Manchester United are staring down the barrel of transfer window tragedy

By George Storr

The race to finish fourth isn’t the only cause for nerves at Old Trafford at the moment. After a tumultuous season defined by personnel changes, rumours are already circulating that up to six of United’s senior players could be headed away from Manchester come summer. Having shown his capability to get Man Utd back to winning ways, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now has to prove that he has the influence and know-how to replace potential departures. Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward is putting his faith in OGS, so expect to see some eye-widening signings and transfer fees. 

Ander Herrera

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Ander Herrera has agreed terms with PSG, according to Sky Sports News, though an official confirmation of this is not forthcoming.

The 29-year-old has been a fantastic midfield workhorse for United and has made himself a real fan favourite as a result. For the United faithful, Herrera could cause the biggest heartbreak of those heading for the door.

However, according to Le Parisien, PSG may be turning their attentions to United alumnus and Ajax defender Daly Blind. This gives the Old Trafford faithful some hope that they may hang onto their beloved Basque midfielder.

Energy and commitment are the essence of Herrera’s game, so any potential move for a replacement should be made with those qualities in mind. He contributes to United’s ability to win the ball back but he’s also important in an attacking sense, even chipping in with an occasional goal.

As regards a possible replacement, a case could be made for signing Leicester’s Nigerian midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi. The 22-year-old was brought in at Leicester in an attempt to replace Ngolo Kante. Statistically, he’s made more tackles than any other Premier League player (122) and he’s been nominated for the PFA’s player of the month award for March, alongside Sadio Mane and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Ndidi is showing huge potential and hasn’t yet attracted the sort of media attention that could bump up his price tag. He could be an interesting addition to United’s midfield.

To look to a bigger name, who would have a bigger price tag, Declan Rice is another young midfielder showing immense potential. He’s got a long term contract at West Ham though so United would have to be willing to pay over the odds, as they have far too often in recent seasons.

Another, slightly more old-fashioned route would be to poach one of Wolves’ star midfielders. Two beatings in close succession might have inspired Man Utd to flex their financial muscle and buy one of the players capable of meting out that punishment.

Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota have both shown their ability to shape games. Both are only 22 and have been regulars for Wolves. Jota is the most impressive when it comes to crunching the numbers though – in 26 appearances he’s scored seven goals and contributed four assists.

PICKS: Wilfred Ndidi, Diogo Jota

Alexis Sanchez

Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez was cause for excitement for many United fans when he signed from Arsenal, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan going the other way. As it turned out though, United, it seems, would have done just as well to keep the inconsistent Armenian.

Instead, United got an even more inconsistent Sanchez. Signing him decimated the Manchester United wage structure and he’s contributed very little on the pitch. He’s also failed to win the hearts of the United faithful, or indeed of the new manager. 

If Sanchez does leave, a lot of wage money will be freed up to guarantee the re-signing of David DeGea. By that token, the sooner Sanchez signs elsewhere, the better.

In terms of a replacement, United needed Sanchez to contribute goals, so that should be at the heart of the hunt to replace him.

Everton’s Richarlison has netted 12 this season and can play in a variety of attacking roles. He’s gained enough plaudits to bump up his fee too, though.

Watford’s Gerard Deulofeu, an ex-Barcelona and Milan player, has shown his star-quality this season, scoring two goals in Watford’s dramatic FA comeback against Wolves on Sunday. He’s netted seven in 24 appearances. The fact that the European giants didn’t see fit to hang onto him might ring some warning bells, but consider too the success Liverpool are having with a similar figure in Xherdan Shaqiri.

The Evening Standard have claimed that United are confident in signing England starlet, Jadon Sancho. He would be a worthy but costly addition to the side. Dortmund have also denied any suggestions that Sancho will be leaving the Bundesliga, with their CEO last week saying “we will not sell him, that is fact. It is clearly discussed with every person who is involved that Jadon plays in the next season for BVB.”

The Manchester Evening News have suggested that if Sancho doesn’t come to Manchester, United fans could see the return of Memphis Depay. His time at United first time round was underwhelming to say the least, but a purple patch at Lyon has caught the eyes of scouts the other side of the channel.

PICKS: Gerard Deulofeu, Jadon Sancho

Valencia, Rojo and Darmian

The loss of three defenders in Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and club stalwart Antonio Valencia will mean the United back line needs some summer additions. The Sun have also reported that Real Madrid are preparing a £35m bid for Eric Bailly, with Zinedine Zidane impressed by the Ivorian’s stints at La Liga sides Espanyol and Villareal before he signed for Man Utd. Whilst none of the four have had stellar seasons, such a mass exodus could leave United in the red.

Rojo has been given permission to train with Argentine club Estudiantes, while Valencia’s contract extension was not triggered by the club and Darmian has featured so little a move seems unavoidable.

James Tarkowski has been a prolific tackler at Burnley and could be an interesting replacement for Rojo. Equally, the continuation of the Harry Maguire rumours suggest he may be added to the backline as a much needed leader. It’s been an oft-levelled accusation that United have lots of centre-backs who should be the second, supporting player in a partnership, and not the leading man. Maguire could be the man to take the lead, likely paired with Chris Smalling. He will likely come at a hefty price though.

Serie A also has a couple of players that have caught United’s eye. Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly has been persistently linked with a move to United, but as one of the best players in his position in the world, it’s unlikely that he’ll leave South Italy for less than £100m, as well as a hefty wage. Italian journalist Ciro Venerato has suggested that the Red Devils will instead make a move for Roma CB Kostas Manolas, who has a €36m release clause.

Cross-town rivals Manchester City have shown the importance of great full-backs in a Premier League campaign this year. They’re set to bolster that too as they prepare a record breaking bid for Leicester left-back, Ben Chillwell. United will have to think long and hard about how to remedy their situation at right-back, with Darmian and Valencia leaving and Ashley Young getting on in years.

If shopping within the Premier League, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and DeAndre Yedlin are tempting propositions. Yedlin’s pace is noteworthy but Wan-Bissaka is man of the moment in the prem and reports suggest United may be going head-to-head with Spurs in an attempt to win his signature.

Raphael Varane has also been discussed as a target for Solskjaer. However it seems likely Zinedine Zidane will do everything he can to keep hold of the star centre back, with Los Blancos reportedly in talks to offer the Frenchman a new long-term contract. 

PICKS: Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Pogba and Mata

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Paul Pogba is seemingly quite unlikely to depart Old Trafford this summer. However, contingency planning for the potential departure of such a big-name player is important. If Pogba was lured away by Real Madrid, as some comments from the midfielder have suggested, who could replace him?

A marquee signing might be considered necessary to fill the hole and keep pace with Manchester City and Liverpool. Any fee for Pogba would doubtless be a huge one and give Ole a war chest for such a marquee signing.

Rumours have circulated that Barcelona may target Juan Mata as a discount buy to bolster their squad. The Oviedo native may be tempted to return to Spain and add the European giants to his footballing resume. This prompts further contingency planning in central midfield, considering too the seemingly imminent departure of Ander Herrera.

According to the Daily Star, United have abandoned pursuit of Gareth Bale to target the oft-talked about crop of England youth talent. This includes the aforementioned Declan Rice and Jadon Sancho, as well as Chelsea wünderkind Callum Hudson-Odoi. Hudson-Odoi might be persuaded to leave Chelsea for a club that is willing to give him regular game time, after a frustrating season mostly spent on the bench – Maurizio Sarri didn’t give the 18 year old his first premier league start until last Wednesday, despite him making his international debut in England’s game against Montenegro back in March. However, Chelsea may be reluctant to let Hudson-Odoi leave Stamford Bridge, with a two-season long transfer ban looming over them. 

This tactic would represent a significant investment in youth but all three players are showing immense potential. It also gives Solskjaer the opportunity to usher in a new era of long-term United legends. 

Saul Niguez, of Atletico Madrid, has been mooted as a potential addition to the Manchester United midfield. The suggestion is though that he would cost around £70m. Competition could come from the blue side of Manchester, however, with Man City also reportedly lining up a bid for the 24 year-old.

PICKS: Saul Niguez, Declan Rice

De Gea

De Gea

The absolute worst case scenario for Manchester United this summer would be the departure of David De Gea. The Spaniard wants wage parity with Alexis Sanchez and it seems there have been complications in contract talks. Hope remains for United fans but, if the worst were to happen, who would replace De Gea?

It’s worth remembering that United’s back-up keeper, Sergio Romero, is an underrated talent. The Argentina international has shown himself to be more than capable when he has been called into action and, should De Gea leave, he deserves at least a place in the conversation about his replacement.

According to Spanish news outlet Marca, Thibaut Courtois will be Real’s number one next season, despite spending time out of the starting line up under Zinedine Zidane recently. If this is the case, United may consider a move for Keylor Navas who it is expected will be told that he can leave. However, the Costa Rican is 32 and hence doesn’t work as a long term solution.

An alternative could be a big money swoop for Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak, one of the only men able to rival De Gea’s goalkeeping quality. The 26-year-old claimed his 100th clean sheet in his 178th appearance for Atletico and was rated by FourFourTwo Magazine as the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment. His price-tag would likely reflect that rating though.

PICKS: Jan Oblak, Sergio Romero

Manchester United have suffered following poor transfer dealings over the last few seasons. The United faithful will hope, with Ole at the wheel, that the reds can adopt a more sensible transfer policy.

More patience is needed in bringing players to Old Trafford. Instead of seeking another expensive “finished article” like Pogba or Sanchez, United have to swallow their pride and learn from the transfer policies of rivals. Salah, for example, was no big name before he signed for Liverpool. Equally Fernandino only cost Manchester City £30m and has been a stand-out at Pep’s City.

Trying to buy the finished article, or players making headlines, isn’t what’s needed at United. Instead, some shrewd transfers are necessary to bolster a United side still in stuttering form.

Plucking a player from ‘under the radar’ might be more advisable at this point. Wilfred Ndidi, Diogo Jota and Gerard Deulofeu are all exciting players who are used to the league and wouldn’t set the reds back in a big way financially.

Kit of the Week #2: The Gunners’ Golden Generation

In a brand new weekly series, Kieran Ahuja takes a look at a weird, wonderful, wonky or just damn nice football kit.

Mikäel Silvestre has just given away the ball to Ray Parlour on the left wing, under very little pressure. Parlour to Sylvian Wiltord. Wiltord is now running at the Manchester United defence. Wiltord to Ljungberg, noticeable mostly because of a shit red stripe that he’s sporting in his hair – 2002 is a weird time.

Ljungberg taps it through the legs of a 35 year-old Laurent Blanc. A fortunate bounce brings him one on one with Fabien Barthez. He aims low to Barthez’s right. Barthez gets down quickly and palms it away, but only into the path of Wiltord, who slots it down the middle before Barthez can recover. Wiltord stands, one arm in the air. Kanu jumps over his head, obviously.

Sir Alex Ferguson sends on a weary Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who can do nothing to knock Arsenal’s calm performance off-kilter. Yet, as a tense second half draws to a close, Arsenal fans are hesitant to celebrate, in the full knowledge of Man Utd’s reputation for late goals. In the 92nd minute, Fabian Barthez and Lee Dixon get into a bit of a scuffle. Arsenal fans are beginning to embrace each other and chant. The Theatre of Dreams is Arsenal’s for the day.

Two minutes and 57 seconds into injury time, the whistle blows. No Fergie time here. Wenger embraces his coaching staff, and the team is awash in relief. They won’t lift the trophy until the week after, but the double is secured, and they’ve secured it against their biggest rivals away from home, with both Henry and Bergkamp injured. They also won the FA cup just five days ago. Not a bad week.

It seems somewhat serendipitous that Arsenal’s breath-taking away record was garnered in a gold shirt. It may seem an ostentatious or even a little cocky to wear gold. But it seemed fitting for this Arsenal team. They didn’t lose an away game all season; scored in every game; Wenger got manager of the year; Robert Pires won player of the year, with all the players bowing to him as he lifted the trophy.

Why don’t more teams wear gold? Bayern Munich, who wore a gold away kit in the 2004-2005 season, won the double, winning the Bundesliga by an astonishing 14 points. It seems that Gold was in vogue in the first half-decade of the noughties; Man Utd had a gold third kit in the same season, but had a less remarkable year, with the surprise departure of Jaap Stam to Lazio and his frantic replacement with Laurent Blanc.

Perhaps the only reason that this Arsenal team aren’t better remembered is simply that the magnitude of the 2003-04 season eclipsed them. Because there’s something spectacular about watching a team with Arsenal’s panache and artistry play in gold. Watching a typically elegant Henry, a seasoned Bergkamp at his most precise, an explosive Ljungberg and an ethereal Pires gallop round the pitch is aesthetic enough, but then add gold.

Arsenal would play in gold again, on the road in the 2015-16 season, but they could not conjure the Midas touch of 2001-02. Often remembered as their nicest kit, this gilded shirt was one that befitted Arsenal’s level of artistry.

Kieran Ahuja is co-founder, writer and creative director for 5WFootball. Follow him on Twitter here