This is part 1 of 3 in a series about transfers Manchester United should make if they want to become a genuinely competitive force in England and Europe again.
United are being tipped to spend big this summer to correct their major problem areas (back four, and central midfield). But there remains a lot to be asked of Moyes and the type of football he would want to play given such a large “war chest.” After all, buying even five of these players would cost at least £150 million (roughly $250 million) and you don’t spend that type of money unless you’re sure you can challenge for the title.
I posted earlier about how Moyes needs to have a clear football identity. He doesn’t have to play tiki-taka like Barcelona, but he has to be able to show that he can evolve with the times. Even if he gets all the players he wants (he probably needs five or six of the ones listed below), his wing overloads and cross-first strategy won’t work if no one is getting into the box. Getting United’s strikers to repeatedly head the ball is akin to putting ranch on pizza: some people may like it, but for many others it’s a gross misuse of what they’re intended to do.
This is the biggest need for United by far, and one that hasn’t been addressed for several years. United are relatively fine in attacking positions and even in wide areas they have good options in Januzaj, Valencia, and Zaha (back from loan) among the ranks. They are made to look worse because no one around them is willing to do the dirty work. Here are some different central midfielders that could be genuine targets.
William Carvalho (Sporting) is a defensive midfielder who, while not the most ambitious of passers, isn’t afraid to put in a tackle and shut down attackers. He’s got a strong frame and can be converted into a destroyer to muscle out players. Carvalho has that elegance of Carrick in top form, but also the ability to sweep up much like Xabi Alonso. Unfortunately Carvalho on his own wouldn’t fix all of United’s midfield problems. United will more likely need another midfielder who can drive forward and add a more positive attacking dynamic. He could be tempted to join United, given that Sporting are paying him very low wages (reportedly around £5000 per week). To put that into perspective, Wayne Rooney earns £5000 in just under 3 hours. Portuguese clubs are notorious for how much they demand for their players and Carvalho has a £37 million release clause. Given how much United need this position though, it’s money well spent.
Sami Khedira (Real Madrid) is in somewhat of a race to become ready for the World Cup after a torn achilles in November. He’s been a regular in Jogi Löw’s Germany side since 2010 and was a regular starter at Real Madrid for the past few seasons. He doesn’t score many goals but he is unafraid to bring the ball forward and pass it. More functional than stylish, he can put in a few tackles, run forward and allow other creative players to shine. The closest equivalent to him in the Premier League is Jordan Henderson of Liverpool. Would he want to move to Manchester United without Champions League football or try to regain his place at Real Madrid, who have done pretty well without him? Because of his injury there could be questions about how good he will be. After incentives and other compensation, United could attempt to lure him with a £25 million offer.
Ilkay Gundogan (Dortmund) is an electric playmaker who has a fantastic work-rate, is good on the ball, and can score goals; a characteristic typical of Dortmund. He can play as a holder yet make bursting runs forward. In other words, Gundogan would be the perfect foil for a Carrick (or William Carvalho) Unfortunately, like Khedira, he has had a long-term injury and there could be worries of reoccurrence. The Bundesliga is fairly physical but not as demanding as the Premier League. Borussia Dortmund won’t want to part with him still, because they will lose Robert Lewandowski to Bayern so United would have to pay the reported release clause of £24.8 million in full, even with such a high injury risk. It’s a situation they should monitor closely however since it’s believed Gundogan is open to a move.
Toni Kroos (Bayern) is the best of the lot in terms of versatility. He can play a holding role, he’s calm in possession, accurate with his passing, and has many Scholes-esque qualities in that he can make late runs into the box to get goals. His goal at Arsenal last month was just an example of some of his impact; however, I am very skeptical that we’ll get him. Kroos might have mentioned England as a possible destination, but it could just be a bargaining ploy to get him a better wage deal at Bayern. Pep Guardiola highly values him still and will try to do everything he can to keep a player of his quality. The Bayern hierarchy seem confident of keeping him anyways, but if there’s a chance United need to seize it.
Total Spent: £37 million (Carvalho) + £25 million (Khedira or Gundogan) = £86 million