Transfer potshot

April 3, 2015 Tags: Reads 9 comments
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The season is not quite over yet, but the time is nigh for the Manchester United’s squad to be assessed in anticipation of the upcoming transfer window. After all, Louis Van Gaal must have seen enough of his men to draw up a list of summer additions – and the Dutchman has reportedly been handed a healthy transfer budget.

All eyes rest upon David De Gea as far as United’s goalkeepers go. Real Madrid holds much sway for the Spaniard, professionally and personally, but the deal, while very possible, is far from guaranteed this summer. De Gea’s contract runs to summer 2016.

It remains to be seen whether Victor Valdes can regain his Barcelona form but, on paper, the 33-year-old is well suited for Van Gaalian football. When push comes to shove, United may choose to see out the rest of De Gea’s contract while searching for a suitable replacement. Signing Valdes on a free transfer this winter has offered the club a safety net and there should be no post Edwin Van Der Sar-esque crisis should De Gea return home.

In defence a new centre back is essential and the noise surrounding Mats Hummels is gathering a sense of momentum. The market for centre backs offers more options than that for goalkeepers and the arrival of top player in that position is likely.

The situation on the right side of defence is dire though. Antonio Valencia has done a mediocre job this this season and Rafael, the only natural right-back in the squad, has fallen out of favour. United needs a top-class player in the position, especially with European football now likely next season, and a further back-up may also arrive in the summer. Nathaniel Clyne’s transfer has been frequently mooted, while Everton’s Seamus Coleman is also in the discussion. Neither will come cheap.

Surprisingly, given United’s recent history, central midfield looks relatively healthy. Daley Blind and Michael Carrick are dependable holding midfielders, while Juan Mata and Ander Herrera provide some stardust in the middle. Maroune Fellaini has earned begrudging respect and Angel Di Maria might eventually find a place in central midfield should Van Gaal finally settle on a 4-3-3 system. The Argentine excelled in the role at Benfica and Real Madrid.

United could do with a genuine driving force in the centre of the park, such as a pre-injury Kevin Strootman or Juventus’ Paul Pogba. The former is welcome, though might be a significant gamble, while the latter is probably far too costly. United can certainly compete with the current set of midfielders and may very well do so given the priorities in other areas of the pitch.

Van Gaal may well seek to bring in a wide player even if Di Maria stays at the club. Ashley Young has turned himself into a Ji-Sung Park-esque figure and the Dutch manager has an inherent fondness for such players. Mata may continue to be used as a “false winger” – one that uses movement rather than on-the-ball running to do damage – while the situation with Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj needs further observation.

Di Maria, high quality though he is, excels as the supporting cast rather than a bona-fide leading man. United’s squad is short of a genuinely destructive winger, such as Arjen Robben, Cristiano Ronaldo or Marco Reus. None of that trio is likely to arrive, however, and a potential transfer is complicated by United’s situation up front.

No matter how well the rest of season goes for Ramadel Falcao the Colombian’s permanent transfer to Old Trafford seems highly unlikely – if only because the £43 million fee can be better spent. Robin van Persie seems likely to linger around for at least another season, though probably with a less important squad role.

As ever, Wayne Rooney is the chief conundrum. The evidence of the season adds to the belief that Rooney can only be deployed as a number nine. Should Van Gaal persist with a 4-3-3 system then there really is no need for United to spend heavily on another striker, especially with James Wilson in the background.

It has been often said on these pages, but Rooney has neither the technique nor the physique to effectively hold up the ball as a lone striker. The Englishman needs other players to create space and United’s squad lacks the players to provide this ‘verticality.’ It is little surprise that Rooney has suffered a number of poor games up-front – the Liverpool fixture is a case in point.

Van Gaal could solve the problem by bringing in a more complete forward, but selling or benching Rooney may be too complicated both politically and financially. The alternative is to deploy a true box-to-box midfielder or more destructive winger to support Rooney. It would certainly improve United’s lot.

The summary is a wish list costing more than £100 million: a top centre back, right-back and back-up full-back, and a box-to-box midfielder or world-class winger. United will recoup some money by selling off fringe players such as Javier Hernandez. Even then, a transfer kitty of at least £90 million is needed to fill some obvious gaps in the squad.

Ed Woodward has certainly talked the talk in the past, but will he make good on all those promises once again? Perhaps so. Before the start of current season, this column argued that the Glazer family was likely to release funds for heavy spending – which happened to the tune of £125 million net.

That argument still holds true. Only the Glazers know how much they value Champions League football, but they profit as long as they don’t spend more than that valuation. Of course, the Americans might sanction as little possible to maximise profit, but the family has certainly been forced into recent spending. The logical action, then, is to spend a lot. This paradox minimises risk and the Glazers cannot take any chance when United is still swaying. Expect another busy summer.


Junaid Mehkri - April 3, 2015 Reply

Rooney looks pretty deadly up front on his own, barring the Liverpool game.Then again he’s always been shit there!

David Shankland - April 3, 2015 Reply

united can NOT compete with current midfielders..out biggest issue since 11 if not Rome

Opti - April 5, 2015 Reply

Agree with this take.

How much is Nani worth now — 15m?

I’d say let’s keep Chicharito (my soft spot!!) and sell Nani and Cleverley.

Then, buy young RB (<20m), top CB (<40m), and young winger (<30m). That's around 90m. We replace Falcao with a proper impact sub and provide competition to Januzaj / DiMaria.


Lucas - April 6, 2015 Reply

Midfield: It’s imperative we buy a replacement for Carrick and slowly phase him out next season (he’s not getting any younger). Herrera needs a box-to-box/creative midfielder like Pogba (or Strootman/Koke) alongside him. I think LvG might get Nigel de Jong on a free transfer just to add steel to our midfield.

Attack: We will release Falcao and if we sell both RVP and Chicharito, it is going to leave us short of strikers. But if we play 4-3-3, we might be able to make do with just Rooney, backed up by Wilson. Depay will be a good addition, because he can play on the left wing or as a striker.

Defence: Smalling has improved leaps and bounds, and the fact that Wenger wants him, says a lot about how good he is. But we do need at least one world-class defender. Despite all the hype around Jones, he is not reliable as he gets injured way too often (like Rafael). I would sell both Jones and Rafael, replace them with Hummels/Varane and Clyne/Coleman.

Sell: RVP, Chicharito, Cleverley, Rafael, Jones, Nani
Buy: Pogba/Koke, Depay, Clyne/Coleman, Hummels/Varane, and Bale (only if Di Maria is sold)


Jay Shon - April 6, 2015 Reply

Re: Depay

Don’t watch Dutch football so my impression of Depay as an aggressive goal-scoring winger may not be totally accurate. Would love to know more about the guy.

Also has he played much as a striker? Can he genuinely run channels etc etc etc?

Fusilli Jerry - April 6, 2015 Reply

Lucas: you’re almost spot-on in my opinion, but I am greatly concerned that the manager won’t be.

There’s a version of United next season that consists of old men like Carrick, van Persie and Alves, cloggers like Fellaini and de Jong, and mediocrity like Valencia. Then we’ll waste energy and money chasing Woodward’s idea of galacticos (i.e. Real cast-offs) – an idea based entirely on attracting noodle partners rather than assembling the team needed to actually win Premier and Champions Leagues.

Pogba or Koke is a must, but even if the Frenchman was attainable and not already promised to Barcelona, I don’t think United will swallow the embarrassment of stumping up the £75m Ferguson lost us there. If Pogba plays overseas that would be one thing, but I couldn’t bear it if he turned up at Chelsea or Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund. Whilst we in the meantime attempt to plug our seasons-old gaping hole central midfield with Strootman – about as likely to withstand the rigours of English football as Hargreaves was when we signed him, but Dutch so that’s ok.

There’s a version of United next season that consists of old men like Carrick, van Persie and Alves, cloggers like Fellaini and de Jong, and keep-their-head-down mediocrity like Valencia (whose gift of the FA Cup tie to Arsenal was obviously fine in van Gaal’s eyes, whereas Rafael has obviously done something that means his United career must end here).

Am encouraged by the Depay rumours, but alarmed by pretty much everything else I’m reading summer transfer-wise.

Lucas - April 7, 2015 Reply

I agree…I’d rather see Pogba play abroad than for our English rivals. Chelsea accepted their mistake in letting Matic go and bought him back, and he is now the best DM in the league. So, I wouldn’t mind spending money on Pogba, but the question is – is he willing to return? I doubt it. I would splash the cash on Koke if we don’t get Pogba (I think Koke has much more number of assists than Pogba). And, I wouldn’t mind another Spanish wizard in our midfield.

IMO, we should steer clear of Strootman (but LvG LOVES him!), lest he turns out to be another Hargreaves. Based on their performances this season, we should hold on to Valencia and Young, but only as backup players.

And why are we constantly linked to Cavani? Before Ed goes on a galactico-spending spree, he should discuss with LvG on the formation he is likely to use next season. If he intends to continue using 4-3-3, I don’t see the point in having Cavani (he wants to be the main striker!) when we will probably only use Rooney upfront.

Most importantly, we should not buy more than 4 players (CB, RB, CM, RW/ST). It becomes more difficult to make the team gel if we buy too many players.


JhnyEngls - April 7, 2015 Reply

I’d suggest Son Heung Min as the potential destructive winger. He has room to grow and he does fantastically for Leverkusen. He also fits the Van Gaal’s appetite for high work-rate, ambidextrous…We could even bring back Nani but honestly, Son is much younger and fits the Gaalian profile better. Might as well sell Nani. We should keep Chicha as we could still use more pace upfield in case Van Gaal wants to play Rooney as an aggressive box to box and place Chicha up front.

Food for thought.

davidrhys - April 7, 2015 Reply

The player I have been wondering about lately who I think would make sense in the United team is Asier Illaramendi. He was arguably the best player in the Spanish U21/U23 squads a couple of years ago, with a useful combination of passing ability, awareness and probably a bit more tenacity/balls than Carrick. I think he could be gettable, given that he has been at Madrid a couple of years now and his chances have been limited. If Khedira leaves, then that might persuade him to stay, but if Madrid sign Pogba (as seems likely) then Illaramendi’s route to the first team will be blocked again. A pretty large Spanish-speaking contingent at United now is also a big plus I would guess when trying to negotiate, and Illaramendi could be integrated with a view to eventually replacing Carrick.

Otherwise, the area that really needs to be addressed is RB. It seems ridiculous that a club of United’s resources has been making do without a specialist in that position for the best part of a year. I don’t want another season to start where the management is choosing between Rafael – who Van Gaal clearly isn’t convinced by – and Valencia, who is a good “servant” (hate the use of that word in a footballing context but it gets the meaning across here), but should be nothing more than a stopgap. I think Seamus Coleman seems like the best option from the Premier League, maybe the scouting department can come up with a more creative suggestion.

Rooney should never be played anywhere but centre forward again. HIs days of being an experiment are over (he will be 30 this year), and it has been proven time and time again that he is most effective up front. So no midfield/wing for Rooney save in the most desperate injury crisis please!

Generally I am a great believer in signing players who have something to prove, and I am generally more sceptical when players arrive with the big wages and big reputations (even worse if they are 28yo+). For this reason, I would steer well clear of Cavani. United should obviously get shot of Falcao and maybe Van Persie too, he has been pretty bad for almost two years now and I don’t see that changing. I would also be tempted to enquire about Danny Ings – not the most prolific goalscorer I know – but I think he adds to his team’s play and everytime I’ve seen him play this season I’ve been impressed.

One last word on the defence: I don’t fully understand why so much criticism was being levelled at the back line until a few weeks ago. The defensive record is pretty darn good – and there was no part of the team which you could really say was functioning effectively. However, although centre backs tend to be the weakest footballers on the pitch, watching Phil Jones does make me think that United could do a lot better. I feel bad writing that because I love Jones, but he might have been born 20-30 years too late. Keep though.

In conclusion:
OUT – Cleverley, Nani, Falcao, Powell (what a clown), Van Persie, Evans
IN – Illaramendi, Coleman, Depay, Ings

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