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Potential options at forward on a budget

Limited budget, Ronaldo wanting away, here are some options United can consider…

Italy v Argentina - Finalissima 2022 Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

With Ronaldo’s future at Manchester United up in the air, it is time for Erik Ten Hag to scout the market for securing the service of a reliable and prolific forward. Apart from Cristiano Ronaldo, the only striker Man United currently has is loan returnee, Anthony Martial. Martial could not impress away on loan at Sevilla last season having played 12 matches and scoring only one goal while an injury made him fall behind the ranks of the Andalusian outfit.

Even if Cristiano Ronaldo decides to stay, United cannot expect him to play each and every game of the season, and with Martial as the only other option behind him it makes another forward suddenly a big priority.

United are not expected to spend big bucks after signing Frenkie De Jong (yet to be announced) for an astounding £85 million while attacking prospects remain in the market who can be signed on a free or at an affordable price. Below is the list of some forwards which I think Ten Hag should make a move for this summer in order to delegate the responsibility from Cristiano Ronaldo (should he stay) and introduce a new form of attack.

Paulo Dybala

Paulo Dybala is available as a free agent in the market! But that’s not the big news, the big news is that surprisingly, no big club has made a significant approach for Dybala till now. A versatile player, Paulo Dybala can play in numerous positions in attack, being a centre-forward, striker, attacking midfielder or even as an inverted winger from the right flank, having played all of these positions at some point in his impressive career.

Recent reports suggest that Erik Ten Hag is currently monitoring the situation along with the likes of Inter Milan and Arsenal to join the race if any one of the clubs makes an approach for the Argentine.

Dybala would be an effective addition to this United side and he would certainly ease the reliance on Cristiano while providing Ten Hag options to work within the attack. Signing the Argentine could be a shrewd piece of business from the Dutch manager after his ascendancy and will be a sign of ‘ambition’ from the club.

Speaking of his playing style, Dybala suits himself perfectly in a number 10 role, he likes to play with freedom instead of having strict instructions for him — one of the reasons why he has been criticised in the past. He roams the final-thirds of the pitch, breaking the defence lines and enabling him to stretch the defence and curl in his incisive shots on goal. On occasions, he has been deployed as an attacking midfielder by Massimiliano Allegri where he impressed in moving the ball effectively using his exceptional dribbling abilities and trying shots from outside the box (an ability which is rare nowadays).

Paulo Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo developed a fine chemistry at Juventus where they exchanged attacking roles and were a lethal combination further up the pitch. Should United make the signing, there is a high chance that Ronaldo stays, provided the fact he will be able to reunite with his old mate at the same time United will be showing ‘ambitions’.

Serge Gnabry

I know this seems like an exaggeration right now but let us assume a future where Cristiano has left United, certainly, we won’t be relying on Martial for the goals nor do we have a certain ‘de-Bryune-isque’ player in our squad who will be able to substitute a centre-forward.

Pre-dominantly a right-winger, Gnabry is known for his versatility in the front and can play in both wings with the addition of playing as a centre-forward. Even though United will be trying their best to keep Cristiano at the club, they have already found his potential replacement in the Bayern star who is entering the final year of his contract and is expected to be available at a cut-price — per reports.

Since the German left Arsenal’s youth academy for Werder Bremen, it has been a tremendous climb for the 26-year-old. During the course, he changed clubs but remained in his homeland where he established himself as a superstar and made his name on the first-team sheet during his first season with Bayern Munich.

“He’s creative, he can score goals, right-footed, left-footed, good power, good penetration, very, very clever with the timing of his runs... I knew he would have a great career. He can be a number nine, a number 10... he’s a very intelligent player” — claimed Arsene Wenger as he was talking about the Arsenal graduate’s performances in 2020.

Gnabry’s work-rate is something to be reckoned with, he works hard in attack and makes quick runs from the right channel while tracking back opponents whenever his team loses the ball.

He would cost around £35 million this summer if United wants to make a move for him but it still relies on what happens with Ronaldo.

Andrea Belotti

One of the underrated strikers of his generation, Torino’s prolific first-team striker for almost seven seasons has left the club on free after playing out his contract with the Turin-based club.

A no-frills striker possessing the ability to score different types of goals from literally anywhere. His tremendous shot power and strong physique help him to become a presence on the field allowing him to become a real menace for the opposition.

The 2016/17 season was the breakaway campaign for him as he scored 26 goals and registered 7 assists making him one of the favourites to take over Ciro Immobile’s spot with the Italy national team in the next few years, but surely Immobile’s resurgence back at Italy from Germany helped him regain his spot.

Not much versatility is expected from him unlike some of the other players on the list but any team who acquires the young Italian from Turin will instantly be better off on the attacking front. He has played as a second-striker a number of times in his career — a position in which he has impressed by having the ability to hold the ball and making precisive passes to his teammates up front.

Headers, penalties, long-range, tap-ins - he scores every kind of goal and is always in the right position at the right time to thump the ball into the net.

Former Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi complemented Belotti on his willingness to work and be a team player instead of becoming a one-man show: “He’s an example because God didn’t bless him with huge talent, but with greater values like generosity, enthusiasm and passion.”

These values are things which may seem unnecessary to fans but these kind of attributes are rare in players these days — the ability to work with the team, develop chemistry and assist goals instead of trying to score them and failing, some qualities which United do need immediately.