Who Manchester United need to buy and sell in summer transfer window
The January transfer window does not close for another 22 days but there is about as much chance of Manchester United spending as there is of them qualifying for the League Cup final.
United sources described this window as ‘challenging’ months before it opened and, as much as supporters do not want to hear it, high-end deals are seldom conducted at the midway stage. James Maddisonto United was never a goer this month. Nor was Paul Pogba to Real Madrid.
January has been described by United deal-makers as a ‘seller’s market’, though there is still the option of the loan system. United are considering leftfield options to bolster a squad beset by injury and illness in recent weeks. Champions League or Europa League participants are not cup-tied for the knockout stage if they were to switch clubs, so United have not cast the net as wide as they did with the 804 right-backs.
Come the summer, the United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, ashen-faced at Old Trafford on Tuesday, is going to have to renege on his pledge three years ago. During the February 2017 investors’ call, Woodward said United would resist the ‘churn’ of Louis van Gaal’s summer windows. The approach was endorsed by Jose Mourinho, only he ended that year’s window bereft of Ivan Perisic.
United came full circle in 2018 with their inability to back the manager and they could do so again. Van Gaal signed six players in each of his summer windows and United need a minimum of six this summer.
Only United could shelve plans to sign a left-back six weeks before they have to consider selling their most stable left-back. Unless Inter Milan offer silly money for the 34-year-old Ashley Young, losing the club captain in a squad lacking leaders halfway through a turbulent season is just not worth it.
Brandon Williams understandably often looks like a 19-year-old with 10 career starts and the brittle Luke Shaw was excluded altogether from the squad against City. United were monitoring Ben Chilwell but, realistically, are not going to sign two eminent England internationals from Leicester City in the same summer. James Maddison is more of a priority.
Releasing Young and reinforcing at full-back in the same summer would be sensible.
Again, only United could start the season with seven centre halves and have just one match-fit a third of the way through January. Phil Jones got cramp chasing Riyad Mahrez’s shadow on a night where Kevin de Bruyne sent him towards the Old Trafford tunnel.
Marcos Rojo has not appeared in two months and spent most of Christmas in Argentina ahead of a possible transfer. He will have been at United for six years, come the summer.
Eric Bailly has spent five months recovering from a knee injury and Victor Lindelof has become complacent in the wake of his contract renewal. Axel Tuanzebe has promise but is also injury-prone.
Chris Smalling possibly still has a future at the club. United need credible cover for their back two and someone to compete with Lindelof and Tuanzebe.
Nemanja Matic could be released in the close season and is already fluttering his eyelashes at Italian clubs. Pogba does not want to be at United and his agent does not want his clients at United. Andreas Pereira confirmed at Brighton last season that he is not a central midfielder.
Amid concrete doubts over the futures of at least two United midfielders, United need to sign at least two. That is without factoring in the failure to recruit one in the summer after United were quoted £50million for Sean Longstaff.
Declan Rice would be a worthy replacement for Matic but not Pogba. There is not an up-and-coming British midfielder with the cachet or class of Pogba and, like with the £80million Harry Maguire, an attacking midfielder might be United’s costliest addition.
Maddison, Jack Grealish and Donny van de Beek would all walk into United’s team and would not be short of United fans to carry them to M16. Maddison impressed in his first Premier League campaign last season and has developed into one of the league’s elite playmakers. Grealish has the guile and arrogance to enrich the United attack and seems destined to leave Aston Villa this summer, whether or not they stay in the top flight.
Van de Beek is the obvious high-end player sale for Ajax in the summer following the departures of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong. Van de Beek dominated the Madrid sports dailies’ front pages six months ago and it is in Ajax’s interests to whip up a high-stakes auction.
Preferably someone who can play across the front three. If United recruit creative players then it could negate the need for an outright goalscorer, since they have Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood.
United tried to sign Jadon Sancho before he left Manchester City in 2017 and he has told friends he would relish a return to Manchester. Recruiting Maddison and Van de Beek would be advisable, in that the latter also excels as a midfielder and Maddison has operated from the left at times this season.
In the two meaningful starts Jones has had this season he has maybe endured the worst halves of his career. He was selected only out of necessity against City and Solskjaer refused to send him on to replace Harry Maguire at Wolves, even though it aggravated his injury.
Jones, 28 next month, has started 12 times since his four-and-a-half year contract was announced nearly 12 months ago. He came off at half-time in four of them. If Tuanzebe is remotely fit to play against Norwich he is bound to start.
Another centre half who inexplicably and suddenly received a lengthy new contract, Rojo then started four times within the next year. Rojo, 29, was playing relatively regularly in the autumn but succumbed to yet another injury and went to Argentina for Christmas without any official explanation from United. There is an outside chance he could leave this month.
He has appeared in a pitiful 123 United games out of a possible 308 over the last five-and-a-half years and Rojo is out of contract next summer. United could obtain a fee ahead of next season.
Bailly’s injury has effectively reprieved him and United are expected to trigger the two-year extension in his contract. He has to be on his final warning, though.
As stated above, Pogba does not want to be at United and his agent does not want his clients at United. Pogba has undermined two United managers, revelled in the sacking of one, fluttered his eyelashes at Real Madrid last year and Mino Raiola was ‘sorry’ he did not move Pogba to Spain in the summer.
Pogba, 26, has 18 months left on his contract and, although the option of an additional year rests with United, the summer is the time to cash in. Pogba would still command a nine-figure fee and that would balance United’s net spend.
His alliance with Raiola would suggest Lingard has made it abundantly clear he sees his future away from United. Lingard has suffered a raging post-World Cup hangover and there were cheers from some matchgoers upon the announcement he had been withdrawn for Matic against City.
Lingard has flunked as a playmaker for United and went through the 2019 calendar year without a goal. Bernardo Silva has scored more times at Old Trafford in the last two years than Lingard. That cannot be tolerated.
It is not Pereira’s fault the United board and staff have allowed him to operate above his station. He has struggled so badly in midfield and attack his role is undefined and it is risible he has played as regularly for United two seasons after an unremarkable loan spell with Valencia.
Pereira is already 24. He spoke in the summer about becoming United’s new David Beckham. By the age of 24, Beckham had won three Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League.
As is their wont, United gifted Pereira a new contract in the summer and he is tied to them until 2023. Given the likelihood of Matic and Pogba moving on, Pereira could stay to aid the transition.
Sanchez might be tougher to shift than Winston Bogarde. He earns in the region of £400,000 a week after tax at United, is injured again and contracted to the club until 2022.
Unless United accept a major hit (Sanchez is 31 now), they might be resigned to signing off another season-long loan for the chastened Chilean.
Lee Grant, Ashley Young, Nemanja Matic, Timothy Fosu-Mensah
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