A round table discussion of Manchester United's French midfield transfer target

Alex Livesey

A move for Yohan Kebab Cabaye would be underwhelming, but he could be a useful addition to the Manchester United squad.

In early June, after Newcastle United's Yohan Cabaye was first linked to Manchester United this summer, here's how I felt about the possibility:

'So, would Cabaye be a good buy for United? A year-and-a-half ago, when United were limited in their transfer budget and they were being overrun by Cabaye and Cheick Tiote in a 0-3 defeat by Newcastle, I probably would have been more enthusiastic by the possibility. The Frenchman is undoubtedly a good player and as the United squad stands now, he would improve the midfield. However, the club is now in a healthier financial situation than they were and they appear willing to spend money for high quality midfielders. I'd rather inquire about talents like Thiago Alcantara*, Marouane Fellaini, and Kevin Strootman for now and see how that goes. If it gets deeper into the summer transfer window and the club are still in need of a midfielder, perhaps they can inquire about Cabaye. At 27-years-old, and after coming off a season where his form was inconsistent, United shouldn't be willing to pay much for him. And in terms of midfield transfer options, the Frenchman should be a 'plan B', but only if the price is right. Cabaye, at best, would only be a decent stopgap to the current midfield problems.'

* Thiago :(

Well, it's "deeper into the summer transfer window and the club are still in need of a midfielder" and there have been fresh links in recent days to Cabaye. Since I've already shared my opinion on the France international, and since it hasn't really changed much from early June, I decided to ask Callum and SilentRed their opinions on the player. Here's Callum's response:

'Cabaye's versatility is one of the reasons that, like Fellaini; while he may not have the talent of a Thiago or Fabregas, he can be almost as important. His tackling and ability to run a game from deep means he could quite easily slot alongside Carrick in a conservative deep midfield two, as we used in 2008-09. He could also play more of a box-to-box role, or even behind the strikers given his goal threat. In everything apart from maybe not quite being a top-level talent, he's the ideal player.'

Here's SilentRed's take:

'I don't claim to be an expert on Cabaye, but I did watch Newcastle's run to 5th with interest in 2011/12 and Cabaye struck me as a player. Consistent, but not that much of an X factor (as against, Ben Arfa?), and seems more level headed. I'm not sold that his defensive side is as strong as we'd like from Carrick's partner in the big games but his technical ability is sound. I do recall in the Euros (was it?) that he didn't look out of place at all, and it was a good quality tourney.

I don't think Cabaye will be out of place at United. However, given his age (27) and the fee being thrown around (15M???) I'd rather see us go with 'Fro. Cabaye is a creative sort and enjoys decent freedom at Newcastle - can he sit back when needed, or even rush back after bombing up? Is he needed when we have creativity oozing (ok, I exaggerate) out of the front 3/4? I don't know. Something doesn't fit for me, though he's a good player.

Nutshell - Good player, won't mind him on with Ando out. But we need more bite than him, and that's Fellaini. Between the two, Big Hair anyday (Gundogan blows them both out of the water).'

Can't say I disagree really with my TBB brethren.

The only thing I'd like to briefly add is how Cabaye likely would fit in if he were to arrive at Old Trafford. In David Moyes' likely 4-2-3-1 base system, the 27-year-old would probably compete with Tom Cleverley for the privilege of being deployed alongside Michael Carrick in a double-pivot. While the latter would occupy deep positions in midfield protecting the back four while controlling games with his tidy passing and tempo-setting ways, Cabaye would have license to break forward and join the attack**. The Frenchman would be able to link the midfield with the attack and his ability to create chances for others (2.04 per game last season), score goals (6 last season), and break up play in midfield (3.08 tackles per game and 2.12 interceptions per game last season) would be useful and complimentary attributes for United. As SilentRed mentions, Cabaye isn't as good as Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan in this role, but he can still be a useful and functional player for United.

** Below is a passing chart diagram of Cabaye and his midfield partner, Tiote, versus United in January. Notice how it's Tiote holding and making passes from deep zones while Cabaye is distributing the ball further up the pitch. In a very basic comparison, this is the sort of relationship he'd likely share with Carrick or even Darren Fletcher if the latter makes a recovery from his ulcerative colitis.

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