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Alternative Manchester United Transfer Targets: Midfielders

Keep your Nemanja Matić. Here’s who we should be getting instead.

It has been widely reported that José Mourinho has targeted four areas of the Manchester United team for improvement this summer. With a need at center back already addressed, a striker, a winger, and a central midfielder are the other positions for which new signings are likely. In part 3 of a 3 part series, the tBB writers propose alternative signings for those positions to the ones that have been heavily rumored. The final installment: the midfielders.

Sergio Busquets

Spain v Turkey - Group D: UEFA Euro 2016 Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Manchester United are in a search of a certain type of midfielder. They need someone who can do the things that Paul Pogba shouldn’t be tasked with doing; the things that Ander Herrera tries very hard to do, but can’t quite master; the things that Marouane Fellaini looks like he should be able to do (he is a big bastard, after all), but...alas.

United need a holding midfielder. Sergio Busquets is the best holding midfielder on the planet. Let’s not make this any more complicated than it needs to be.

Busquets is also coming off the worst season of his career, is arguably the most essential non-Messi player in Barcelona’s first team, and has a buyout clause that, if met, would nearly double the current world record transfer fee. He’s a future captain of his hometown club, has never indicated any interest in leaving, and even if he did, would be far more likely to want to rejoin the man on the other side of Manchester who gave him his start in football. But who cares? Ill-advised wild goose chases are very much on brand for today’s Manchester United. At this rate, we’re a year or two away from having an official Transfer Saga That Eventually Ends In Disappointment sponsor. Why stop now?

Has there ever been a player and a coach more spiritually aligned than Busquets and José Mourinho? Two occasionally horrible people who were are annoyingly excellent at their jobs, and who have never been accused of letting little things like “sportsmanship” or “dignity” get in the way of winning. Busquets is a diving, cheating, moaning, world class shithouse. Sign him up. BM.

Jack Wilshere

Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about Manchester United's ongoing search for a central midfielder is just how sensible everybody's being. Take Nemanja Matić. He's experienced, he knows the league, he knows the coach, does the unspectacular things very well, he's won two league titles in three seasons, he's tall and strong …

… he's astonishingly boring.

Now, Jack Wilsh-- no! no! come back! Bear with me. Jack Wilshere: theoretically of Arsenal, temperamentally of England, recently of Bournemouth, and usually of the treatment table. He is, of course, a chippy berk; a man who once tried to headbutt Marouane Fellaini, couldn't quite reach, and ended up nuzzling his face into the big Belgian's chest.

But he's also something special. Let's consider how the Wilshere season usually goes. It begins with the assumption that this will be the year he clicks into greatness, veers around wildly between promise and disappointment, takes in at least one isolated, genuinely world-class performance in an irrelevant European game, and then ends prematurely when he breaks a bone that medical science hadn't even identified yet.

And then, let us consider how this must affect those invested in his performance. Hope, displeasure, hope again, confusion, amusement, irritation, more irritation, surprise, joy, excitement, optimism … and then a long, dark charge into the gloom. Every time. TBB doesn't often look enviously at Arsenal fans, for obvious reasons, but what a rollercoaster that must be.

Look, we don't think Jack Wilshere is particularly good. But watching United has been kind of boring for a few seasons, and since the manager doesn't seem particularly interested in playing entertaining football, we might as well indulge ourselves in a little soap opera. Wilshere wouldn't make United a better team, or return the title to United. But he would make being a Manchester United supporter more enervating and stimulating, more contradictory and peculiar. It would make life much more interesting, in good and bad ways. And that's not to be sniffed at. AT.


Villarreal v Monaco: UEFA Champions League Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Fabinho is — it goes without saying — the most boring of the three options, but sometimes boring is good. And in the case of United’s midfield, boring is necessary. After a solid but ultimately unspectacular return to Old Trafford, much of José Mourinho’s summer may well be spent pondering how to unlock Paul Pogba’s full potential. And the answer may well be simply a case of finding teammates who enable him to roam free.

That, of course, means making sure he’s surrounded by willing runners, players who can fill the gaps he leaves behind. Think back to when Pogba was delivering consistently world class performances at Juventus: he often had both Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio scampering around, freeing the Frenchman to be a little more ambitious with his positioning. At United, however, he’s often been shoehorned into a two-man midfield pivot, wondering when he’ll next have to clean up Marouane Fellaini’s mess. It’s little wonder he’s sometimes looked a little restricted.

Fabinho would not only represent a man-for-man upgrade in midfield, but also give Mourinho greater tactical flexibility. Blessed with positional intelligence and boundless energy, the Brazilian could form an energetic midfield trio with Pogba and Ander Herrera — or, perhaps even more well-balanced, Pogba and Nemanja Matić — to ensure that what United gain with the ball, they don’t lose without it. He’d represent a very sensible signing, but sometimes sensible is exactly what you need. JS.