This has been a summer of fake news to beat all others in terms of Manchester United transfer activity. But if you sift through the crap to read what the more reliable journalists have to say (and actually read their own words, as one of the latest fake news techniques is to “fake quote” one of these reliable journalists), their opinion seems to be this: Manchester United are prioritising the Harry Maguire transfer and have not made any move for Bruno Fernandes or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Furthermore, they report that United will only go for those players if Paul Pogba gets his move to Real Madrid this Summer, which in turn looks increasingly unlikely, as Gareth Bale’s proposed move to China – believed necessary to finance the Pogba transfer – has fallen through.
Of course, these journalists may be wrong, and by the time this column is published, Bruno might indeed be on his way to Old Trafford for a medical – after all, his tears at the end of Sporting’s friendly with Valencia did look remarkably like a goodbye. But if it is true, and United do not buy a central midfielder, then Ed Woodward has sunk even further below his own pathetically low transfer standards than ever before and left United totally unbalanced and completely understaffed in midfield.
Compare central defence and central midfield between, say, Louis Van Gaal’s 2015/16 squad and today. In terms of centre backs, United have added Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to the roster and lost no-one except non-specialist Daley Blind. Axel Tuanzebe has also come of age during that time, so effectively the club is up two players in this position since then, without Maguire being added.
Things in central midfield are somewhat different. United have added Pogba, Matic and Fred during the period, and McTominay has come through, but no fewer than six players have left – Blind (again), Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Carrick, Herrera and Fellaini. So the midfield has gone down by two to three players during the same period.
But it may be worse than that. Concerns are growing that Matic’s legs have gone, and Fred has still not found his feet in a United shirt, so you could also pencil those two onto a list of doubtfuls. Andreas Pereira may be able to adapt to the role and has looked comfortable there so far in pre-season, and James Garner may be able to step up, but the fact is, in terms of players without a question mark over their head, we have Pogba and McTominay. That’s it. Two “proven” and fit central midfielders (if you can call McTominay “proven” at this stage).
I’ll say it words Mr Woodward might understand.
SURELY UNITED NEED AT LEAST TWO MORE CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS.
SURELY THAT SHOULD BE THE PRIORITY, NOT HARRY MAGUIRE.
United are believed to have offered £75 million for Maguire. Fernandes and Milinkovic-Savic must both be worth more than Maguire, and the former is available for less and the latter for about the same. So why on earth have they not been bought already? Why have they not been prioritised?
I am not saying United would not benefit from a new central defender. It seems, unfortunately, that Eric Bailly has serious and chronic injury problems, Jones and Rojo are also injury prone and Tuanzebe has only proven himself at Championship level. But the fact is, whilst arguably none are world class, United do have six players available to fill those two positions, versus the four available (Pogba, McTominay, Fred, Matic) to fill the three central midfield positions.
I understand to some extent the “buy British” policy, but it cannot be at all costs. Not many would claim that “priority” target Maguire is world class, whereas Fernandes and Milinkovic-Savic are arguably two of the best midfielders on the planet today. They are both available. It just seems a no-brainer. And why do United need to prioritise anyway? There is supposed to be a transfer kitty of £200 million. All three can be acquired at their clubs’ asking prices for little over that (Maguire at around £76m, Fernandes at £60m and Milinkovic-Savic at around £80m, total £216 million).
This is not rocket science.
Tick tock Mr Woodward.