. Circa £20 million. 26 Liga Sagres appearances, 4 shots, 4 goals, 0 assists.
Wooden Spoon | Alex Song, 26, Barcelona – it was always a strange transfer, Song’s from Arsenal to Barcelona in 2012. The Cameroonian midfielder enjoyed six years with the Gunners, but only in latter seasons did the defensive midfielder truly shine. Yet, the 26-year-old was always destined to be a reserve at Barcelona, where Sergio Busquets is a permanent fixture at the base of Barça’s midfield. Just 11 starts in La Liga this season suggests a move would suit the midfielder, although the Catalans’ transfer ban may scupper these plans. Circa £15 million. 16 La Liga, 4 Champions League appearances, 864 passes/92% success, 4 shots, 4 key passes, 35 tackles, 0 goals, 0 assists.
Alternatives: Ander Herrera, 24, £30 million. Morgan Schneiderlin, 24, Southampton, £15 million. Tonny Vilhena, 18, PSV Eindhoven, £5 million.
Gold | Marco Reus, 24, Borussia Dortmund – multi-talented midfielder-cum-forward Reus was outstanding in Dortmund’s 2-0 victory over Real Madrid in this season’s Champions League quarter-final. It is the standard the 24-year-old has consistently set over the past year. Comfortable attacking from the left or central positions, Reus has contributed 31 goals or assists in 35 appearances this season. Now an established member of Joachim Löw’s Germany side, and pivotal to Dortmund’s future, there is likely to be interest from Europe’s biggest club. Whether there is any incentive for Dortmund to sell is perhaps the better question. Circa £30 million. 26 Bundesliga, 9 Champions League appearances, 1126 passes/75.8% success, 129 shots, 88 key passes, 19 goals, 12 assists.
Silver | Antoine Griezmann, 23, Real Sociedad – utility forward Griezmann (above) has now enjoyed five consistent seasons in La Liga with La Real, following a move to Spain as a teenager. Comfortable on the left, right or behind the principle striker, the Frenchman is a modern attacking player who has made a major contribution despite Sociedad’s challenging season. The Mâcon-born player was rewarded with a début cap for Les Bleu’s in February, although remains an outsider to make the World Cup squad. Still, with Paris Saint Germain reportedly interested, competition for Griezmann’s signature may be healthy this summer. Circa £20 million. 31 La Liga, 6 Champions League appearances, 1007 passes/77.6% success, 119 shots, 36 key passes, 16 goals, 3 assists.
Bronze| Adam Lallana, 25, Southampton – neither midfielder, nor forward, Lallana is a modern attacking player in every sense. Comfortable behind a traditional front-man, or in either wide position, the St. Alban’s-born forward has improved each year after seven seasons with the south coast club. But then Lallana always held the talent to succeed – he was an outstanding junior, and a player prepared to graft through the lower reaches of league football for a shot at the big time. Has already impressed on the international stage and would represent an upgrade on Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia. Circa £15 million. 34 Premier League appearances, 1337 passes/84% success, 63 shots, 65 key passes, 9 goals, 6 assists.