With the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as permanent manager, Manchester United have an interesting and active summer ahead.
Solskjaer will reportedly have £158 million to spend. Math math math…that’s a lot! Will he spend it wisely? Sacked boss Jose Mourinho spent £362 million on 11 players, and outside of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and maybe (maaaaybe) Romelu Lukaku, he saw little return on that investment.
What does United need? What kind of players fit Solskjaer’s system? Does whether or not Man U qualify for the Champions League change the calculus on anything? Let’s explore in our latest edition of Let’s Go Shopping.
Chops: Before jumping in with who the Red Devils will splurge on and likely overpay for minimal return this summer, who is likely to leave Old Trafford? Marouane Fellaini and his hair are already off to China. Paul Pogba is fanning smoke signals towards Madrid. Marcus Rashford has callers lining up. Is anyone of note out the door? Who is most likely to bounce?
Katya Gokhman: Although a lot of talk has been about Pogba leaving to Madrid, I have a feeling that won’t be the case. Pogba seems to love the spotlight and being the superstar out on the field — not sure he would get the attention he wants at Real considering how many other superstars they have and are about to have. With this being said, it sounds like OGS is happy with Pogba and may possibly try to build the team around him. With such an enticing offer on the table, I think Pogba will be happy to stay and see what happens. The other big question mark is Marcus Rashford. Barcelona are after him and who can say no to playing alongside Messi at the club that seems to currently be back “en fuego.” However, Rashford is an English lad and United is his childhood club – I think with some convincing from OGS and flashing of some extra cash, Rashford will be persuaded to stay.
Alexis Sanchez will surely be gone as soon as he gets a reasonable offer. However, I’m not sure how simple or how soon that that will be considering the ridiculous amount of money he makes at Manchester United (around 500,000 pounds a week). I’m sure that he’s ready to go and I think he’s made peace with the fact that it just didn’t work out for him at Manchester United but he’s also not stupid. He won’t leave that easily while making that much money.
Tyler Everett: I promise I won’t just say that every big star, and especially the French ones, will join Zidane at Real Madrid, but I do think Pogba’s a player who’s going to give a move to Los Blancos a lot of thought. I’ll be fascinated to see how United finish the season. Nothing too groundbreaking here, but If they qualify for the Champions League for next season, I like their chances of keeping someone like Pogba infinitely better. I think they lose him, though, if they’re not in the UCL next year — I just don’t see a player of his profile being happy on a team outside Europe’s top competition, even if it’s only for a year. No matter how much a player has enjoyed playing for OGS, failure to qualify for the UCL would make an exit tempting for anyone drawing serious interest from a top European side.
And we can’t talk possible departures without mentioning Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, whose contracts expire this summer.
Another factor that all of Europe, and especially United fans, will be watching closely is how the club handles its front office. The current lack of a technical/sporting director does not make any sense, at least not to me. Will Ed Woodward finally hire someone for what most would consider a crucial role? An article by ESPN.com’s Andy Mitten in February indicated the club will look to make a hire for this role, and explored what the job description might look like if and when this happens. The impact such a move will have on how the club handles this summer will obviously be massive.
Let’s Go Shopping
Chops: Ok, so I asked my Cousin Joe, a die-hard United fan, who he’d want to see them buy. He responded, “Ronaldo, Rooney, and a fucking time machine.”
The point is, they might not be “one player away.”
Don’t get me wrong, £158m isn’t chump change, but in today’s market, that’s one or two top-tier talents. If Liverpool has taught us anything, it’s
no matter how good you are you can’t win the Premier League when a club with almost no history gets bought by a trillionaire and breaks all of the rules to sign players on an unlimited budget what a difference a world-class center back can do for your team. 15 months ago, Liverpool could aggressively build leads and improbably lose them better than any top flight squad in the world. Now? They’re on pace for the fourth best season in Premier League history and are doing so almost entirely due to their defensive efforts.
Tyler: The latest player who reportedly wants out at RM is Frenchman Raphael Varane. The 25-year-old center back seems to me like a natural fit at United. He won’t be cheap, though, as he remains under contract. It appears that despite his (emphasis on reported) desire to leave, the La Liga club will insist that his suitors activate his €500M release clause. That tells me he’ll probably be back at the Bernabéu next year.
Katya: Like Chops mentioned, one of the biggest lessons Liverpool taught us last year is how crucial one player can be — especially on your back line. United need to first, and foremost, get a center back and outside right back. Lindelof has had tremendous growth as a player but he needs someone alongside him that will lead the way. I agree with Tyler – I think that Varane is an ideal choice but I just don’t see it happening. Real Madrid and Zidane are holding on to Varane as tightly as they can. Zidane has always seen the value in Varane – he was the one that recommended him to Real Madrid when Varane was a teenager. Even if he is ready to leave the club for a new challenge, it doesn’t seem that he will be affordable anyways.
It seems that Kalidou Koulibaly is their best choice. He’s 27 and has the experience to not only keep the Man. United defense organized and composed but to give Lindelof the support he needs while he continues to grow and evolve. He had a good run at Napoli but I don’t see why he wouldn’t go ahead and give Manchester United a shot. Real Madrid just confirmed their signing of Éder Militão and we already know how eager they are to hold on to Varane, so Manchester United just might be in luck for getting Koulibaly.
Chops: I don’t view United as offensively challenged, especially with a rejuvenated Pogba. However, if you think United isn’t going to try and land some fire power you’re sorely mistaken. There’s going to be a bidding war for Jadon Sancho this summer. If Christian Pulisic goes for $73.1M USD, how high is Sancho’s price tag? And is he the right fit for Man U?
Tyler: To answer the first question in two words: much higher. Pulisic is a great young player, and I’d like to add that I’ve never seen a U.S. player quite like him, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. I love how Sancho would fit at United. An attacking trio of Rashford, Sancho and Anthony Martial would be among the most entertaining in Europe. The bad news for the Red Devils is that they’ll likely be in a bidding war for the 19-year-old with the likes of Real Madrid and PSG, which means the “winner” of that that race will be paying a sum that will make the Pulisic fee look like chump change.
Katya: Former BVB coach, Otmar Hitzfield, said that Sancho reminded him of a “young Frank Ribery.” Dortmund love him and he’s already getting comfortable with the English national team. Needless to say, this kid has a lot going for him. As Tyler mentioned – with the likes of Rashford, Sancho, Martial in the attack with Pogba underneath them, the Manchester United attack would be one giant force to be reckoned with. So with this being said, Sancho will go for a lot more. The word on the street is that he’ll go for about $58 million (around 100 million pounds total asking price) more.
So my question is, will he be worth spending on if the major problems Manchester United currently have are in their defense? If they purchase both Sancho and Koulibaly, who else will they have room to purchase? Sanchez is sitting on a pretty hefty sum at MU and until they get rid of him, they may or may not have a tough time clearing space for more than a few quality players.
Chops: Another name bandied about is little Philippe Coutinho. Whether or not his house is jinxed isn’t for us to determine. The bottom line is he’s not been the same since leaving Anfield. At Liverpool, he was a creative breaker of defenses and constant attacking threat. Since arriving at Camp Nou, he’s been the opposite of that. Should Manchester United bring him into the fold?
Tyler: Chops, you’re right, your beloved Coutinho has not found a position this year in Barcelona. The Catalans are already intimating that they’ll be happy to part ways with the Brazilian if any club is willing to pay him €100 million or more. That’s a big if considering his form this year, but he’s still only 26 years old, and is not far removed from his time at Anfield.
He’s among a slew of players still alive in Europe whose price tag could change dramatically based on how they perform in April and May. As we’re all aware, Barcelona has some huge games ahead. Ousmane Dembélé’s fragility means the opportunity is there for the taking for Coutinho. Will we look back at his goal last Tuesday against Villarreal as a springboard to a strong finish to the season? Time will tell, and it’s also hard to know how Barcelona will react if he suddenly rediscovers his mojo. Would they be excited to see his value improve before they sell him? Or would it remind them of why they made him one of the highest-paid players on the continent, and make them reluctant to let him go?
Katya: Reflecting back on our discussion about Sancho, the price tag on Coutinho will be similar to Sancho’s if Barcelona decide to sell him. So, I think it would either be Sancho or Countinho that Manchester United would fight for, not both. If I were to look at this from my perspective of being a former professional soccer player, I would say that Coutinho may not be the player we remember him to be. He is still young, but with his ups and downs in Barcelona, his confidence is not what it used to be. He would need to build that up again. Meanwhile, Sancho seems to be going in the direction of where Coutinho was when he was at Liverpool. For the similar price tag, Sancho seems like more of a solid choice.
Chops: Ok so you’re Ed Woodward. Who would your top target be?
Katya: As the saying goes “defense wins games.” They need to go for Koulibaly. It’s not like the offense at Manchester United is lacking with the likes of Pogba, Martial, Rashford and even Lukaku. I would love to see Jadon Sancho on that list as well but I think the first priority should be the back line. Once they square that away, they can move their way up to the attack.
Tyler: I’d say they should do whatever it takes to land Varane, but that release clause is exorbitant, even for a team with pockets as deep as United’s. With Varane likely unavailable, I’d say go after Sancho with everything you have. Already-proven players at his age are incredibly rare, and valuable, even if there’s nothing cheap about them.
Chops: Sancho seems like an obvious target. Also, if United don’t invest heavily on defenders, a #10 like Paulo Dybala would be a good fit. His creativity could help unlock Lukaku, Rashford, etc. Given that world-class center-backs don’t grow on trees, maybe a young attacking right-wing-back, a need as Katya mentioned, like 20 year-old Ruben Vinagre from Wolverhampton, helps bolster both the defense and the attack simultaneously (think what Robbo and TAA do for Liverpool).
United have the funds to pursue almost anyone, and still have a brand that will attract quality players. To put themselves back into contention for domestic and European trophies, they need to avoid the mistakes you see in American pro sports like football (Dallas Cowboys earlier this decade) and basketball (New York Knicks under James Dolan) by not over-spending for any talent just because they strike out on their top targets.