If you read my last novel-esque entry here at Footie Writer, I discussed the ever tenuous position van Gaal finds himself in. While not all can be blamed on him for United’s collective failure, as I detailed, much of it must fall on his shoulders. This is largely due to what has been a failed attempt to implement systems not suited to the players available for selection while wastefully letting go of others who could function – particularly in the attacking half. It also should be mentioned failures in capturing players played a part. What’s obvious to me is they need to buy this January and fill the voids that are limiting their potential. This is a fact, irrespective of whether or not van Gaal remains at the helm or a replacement liken to Mourinho or Giggs, on an interim basis once more, come in to stop the bleeding.
So what does United need? Well, if the current set up is to be maintained, then I believe United could do very well if two options to play up top on the right wing were brought in with a quality centre half to add some depth and inject some stability. Why two options up top? In the complete absence of a forward capable of playing the wing as the system necessitates, it seems only fitting that you have two options to adequately see the club through potential injury or busy schedules with Europa and the FA cup still on the calendar.
So who are they? I decided to have a look and came up with a shopping list of sorts:
Let’s start up top with rumours currently insisting that United are lining up a £29M bid for Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez. One half of their unfathomable rise to the top of the league, he has partnered with Vardy to score and assist on more goals than the entire United squad this season. At present, he’s bagged 14 goals and six helpers over 18 matches in all competitions. Originally bought for half a million Euros from Ligue 2 side AC Le Havre, the mouth-watering return on such an investment is just shy of 7900% of the alleged fee valuation. That’s not bad business. Here’s the problem: Leicester won’t sell him. Not this winter. Not while they have a real chance to land a European qualification and continue to remain in the conversation in the League. So if not him, who can United sign this winter?
While I’ll admit he doesn’t seem the likeliest of targets on my list, or most preferred, but what’s different now (versus last summer) are expectations on the south coast. We know United approached Koeman and offered a decent fee for the services of the young and pacey forward, only to be rebuffed as Koeman refused to allow any more of his players to leave. After making noise in the league last season and narrowly missing European qualification to the Europa group stage, it’s not surprising the Saints were optimistic of their chances this season. This season is not going to plan. Currently sitting in 12th, Southampton could now be more willing to entertain offers to reinvest such fees into the squad. For United, Mane would offer them the pace and ability to play on the wing, even if better suited on the left versus the right. In any event, we must discuss him because of the established previous interest.
Currently practicing his trade with Spartak Moscow in the Russian league, this young Dutch forward is a natural right winger who is equally adept on the ball with both feet. He also possesses excellent pace and a decent ability to cross the ball with a penchant for scoring. I look at him and immediately think he’s the future replacement for Arjen Robben on the national team, where he’s already had call ups. Presently with ten goals and six assists to his name across all competitions, he appears to tick all the boxes that United would covet. At just 23, he still has time to fill his increasing potential and an opportunity to play for United could be very appetizing, both for player and club. I must say, it almost seems too good to be true.
No, I’m not joking – seriously. I discussed this one at length here at FootieWriter explaining why. When healthy, he could be the perfect fit for United both in terms of on field performance and locker room presence. Pairing up the savvy veteran of the game with a youngster to mentor and mold him can only be good for the short and long term goals for the club. United have already done it, with Bayern Munich no less, in bringing Schweinsteiger to the club at a relatively discounted fee as he mutually enters the twilight of his career – at least at his prime. Robben has played in the League before, United exist of a very few who could afford his wages, and there’s the hypothetical van Gaal connection should he still be around. He’d definitely be one of the most, if not the most, expensive options listed here. But if healthy, you’ll get what you’ve paid for. And that’s just what United crave.
While he hasn’t exactly been tearing it up in the Serie A this season, neither has his club, SS Lazio. Sitting near the middle of the table, they exist somewhat like Southampton as a club who might be convinced that taking an inflated fee for a player could be well served in reinvesting the funds into the team elsewhere. Or, if you’re Lazio’s owners, perhaps their continued efforts to steer the club away from the debt issues that existed as little as a year and a bit ago. In Anderson, United would get a forward who is equally comfortable with the ball on either foot and can play a central role as well as either wing. When has versatility ever been a bad thing? With lightning quick pace and an ability to really run with the ball, the oft-connected Anderson to United isn’t for not.
Speaking of oft-connected to United, how about a player who’s been linked as ‘all but done’ for as many transfer windows as he’s possibly been alive? Yes, I must include Gaitan because, while not quite the fit others appear to be, he’s got quality that United could use with an ability to play on the right. While he hasn’t exactly been pace setter in terms of his scoring this season, more than anything his nine assists over 18 matches in all competitions can’t be ignored. I have said many times that United lack creativity this year in giving their forwards chances – both in terms of quantity and quality. Van Gaal might think that one or two a game are all one needs – I would disagree. The stats don’t lie. Gaitan can provide that creativity with his excellent passing and vision combined with finishing and pace that aren’t bad by their own right.
Anwar El Ghazi
El Ghazi presents himself as a project of sorts – someone with a yet to be realized potential possibly on the high end of the scale. Probably not United’s first choice on this list if, yours truly, will look at the likes of Jesse Lingard as not yet being good enough – at least on the right where he isn’t naturally suited to play. He’s more of an investment for the long term at just 20 years of age. As such, he likely wouldn’t command a huge fee and could find time to play as easily on the U21 side should options not regularly present themselves with the first team. So why bother? What you probably didn’t know if he has bagged eight goals in 13 appearances for Ajax in the Eredivisie. Impressive, but less so when he’s got none in all other competitions. But as I mentioned, he wouldn’t be the go to United seek and merely makes my list as the second option should United go that route.
Williams may not posses the technical abilities of some of the previously mentioned names, but what he lacks in his passing or finishing is made up for with an incredible pace. Perhaps the fastest player you may not have heard of in La Liga.. Or anywhere, he has collected seven goals and three assists in his 17 appearances for Athletic Bilbao this season. The other thing to bear in mind is that at just 20, he’s much like El Ghazi as a player with oodles of potential and time to realize such. His ability to speed down the wing or beat defenders to through balls is something United would love. The real challenge here will be his fee. Bilbao, as we have seen, are characteristically stubborn in their valuations and if they’re aware of (and I’m sure they are) such potential, they will likely present a fee that Woodward will find stomaching difficult.
The youngest player on our list of United options is German national and Schalke 04 product, Leroy Sane. Not too long ago, the media outlets reported United had representatives been scouting the youngster and the inevitable assumption a bid would ensue was (to date incorrectly) predicted. With five goals and five assists in all appearances for Schalke, Sane has seen his stock rise this season and has begun to catch the eyes of bigger clubs around Europe. Sane presents himself as a middle ground to that of El Ghazi and Williams – not quite as technical as the Dutchman nor quite as quick as the Spaniard. But this isn’t a bad thing because he, like the former, has the potential to be something special. Picking him up as a depth option and long term first team player pays both short and long term dividends.
After his break out in 2013/14 under the ill-fated David Moyes, Januzaj never really took the next step. He’d show flashes of brilliance and stretches of indifference. Despite it, he retained his label as a youth player with an upside to be world-class. However, the result was less play time under van Gaal and it culminated one season later with an unforeseen loan to Borrusia Dortmund. It was hoped there he’d get some minutes with a quality side. It hasn’t worked. He’s not played much and, ironically, it’s been on a quality club with far more quality than United have displayed thus far. So it begs the question: Why haven’t United recalled him? While I won’t pretend to know the specific details of the loan move, if it were feasible to cut the loan short and recall him – would United not, at the very least, benefit from trying him on the right side? I have to assume yes. I’m not saying he’d recapture that form and realize his once apparently limitless potential. But it couldn’t be any worse than what we’ve seen, right?
The subject of a very open and aggressive campaign to bring into the fold at Chelsea in the summer, it is believed that Everton and Roberto Martinez turned down offers north of £40M. The nature of such was off-putting to Martinez and he didn’t hide his displeasure of such, which is probably why the reported interest from United remained just that – interest. It is widely believed that Chelsea will make further approaches in January and the current state of things at United very well may see their interest turn into an inquiry, if not a bid. Make no mistake here. Nothing short of £50M will see Everton sell Stones this winter. To put this in perspective, the record fee for any defender is Chelsea’s sale of David Luis to PSG for £50M. It would be a world record fee for a defender. One who is 21 and far from realizing his full potential. And let’s face it – he’s a quality centre half, but is he yet a world class talent worth such a massive fee? Considering he only got his first England call up last May and has only four appearances in Hodgson’s starting XI over seven appearances, I’d be inclined to say not yet. And this is why I doubt United will stump up such a fee for a uncertain future… For now.
Garay is a tall and powerful defender who would provide United with an aerial presence, especially while defending corners and set pieces, and leadership to the back line. It’s the veteran experience it sorely needs as the consistently brilliant Chris Smalling needs someone to pair with with all other options hurt or consistently hurt. Currently, Zenit sit sixth in the Russian league and not that far back from the top, let alone the spots needed to qualify for European football next year. As such, it’d be hard to prize away easily the club’s best defender and nothing short of a sizable offer for the Argentine international would likely suffice. Contrary to the former in Stones, Garay (while not testing the record fee realm for defenders) would likely present Woodward with a conundrum in deciding does such a fee warrant the services of a 29 year old? Given the reality as of now, one would have to assume it must if United are to turn around their season.
Bruno Martins Indi
Martins Indi presents himself as a trifecta of sorts – primarily a centre half and able to play as a full back or in the holding midfield role. Such versatility is always an asset, one that United could do well to have these days. Young and somewhat unpolished, Martins Indi would still present himself as an upgrade in United’s presently thin defensive corps. The major issue would be prizing him away from Porto should United choose to try such. Currently undefeated and a sliver ahead of Sporting in the table, it’s highly unlikely they’d be willing to part with (arguably) their top centre half unless a suitable replacement could be found in due time. And given the winter window being what it is, that’s hardly a small feat by any stretch.
Napoli are enjoying a fine season, no part in thanks to Juve’s slow start. Just one point off the top of the table while enjoying the best defensive record and tied for best goal differential in the Serie A thus far; it’s little surprise to find a quality centre half at the helm. The French born Senegalese international, Koulibaly, possesses decent speed for a player his size and has more than enough grit to battle for the aerial balls. At 24 years of age, he’s got plenty left in the tank and would prove a wise investment to any club willing to pay for his services – a fee that won’t be insignificant by any stretch. The likelihood that Naoli would let him go, especially mid-season, is quite unlikely.
This German born Cameroonian international is another tall and somewhat pacey centre half who, while less physical than the likes of Koulibaly, is better at getting involved in the play moving forward and has strong defensive instincts. For a club like United who are often exposed to set pieces and breaks by players with pace, it seems a perfect fit. Of all the options listed, Matip exists as the most realistic option. Schalke has a great deal of depth at the position and would likely be more easily persuaded if the right offer landed in their laps. And, at just 24, he would be a worthy long-term investment.
If not Rafael Varane, Laporte is arguably the best young French centre half and is on the brink of seeing a place in their starting XI. As you know, he’s been a name linked to United for some time. So why should this winter be any different? The guy is a beast and I’d go on record and say I think he’s better than Stones… A lot better. Born literally a day apart, I think he’s got much better instincts defensively and is physically much stronger. In a nut shell, if pundits will tell anyone that dropping £40-50M on Stones is a good decision, surely the same fee for Laporte should be an easy decision. Best part? Even though he extended his contract to 2019 this past June, I think Bilbao would be quite happy to invest such into its club otherwise. It’s not as if they’re winning anything this year in La Liga, so why not test their usual stubborn resolve?
Agree? Disagree? Anyone I’ve missed? Let me know what you think. Maybe I should send this to Santa for Louis? Or will it be Jose? Giggs? That’ll be quite interesting in itself. Could come down to how United fare at the Potters on Boxing Day. Think of it… Wouldn’t Mourinho managing his first game for United, at home to Chelsea, make for an epic worthy story line? It’s just too good.