New Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal will not take the reins at Old Trafford on an official basis until later this week, but he has wasted little time making it clear that he has earmarked a number of potential new arrivals as he plots a return to the cream of the continent’s elite clubs.
Having rejected the opportunity to take a holiday, the Dutchman, who has spent the majority of his summer attempting to guide the country of his birth to success at the World Cup finals in Brazil, clearly means business. The 62-year-old will take just a handful of days off before he embarks on his latest task, easily the biggest test of his career.
Two men that have been continuously linked with a lucrative move to Old Trafford this summer are Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Roma powerhouse Kevin Strootman. They have enjoyed vastly contrasting fortunes of late; while the Chilean member of the duo starred in Brazil this summer as his country won plaudits from the majority of neutral fans, his counterpart was ruled out of the tournament all together through injury.
It is unsurprising that the pair have been touted as the targets to reinstate guile, power, poise and a goalscoring threat to the Man Utd midfield that was left lacking last season under David Moyes.
In their unprecedented years of success United have enjoyed a wealth of talent and options in the middle of the park but at present they appear to have been left weakened, with the likes of Tom Cleverley failing to develop into the stature of midfielder that was expected.
Van Gaal has overseen the addition of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw from afar, but is clearly keen to address an aspect of his newly inherited squad that was a glaringly obvious problem last term. A box to box force is a necessity if United are to reassert themselves as a realistic title contender but who should be the man the club focus their efforts towards?
Vidal is enjoying a crest of popularity at present, with the majority leaning towards him as the player they want to arrive at the Theatre of Dreams above all others. But the reported asking price from Juventus is a recurring theme that appears to be a sticking point in any potential deal. The Old Lady’s reluctance not to allow the midfielder to leave for anything less than £35 million is understandable given his stature in the Bianconeri’s side.
With Paul Pogba also linked with a move away, they clearly want to avoid the heart of their midfield to be ripped out simultaneously in one summer. The news that Antonio Conte has decided to resign, despite penning a new deal as recently as May, might have put the ball into United’s court.
The uncertainty that often surrounds a club once their manager has departed can have a huge bearing on potential transfer dealings. Without a figure head United could potentially negotiate a lower valuation with the Italian giants. Even still, they are unlikely to budge very far south of £30 million for a player that holds such colossal clout in their team.
In truth, Vidal would represent precisely what is needed at United and, crucially, his arrival would be likely to produce an instant impact. For all United’s insistence that they will be able to attract the best players in the world, they need players for the here and now to fire them back into the Champions League at the first time of asking.
At 27 years of age, Vidal is at the peak of his powers and boasts the self confidence to take United’s side by the scruff of the neck and reaffirm the power and punch lacking from their ranks due to meek displays from players such as Michael Carrick. However, with a considerable sum of money spent already, albeit before his arrival, Van Gaal could yet lump for the option of his countryman.
Strootman only joined Roma last season for a fee of £15 million, yet would be likely to cost more than that despite the fact that he has been out of action since he tore his cruciate ligament in March. The Dutch bond between Van Gaal and the midfielder is vast, given that the manager declared only Strootman, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben were guaranteed a place in his World Cup squad, prior to the former’s horror injury.
Strootman’s absence resulted in a re-jostling of the Dutch formation and for a man as tactically adept as Van Gaal, it came as a huge blow not to be able to call upon one of his favoured players. However, even though he is adored by his compatriot, the powerful midfielder is unlikely to return to full fitness until January at the earliest.
Granted, he has age on his side at 24 and could potentially become a fixture in United’s side for considerably longer than Vidal, but it is difficult to envisage how the Red Devils can afford to wait for Strootman’s move to bear fruit.
If Strootman returns at the midway point of the campaign, he will not return to full match sharpness before February at the earliest and will have little time to adjust to the heat of battle or his new team mates before the medals start to be handed out. He could even endure complications with his injury and miss a larger proportion of the season.
However, the last time United bade their time and allowed a Dutchman to be eased back to fitness, the legendary striker Ruud van Nistelrooy repaid them handsomely.
But with time very much of the essence, Vidal’s stature and ability to slot straight into proceedings means that he is the better option. The stakes are too high to loiter for the unfortunate Strootman.