By all accounts, Manchester United expect to be active in the transfer market this summer. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has identified his primary areas of need, and — if the papers are to be believed — we know the identity of at least two of his first-choice targets. But things don’t always go according to plan even under normal circumstances, nevermind in the post(?)-coronavirus uncertainty of the next transfer window. Alternative opportunities may present themselves, and United may even have plans that are yet to leak to the press. With a not insignificant amount of money to spend, and a potential buyer’s market to look forward to, Solskjaer, Ed Woodward, and co. may be spoilt for choice.
Imagine, reader, that you are one of the decision-makers at United, and not some sad nobody reading this from your mother’s basement. We’ve put together a number of hypothetical scenarios (all within reason) that juxtapose some interesting choices for United’s summer recruitment. Read the cases that our writers make for their preferences, and let us know yours in the comments below.
Harry Kane for £150m or Odion Ighalo on a 3-year contract
A recent report claims that United were on the verge of putting together an offer for a striker before the suspension of the season. Kane has been linked to United for some time, but it would take a record fee for Tottenham to part ways with their captain. On the other hand, United can stick with their current options up front, and sign their on-loan back-up no. 9 to a permanent deal.
VR: Ighalo won’t be good enough to be first-choice, but Anthony Martial deserves another year to lead the line for United. A handy back-up is more useful than a first-choice upgrade right now. Secondly, investing in Kane is a losing proposition that will only hinder the development of United’s next no. 9 — Mason Greenwood, who is sitting on 12 goals in 36 games. The development of Greenwood will only benefit United in the long-term, long after Kane retires. Even if Ighalo’s wages become a burden over the last two years of his deal, it’s a smarter move to kick the can on striking reinforcements until Greenwood has had another year of growth, and when better options may be available.
BM: Yes, Kane may already be in decline. Yes, Kane has a troubling injury history. Yes, Kane will cost a record fee and will command massive wages. But he is also the best no. 9 in the country over the last few years, and still only 26. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants leaders in his team, and he wants the best English talent. As much as we love Martial, he may never be a reliable top class no. 9. Kane — when fit — already is. Instead of letting Mino Raiola lead us a merry dance waiting for Erling Braut Haaland, or betting on the unfulfilled potential of Martial and Greenwood, United should go for the sure thing.
El Clásico Rentals
James Rodriguez or Philippe Coutinho
Both Real Madrid and Barcelona have attacking midfielders that they don’t want, and both these players at some point would have been considered world class attackers. If United find themselves in a position to take a flier on one of these on loan, which should they pursue?
BM: For two players who may have cost record fees two years ago, and who have large reputations, if United find themselves faced with this choice, it’s because something has gone terribly wrong. I don’t especially rate either of these — they’re both luxury players with a penchant for spectacular goals that mask anonymous performances. But if United can’t get their first choices, James is a significant upgrade on Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira, younger and more mobile than Mata, and more versatile than Coutinho.
CD: I love James Rodriguez, but he’s not exactly had the best career trajectory since his phenomenal 2014 World Cup. Philippe Coutinho is quicker and more versatile, able to play multiple positions, and has the occasional screamer in his arsenal. On a loan deal he’d bring a bit of creative depth to a midfield that doesn’t have either of those things beyond the current starters, and his ability to play as a winger makes him even more valuable. He may only turn up big a handful of times a season, and he played for them, but right now he’s available to big clubs on a loan deal, and offers a bit of flair to an offense that has lacked reliable options.
James Maddison for £100m or Todd Cantwell for £40m
Let’s say the long-rumored Jack Grealish deal hits the skids. We know that Solskjaer wants the best young English attacking talent. Should United break the bank for Maddison, or take a lower-cost risk on Cantwell?
CD: James Maddison has been linked to Manchester United all season after making a name for himself in the Premier League at Leicester City. He’s a creative midfielder through and through who played a big part in Leicester City’s noble pacing with Manchester City and (to a much lesser degree) Liverpool for much of this season. Moving to a big club is a logical next step for him, though he’d likely have trouble breaking through with a healthy Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba duo. However, if he’s up for some competition at a higher level, and with greater expectations week in and week out, (*General Grievous voice*) Maddison would make a fine addition to our collection.
PK: My dictatorial editor is limiting me to one paragraph (impossible, I know) and no graphics, so you’re really just going to have to trust me on this. The answer is Cantwell (and don’t even suggest Buendia). What do United need here? Depth and someone that can play on the right. Cantwell is the more likelier of the two to accept that role. Worst case scenario is he doesn’t improve much more, in which case he’s a solid depth player. Best case scenario is he continues to develop and needs a bigger role in two years (when he’s 23, Pogba is 29, and Bruno is 27). He’s a year younger than Maddison and is, statistically, having the better season this year.
Relegation Bargain Hunting
Max Aarons or Declan Rice
We don’t know which teams will be relegated (if any?) when the season eventually resumes, but Norwich City looks certain to be among them, and West Ham are only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. With both matchday revenue and TV contracts likely to be affected, relegation will hit harder than ever. Assuming the clubs that go down will need to sell, which potential bargain should United pursue?
BM: Max Aarons doesn’t make much sense at first glance — he was meant to be an alternative to Aaron Wan-Bissaka (who has been an instant success), and is in the same age range. Seems like an inefficient use of resources. But considering that the manager doesn’t seem to rate Diogo Dalot as a right-back (who is reportedly for sale anyway), United could quickly find themselves short of cover in the most physically demanding position in modern football. Add in the fact that Aarons can play left-back as well, and it’s an easy choice over the aggressively mediocre Rice.
CD: Manchester United’s midfield shopping list is a lot shorter with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes and the (hopefully) prolonged stay of Paul Pogba, and the emergence of Fred and Scott McTominay under Solskjaer has been a lifesaver at times. However, depth is an issue, as proven this season by injuries, and Declan Rice could be a good, young midfield option to bring in. He’s had a dip in form, and West Ham are currently managed by David Moyes, which means when they get relegated Rice may be available for a cheaper price than the initial £50m range he was once quoted at. He’s not starter quality when compared to the talent at United now, but would add some more grit and competition to the position group, which clubs challenging for titles always need.
Raiding London Rivals
N’Golo Kanté or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Chelsea and Arsenal, like United, are in the early stages of rebuilds. But unlike United, both clubs may have to operate under some financial constraints. Selling Kanté would have been unthinkable a year ago, but Frank Lampard may choose to cash in and reinvest elsewhere. Elsewhere in the capital, Aubameyang may not want to play out the last of his peak years carrying a Gunners team that is years away from really competing.
BM: A once brilliant, 29-year-old Chelsea midfielder with league-winning experience, who is just starting to show signs of decline, and who will cost a significant fee. What could possibly go wrong? Nemanja Matić’s physical decline gives us good reason to be wary, and it’s true that Kanté may not be the same player he was even last year. But let’s not overthink this. He’s world class, and a clear and immediate upgrade on anyone we have in that position.
PK: As the late great Kenny Rogers said “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold em.” This is a great time to walk away. Just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you have to buy. Both players may be better than what we have but they both go against our current transfer policy. Even worse, both of their best years are behind them. Kante’s numbers are going down for the second year in a row. He’s 29 and has been battling injuries all year. Their clubs may sell them for cheap to get their wages off the books, but they’ll still command wages. United stopped paying high wages to deteriorating older players, why go back to that now? But if Aubameyang wants to take third striker money and play third striker minutes, by all means come on board.