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United make bid for Barcelona star — reports

Various papers have been touting Barcelona's Gerard Piqué as the solution to Manchester United's defensive problems, amid reports that the defender is unhappy in Catalonia.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso

Some transfer rumours are like mayflies. They are born, they spend something between a few minutes and a few days flittering about in the sunshine, they usually have three tails, and then they die. That analogy works fine apart from the tails part.

Others, though, are more persistent. It appears, for example, that 'Wesley Sneijder to Manchester United' may in fact be immortal, along with 'Nico Gaitan to Manchester United' and 'Ezequiel Garay to Manchester United'. 'Cesc Fabregas to Manchester United' had a good innings, eventually only surrendering once the rapidly-balding Catalan signed for Chelsea.

So, what to make of 'Gerard Piqué to Manchester United (and Arsenal, Chelsea and City)'? The mill has been grinding away on this for a few days now, both in Spain and England, and Sport reckon United have actually lodged a bid. Key to the story are two factors that, when taken together, can only mean one thing:

Reason the first: Piqué hasn't been playing particularly well for Barcelona

For a while, actually. Absolutely brilliant when playing with Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal and a peak Dani Alves, Pique's recent form has been patchy at best. Of course, this mirrors Barcelona's wider problems in adapting to a post-Guardiola world. With systems and personnel switching around him, and with midfielders and kids dropping in next to him, it's perhaps not a huge surprise that he's looked intermittently exposed and confused. So have most of his colleagues at one time or another.

Reason the second: Piqué hasn't been playing for Barcelona

More recent, this one. He played in the clasico, a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid that was, 20 early minutes aside, pretty much a thrashing. He hasn't played since, not in a shock 1-0 home defeat to Celta Vigo last weekend, nor in last night's 2-0 win over Ajax, his place taken by Jeremy Mathieu and Marc Bartra respectively. Luis Enrique has insisted that nobody is being "punished" after the Madrid defeat, but it does sort of look like somebody specific is.

So, what's going to happen?

From a United point of view, there's a lot to recommend him, and not just the fact that he knows the way to Old Trafford from the airport. He's right-footed, which means he could drop in next to Marcos Rojo. He's technically excellent, which means he fits that Van Gaal requirement for defenders who can stroll into midfield and ping the ball around. And he's very good, or at least he has been within recent memory.

But as elite central defenders go, he's more of a gamble than plenty of the other names floating around. Buying any player, even one at the top of their game, is always a gamble; buying one who isn't and hasn't been for a season or two is a considerably larger one. Piqué might be reborn as the main man in a new defence; equally, he might not. So it's a sizeable risk. Plus, of course, Van Gaal pushed him over once when he was a kid. Too weak, apparently.

In any case, his departure might not be all that inevitable. Though he's definitely not in his happiest moment at Barca, it is after all his hometown club, he has a young family in situ, and the state of Barcelona's squad means that he'll surely find himself back in the team at some point. Plus — football being football and Barca being Barca — there's every chance that Luis Enrique might not be all that secure in his position.

Still, as a rumour, this one has everything. A good player out of form and favour, a few big clubs in the market for a central defender, and the chance for newspaper editors to print pictures of Shakira. Regardless of United's actual interested, this doesn't look like a mayfly, and it won't be dying any time soon.