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Staff Roundtable: Thoughts on Transfer Targets

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The Busby Babe Staff offer their takes on Manchester United’s (alleged) transfer targets at four positions...

England v Montenegro - UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifier Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

It’s that time of year again: Transfer season.

It’s always transfer rumour season, but now is the time where reports could actually count for something, and it’s a big transfer window for Manchester United and their hopes of continuing to build under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He’s asked for four players, according to The Guardian, and turned in a list of backup options for those targets as well. In this roundtable, The Busby Babe staff will give their takes on Ole’s alleged targets as well as alternative options that the club have been linked to. We have thoughts that need to be shared, and if you feel the need to do the same feel free to engage in healthy discourse in the comment section below.

Centre Back

Pau Torres:

CD: Don’t know a ton about him, other than he’s pretty good playing in a parked Yellow Submarine in a Europa League final. He does fit Ole’s checklist of a young, left-footed, ball-progressing centre back, so if he’s available at the right price why not? We learned from Maguire’s absence that Bailly, Lindelof, and Tuanzebe aren’t enough, so we should certainly explore options for depth at least, and a potential long-term mainstay at best.

Suwaid: I think he’ll give this side something it’s lacked since Michael Carrick and Daley Blind left. Maguire’s more of a ball carrier and it’d be nice to have someone whose first thought is to pass the ball in between the lines — be it from central midfield or central defence — and Torres definitely has that in his locker. His aerial stats don’t look great and it may be a case of defending as a pair with the more hardened Raúl Albiol.

My only concern is shifting Maguire to the right. Maguire had some impressive displays with Hull City as a right-sided centre-back but it just seems like the left suits him a lot more cause he uses that change of direction to go on trundling runs. We might lose some of that from the right. The need for a left-footed centre-back is also overvalued but Pau Torres is definitely a good player and would be a great signing.

PK: Contrary to many fans I have center back as a distant fourth on my ‘needs for this summer’ list. If United are to go after a centerback, I don’t think they’d be looking for someone who walks straight into the XI but rather more of a depth piece.

Pau Torres fits that description. He’s good, but not the complete package. He provides United with some attributes that they are badly missing, but lacks others that they’d need to account for. His aerial numbers are terrible which would keep the onus on Maguire to handle most of those, and that probably wouldn’t help United when defending set pieces. His left foot and passing ability would allow United to finally have someone who can hit passing angles out to the right side, something they badly need. Shifting Maguire to the right would also give United a better aerial presence on the back post from those pesky crosses from the left, which would mean Wan-Bissaka doesn’t have to help as much and won’t get caught as narrow all the time.

The biggest concern though is the end of the season exposed how badly United need cover for Maguire. Torres is weak in the air, Lindelof is weak in the air. If Maguire gets hurt again is that really a good partnership?

Raphael Varane:

CD: Varane is a bit older and comes with an injury history, but for the right price I’d get a deal done. He’s an experienced defender who has played at a high level his entire career. Biggest issues would be how much, and why are Real Madrid willing to let him go?

Suwaid: Raphaël Varane’s committed some high-profile errors in recent times but I’m going to give him the benefit of doubt here. Football tactics writer Michael Cox wrote a piece in 2020 about centre backs being divided into two types: the dutiful dog and cool cat.

Varane’s always been the cool cat with Sergio Ramos being the dutiful dog in their partnership. I think Varane’s reputation might’ve suffered a little in recent seasons during games where Sergio Ramos isn’t around. With Maguire organizing the defence, I don’t think that'll be an issue. Varane will help push United higher up the pitch, which will mean more territory. He’s quite two-footed but is a conservative passer and carrier. The wages will be far higher than they are for other targets, which should be taken into account. He’ll be a good signing.

PK: The thing about Varane is he comes with so many qualifiers to him. “He’s good BUT.” “He can do x but lacks y.” That’s not surprising considering that these days we ask centerbacks to do so much, but if United are going for a centerback they need someone that complements Maguire well. I don’t know if that’s Varane, and if you’re not 100 percent that it is, there’s no way you should be spending serious money on a 28 year old.

Jules Kounde:

CD: Like Torres, Kounde is a younger option, and has played well at a high level. He’s a bit short for a defender, but it doesn’t hinder his ability to be physical. Decent passer, and still has upside. Worth a shot.

Suwaid: My pick of the three. I’m still a little uncertain about prioritizing a central defender but I think Jules Kounde is worth the outlay. He can pass, carry, and is quite aggressive. He’s also a demon in the air despite being 1.78m tall. Height wasn’t an issue for Franco Baresi and Fabio Cannavaro, so I don’t see why it should be a problem for Kounde. He’s got age on his side, will fit in on the right, and shouldn’t demand the wages of a Varane. Get him in.

PK: I like Kounde. He does a lot of good but this is a simple case of money and priority. Kounde costs a lot of money - his release clause is £80m - and United don’t have infinite sums of money (even if the Glazers were willing to pay out of their own pockets, United still don’t have infinite sums of money). So you need to prioritize where your spending is going to go and £80m is going to be a large percentage of that budget. Is this really where you want to spend it? For me, there’s far bigger priorities.

Central Midfielder

Declan Rice:

CD: Rice is very much the kind of player that United need in midfield as a defensive screen, but he’s English and is captain of a Premier League team that just qualified for Europe. He will cost a massive transfer fee that might be put to better use elsewhere. Likely cheaper options in midfield.

Suwaid: Rice is a good player and he’s been earmarked for a big move in the last couple of seasons. He’s a holding midfielder in the mold of Nemanja Matic. I just don’t think he’s worth the outlay that’s being reported. For that outlay, you need the second coming of Fernandinho (a cheat code when it comes to covering large spaces who is quite underrated for what he offers on the ball) or Michael Carrick (a phenomenal passer who happened to be underrated for his defensive nous).

I don’t think United should put that sort of money on the line in the hope that parts of his game improve. We’ll have another Aaron Wan-Bissaka scenario, where there’s a good player who has improved after moving to a better side but is ultimately not worth the outlay when alternatives were available.

VR: Last year would have been a perfect time to pick up Rice because he was affordable but now is a first name choice in West Ham’s lineup and that means, he will command a big asking price.

PK: If Project Restart didn’t happen would Declan Rice already be a United player? Quite possibly. When COVID shut the Premier League season down the conversation on Rice shifted from some people saying he was really good while others - quite loudly - were saying it’s just English bias and he’s crap. Then came Project Restart and all of a sudden everyone was like ‘oh crap, Declan Rice is really good.’

Rice would be a perfect compliment to Paul Pogba in a double pivot - allowing the Frenchman to make more runs forward and get into the box which is where he’s dangerous. He’s also got the versatility to drop into the back four in case there are any injuries. Those are the good things.

He’s not exactly a ball progresser which would make it really difficult to play him next to Fred or McTominay as that would look an awful lot like what happens when Fred or McTominay play next to Matic. Van de Beek probably wouldn’t work there either as Van de Beek likes to get himself open to receive passes, but Rice would be incapable of making them.

So in terms of getting the best out of Pogba/Bruno, great. Depth? Maybe not so much. And then of course money. He’ll cost an arm and a leg (and maybe an ear too). Even if United could afford him it’s probably not the best use of the resources.

Wilfred Ndidi:

CD: Might be my first choice over Rice, but could also be more expensive than Rice. Ndidi has been brilliant for Leicester these last couple of seasons, but sustaining success under Brendan Rodgers by qualifying for Europe in successive seasons, and winning the FA Cup, means the club are not in a position where they need to sell. They demanded a record fee for Maguire two years ago, and would likely demand a similarly high price for Ndidi.

Suwaid: He’s not similar to Rice as far as profiles go but I think the issues will be of a similar nature where you’re hoping that a player improves parts of his game. Leicester City is a good side so we know exactly what Ndidi will offer another good side. He’s always leading the defensive stats for midfielders but United need someone significantly better on the ball. Dealing with Leicester will also be quite vexing.

PK: I’ve always been a big Ndidi fan. He can play in a double pivot, or he can be the single pivot in a 4-3-3. That would give United quite a bit of versatility.

However, as much as the fans believe 4-3-3 with Pogba and Bruno playing as free 8’s is the future, I don’t think Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is thinking that way as you probably wouldn’t get the best out of Bruno in that formation. In the double pivot Ndidi has the same issue as Rice, he’s not a passer. So while he’d be a perfect compliment to Pogba, he wouldn’t mesh as well with the others which would lead United to having the exact same problems they currently have when Pogba’s injured.

There’s also no way Leicester would let him go for anything less than an astronomical fee so he’s not worth it. Stop shopping in the Premier League, everything is overpriced. You can get better for much cheaper if you just looked elsewhere!

Eduardo Camavinga:

Suwaid: It seems like this is the sort of profile Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is looking at. The most reliable report on United’s search for a midfielder was with regards to Jude Bellingham — who like Camavinga — is the other outstanding young midfielder in Europe.

Camavinga like Bellingham isn’t exactly a holding midfielder but he’ll work in a pivot. He’s a great ball carrier and is a very good presser of the ball. He’s also played right-midfield in a 4-4-2 at times. United need someone in the first phase of build-up, who also offers a good defensive presence. If United aren’t looking for a Matic archetype, Camavinga ticks a lot of boxes.

PK: Yes. Camavinga is not the finished product and the comparisons he’s gotten to Pogba at times will do him no good but he checks the boxes of what United need. Camavinga is much more of a passer than the big destroyer types of midfielders but that gives United more versatility. He wouldn’t unleash the ‘best’ Paul Pogba but they’re more than capable of playing together and he’d also be able to slot in right next to a McTominay, Fred, or Van de Beek. He may not be the most physical player but he’s big. You can’t teach size but you can teach people how to use their size. At only 18, he’s still got a lot of room for growth.

Wide Forward/Attacker

Jadon Sancho:

CD: We know what he can do, just get the deal done.

Suwaid: This would be the equivalent of United signing Wayne Rooney and Chelsea signing Eden Hazard. We’ll be getting one of the best players in the world (not one of the best young players) while he’s still quite young, Sancho is an absolute superstar. United have actually addressed the right-wing issue with the purchase of Amad Diallo but it’ll take him some time to become a starter. Sancho should have no issues playing on the right but it’d be best if we pair him with an attacking right-back till Diallo comes of age. Get it done.

VR: Didn’t we sign him last year? Just sign the contract already!

PK: He solves United’s right wing problem creativity problems and moves all around the front three allowing them to be versatile and give Marcus Rashford some rest. Just sign him.

Jack Grealish:

CD: I was slow to join the Grealish bandwagon, but he’s a star. Would add versatility and options to Ole’s attack, but will be expensive.

Suwaid: He exudes the sort of energy George Best and David Beckham had — a bit of the old school celebrity footballer and a bit of the modern celebrity footballer. I’d love for him to join but there’s no real spot in him for the side. He’s probably a good bet if Paul Pogba leaves cause he plays the sort of wing/midfield hybrid role that Pogba loves to play in. I believe they’re called trequartistas in some parts. Unfortunately, I think this ship might’ve sailed.

VR: We should have signed him last year, now with his national team call up, we can’t afford him, or should pay the price he will command. It’s a shame because it would be an incredible lineup with a Grealish, Bruno and Pogba midfield.

Granted, Grealish lives a very party-boy lifestyle so that is always something to consider but he would still be an incredible signing

PK: In an alternate world Grealish doesn’t score to keep Villa up and he’s not only already a United player but the way things played out United would have mounted a much more serious title challenge. He solves so many of United’s issues from ball progression to creativity from the left side against low blocks to so much more. He’d be the perfect platoon player with Rashford.

But Grealish did score that goal and now his price tag is justifiably around £100m. United can’t make two £100m signings in one summer and if you have to choose between one, you choose the 21 year old superstar over the soon to be 26 year old every single time.

Striker

Harry Kane:

CD: Kane is an elite player, and probably deserved to be Player of the Year this past season. However he should only be a luxury target for United. Other areas of need should be addressed before United even think about a move for Kane. If the club can get Sancho, Rice or the like at CM, and a CB and still afford Kane, then go for it.

Suwaid: The best player from last season. This has less to do with Kane and more to do with United’s priorities going into this summer. There’s also his price, dealing with Daniel Levy, his injury record, and age. Move on.

VR: Kane would be a nice addition but I would like to see United go younger. Kane was/is successful at Tottenham because he has the midfield behind him to give him the ball to give him scoring opportunities. Other than Bruno, I don’t feel we have that ability in our mids.

PK: Ask me a year ago and I would have said no. Ask me now and I’m still saying no. Kane had a bit of a renaissance this year but you don’t spend £100m on 28 year olds. You will not be getting £100m worth of player. I thought we already learned this lesson?

Erling Haaland

CD: Haaland’s release clause doesn’t kick in until next season, so United should wait until then when he’s more affordable. See my Kane entry for addressing the no. 9 position this window.

Suwaid: As annoying as the term is, Erling Haaland is the only generational talent alongside Kylian Mbappe. He’s a player worth breaking the bank for.

He’ll probably be involved in the most interesting transfer saga heading into next summer. I doubt anyone’s going to meet his demands (his agent’s demand, to be more precise) even though there are murmurs of a move to Chelsea. Whoever gets him should be in a good place for over a decade and let’s hope that it’s Manchester United.

VR: Great talent, we need him, can’t afford him, but don’t need the hassle of his manager.

PK: Haaland’s name has been thrown around all season because he doesn’t play for the world’s biggest club and newspapers need to sell papers and get clicks. His name does the trick but he was never actually leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Financially it would make zero sense for him. BVB want about €150m for him - as they should. Next year he’s got a €75m release clause. He’s got an agent whose first, second, third, and fourth concerns are nothing but money. The total Haaland package will cost roughly the same amount next year as it will this year, but with the release clause cutting the transfer fee in half, more of that money can get funneled over to the player, his father, and his agent. They’re not deviating from that plan.

On the pitch, Haaland is an elite goalscorer who has previously worked with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. However, that’s where the current fit ends. Borussia Dortmund took the 13th most shots in Europe’s big five leagues this season, but Haaland wasn’t even among the top 40 players in shots per 90. He’s not someone who creates his own shots and if he’s not getting an elite number of chances in Dortmund’s team that’s full of creators, what will he do in a United team that completely lacks them?

Fix your creativity issue. Then come back next year for the finisher.