Manchester United are about to hit the 2019 summer transfer window like a sledgehammer.
The Red Devils have had a largely disappointing season, where they started and ended terribly. They were superb for a brief spell in the middle when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was first appointed. The Norwegian’s spell in charge began with such optimism as he brought United back to their roots of fast, attacking football.
Of course, it soon was realised that United didn’t have a squad capable of playing this way over an extended period of time and, eventually, form fell away. They ended the Premier League season shambolically and finished sixth in the division. They are the only member of the league’s “big-six” clubs without a cup final to look forward to.
Yet, and still, a transfer whirlwind is coming. So we’ve had a look at five different sources to suggest five signings the club are expected to make. Who are the sources, and what did they recommend? Read on!
1. What the manager wants
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been remarkably tight-lipped over any transfer speculation for the summer. He’s not even acknowledged that United will be in the market to replace players that have left, like Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera.
The Norwegian has even said, “We have been discussing how to move the club forward. That does not mean ‘x’ amount of money or ‘x’ amount of players,” so he’s definitely not going to engage in speculation. However, he does seem bullish that United’s recruiting power will not be hampered by their lack of Champions League football.
“There have been so many players that have been written about that we have been interested and there have been so many players’ agents that have been in touch with our administration that they want to come here,” he said.
Although he didn’t want to name names, of course. Thankfully others weren’t so reticent.
2. A view from the press box
David Ornstein is a sports reporter for the BBC and something of a transfer sage. He did a spot on BBC 5Live recently where he divulged a whole host of transfer information, including that the possibility of Jadon Sancho joining Manchester United this summer is about 50/50, with the only real issue being whether Sancho is willing to give up Champions League football (for a season, at least). Ornstein also spoke about United’s centre-back pursuit, but a key area he also addressed is right-back.
“Aaron Wan-Bissaka, is very much on United’s radar, also with City,” said Ornstein, indicating that the Red Devils could have to battle against their local rivals and two-time Premier League champions should they wish to recruit the 21-year-old Englishman. However, Ornstein added that United are “also keen to develop Diogo Dalot and the young Ethan Laird.”
Wan-Bissaka is a hand-in-glove fit with Manchester United’s right-back slot. The youngster is a dynamic defender and attacker; his mastery of individual duels is unparalleled in the Premier League. He was one of only two players to record over 60 tackles, 60 take-ons and 60 interceptions in 2018/19 and he won a staggering % of his tackle attempts. Dalot and Laird have promise (and would be good fall-backs should the Englishman decide to stay at Crystal Palace), but it would be baffling for United to pass up on Wan-Bissaka.
3. An ex-player’s thoughts
Rio Ferdinand played for Manchester United over 450 times. He won multiple league titles, League Cups and even the Champions League in 2008. There were recent reports saying he’s in the frame to fill United’s long-vacant sporting director position. But right now, he makes his living as a pundit where he mostly encourages young players to believe in themselves.
Along those lines, when asked to extol the virtues of Jadon Sancho – Borussia Dortmund’s young English winger who, despite being just 19-years-old, has set the Bundesliga alight this season with a division-high 14 assists – he did not hold back.
“The kid’s mentality, to leave Manchester City, who wanted him to stay, to just say, ‘My ability deserves it and I think I can do it straight away, right now. I am not waiting’,” Ferdinand said on Sancho. And when asked if he would take the winger at United, he responded: “I would take him all day. English, young, hungry and talented, that’s all I need to know.”
For United’s part, signing Sancho makes a whole load of sense. He’s a blisteringly quick right-winger and United need both a right-winger and more natural pace in their side if they are to play Solskjaer’s extremely vertical football. Sancho’s only obstacle to a Premier League return would be the colossal fee Borussia Dortmund would command.
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4. The neutral’s tip
Shaka Hislop was a legendary Premier League goalkeeper for Newcastle, West Ham and Portsmouth. Now he’s a pundit and analyst for ESPN and when United were linked with Daniel James, Swansea’s fleet-footed winger, Hislop spoke up.
“[Daniel James is] not going to solve their problems, but I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson a couple of years ago and he was telling me that in his blueprint for success in building Manchester United to the club that it is now, the academy was always his focus,” Hislop said. “And then you would bring players in, those big-money signings, to fill the gaps where the academy didn’t really have that talent coming through”
“So this signing, again, doesn’t move them any closer to City or Liverpool, but it moves them closer to what Manchester United had been, or certainly how they started under Sir Alex Ferguson.” And it’s hard to argue with Hislop’s logic here. James is, like Sancho, exactly the kind of winger that United need to play their preferred style. And unlike Sancho, he would be a very affordable (£15m or so) buy. Moreover, he’s clearly into the move, having apparently deleted a tweet praising Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah after United fans made him aware of it.
— UTFR 🇾🇪🔰 (@za3_ye) May 10, 2019
5. Squawka predicts
Finally, what do we think? Well, Manchester United have many problems but two among them stand out: centre-back and defensive midfield. These two positions must have top quality players in them if United are to ever challenge anywhere seriously again. United simply cannot use their defence as a platform for their attack if said defence is as solid as a screen door on a submarine.
United are still playing Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, defenders who were prospects seven years ago when they joined the club and are probably still prospects now even as veterans. Victor Lindelof is class, but he needs a dominant partner. Someone who can organise the defence and become a beacon of defensive solidity.
The only choice for this role must be Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. The mountainous Senegalese stopper is an almost unfair blend of defensive instincts, athletic ability, positional intelligence and organisational skills. He has held the Napoli defence together as best he can given the rabble the club often surround him with. He would instantly take control of things at Old Trafford and offer the kind of transformative stability that Virgil van Dijk has done for Liverpool. Koulibaly may end up costing a world record fee for a defender, as Ornstein has said in his interview, but he’d be worth it.
In defensive midfield, the ideal man is West Ham’s Declan Rice. A young, talented Englishman whose technical skill is matched by his athletic gifts. Being able to physically compete would allow United to put out a muscular midfield of Rice, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba. Or they could use the power offered by Rice and Pogba to play a smaller, less physical player as a counter-point. Equally, Rice could likely handle himself if played in a double pivot, giving United so many more tactical options as they look to move forward with Ole at the wheel.