Manchester United’s pursuit of Paul Pogba has dragged out for more than a month now with Juventus constantly raising their demands for the French superstar.
Jose Mourinho had said in his first press conference as Manchester United manager that he, along with the club’s hierarchy, had identified four positions as priorities in the transfer market. Ed Woodward has delivered on three of those four positions with the signings of central defender Eric Bailly, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitrayan, who can play in all of the forward positions behind the striker – central and out wide.
The fourth priority has been speculated to be the central midfield position, with United relentlessly in pursuit of former Old Trafford academy player Paul Pogba. Juventus are reportedly reluctant to let go of the Frenchman and are asking a world-record fee of more than £100m for the midfielder. The move has dragged on for a fair bit now and United legends like Paul Scholes have come out to say that Pogba is not worth the amount United reportedly have to shelve out in order to bring the midfielder back to Manchester.
The three signings made thus far have all come from outside England and with none of them being English players, it is likely to put pressure on the balance in the overall squad as regards the English (including Home-Grown) players’ quota. We take a look at some midfielders that could, perhaps, match the Juventus midfielder in terms of quality, ability and statistics and not cost nearly as much along with boosting the British quotient.
1. Ross Barkley (Everton)
Probable Transfer fee: £50m
The 22-year-old has been a revelation for Everton ever since debuting for the club back in the beginning of the 2011-12 season. Barkley was one of the highlights in an otherwise dull campaign for the Toffees and finished the season with 12 goals in all competitions. The Liverpool-born midfielder was ever-present for the club, playing a part in all 38 league games and was the club’s highest rated player with an average rating of 7.31 (stats via whoscored).
The staff at Everton have always likened him to former club youngster Wayne Rooney, with the player sharing visibly the same traits as the Manchester United captain. It wasn’t just the Everton staff though, as Chelsea legend Frank Lampard also said in 2014 that he saw a striking resemblance of Rooney in Ross Barkley after the midfielder impressed in his outings for The Three Lions. The praises kept on coming for Barkley, with the then England manager Roy Hodgson comparing the youngster’s skill set to England legend Paul Gascoigne.
Ross Barkley has the ability to drive through the midfield with his strength and pace, but he also has the ability to mix it up by playing his teammates through with his brilliant passing and vision. The midfielder is likely to command a fee of around £50m, given the fact that he is English. It is almost half compared to the fee United are ready to pay for Pogba. Barkley already has experience of playing in the Premier League regularly and has shown he can match up against all sides – physically and technically.
2. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal)
Probable Transfer fee: £50m
Aaron Ramsey was one of the brightest stars at the recently concluded European Championships and was instrumental in Wales’ historic semi-final run. The midfielder finished the competition with 1 goal and 4 assists to his name in his 5 appearances despite missing out on the semi-final after accumulating two yellow cards in the competition. Ramsey, with an overall rating of 7.70, was named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament for Euro 2016 (stats via whoscored).
The 25-year-old had his breakout season with Arsenal in the 2013-14 Premier League and scored 10 goals in the league that season. The midfielder became renowned for his high-impact goals and assists in games and soon became a crucial player in Arsene Wenger’s squad. Ramsey, has since, not been able to replicate the same form showing only glimpses of his 2013-14 self, until his Euro 2016 performance.
There is a genuine consensus among the fans worldwide that the midfielder will now kick on to even surpass his earlier best and soon establish himself as a star in the Premier League. This move would not be so uncanny as Manchester United were earlier linked with Ramsey after his Euro 2016 exploits. The report stated that the Welsh would command a fee around the £50m mark, similar to Ross Barkley and half of what Pogba would cost.
3. Danny Drinkwater (Leicester)
Probable Transfer fee: £20-25m
Danny Drinkwater was a Manchester United product who spent most of his senior time on loan to other clubs before finally making the switch to Leicester City. The midfielder became the backbone of the Foxes, leading them to a promotion to the Premier League and was one of the pillars that contributed to the club’s historic Premier League success last season.
The midfielder’s playing-style is not extravagant at all and likes to keep it simple in the middle of the park. Drinkwater has been lauded for his concentration on the pitch and his ability to spray the passes to his more creative and attack-minded teammates. The former United product is industrious in the midfield and even though, he doesn’t focus on the attacking aspect too often, the 26-year-old still notched up 2 goals and 7 assists in the league last season (stats via whoscored).
This would be a sort of a fairy-tale story if Manchester United decide to make a move for Drinkwater. The former United academy ace almost made the England squad for Euro 2016 on the back of his performance last season and was linked with a £14m move to Liverpool earlier this summer. Manchester United would need to bid higher than the reported fee to persuade Leicester City to give up their midfield general. Danny, earlier, said that the departure from United without being given a chance to prove himself at Old Trafford was his lowest point of the career.
The midfielder is a boyhood fan of the Red Devils and started his footballing journey with them at the age of 9. The 26-year-old may jump at the opportunity of being the midfield marshall United need at the moment. One would consider that a bid between £20-£25m would suffice, which is again considerably lower than the other prospective targets along with being a quarter of Pogba’s reported fee. The midfielder knows the United setup inside out and could just be the solution to United’s midfield problems.
Here, we compare the four statistically to find out who would be the better choice. It is worth taking note that we have opted to use the averages per game stats instead of the totals because the totals often give misleading figures due to the difference in the number of games played.
ATTACK AND CREATIVITY
As you can see from the comparison matrix, Pogba outshines Ramsey and Drinkwater by a country-mile in the attack score compiled by Squawka. The attacking score is derived from the ability of the player to have an impact going forward for his club, including statistics like goals scored, chances created, shots on target among others. But, it is the comparison between Barkley and Pogba that is interesting. The Everton midfielder blows the Juventus superstar away in terms of the shot accuracy while being marginally better in the attack score. The Bianconeri general, though, is better in terms of goals scored and chances created but only marginally.
The matrix does highlight Pogba’s creative contribution to the team but his shot accuracy is a cause for worry. The accuracy indicates that the midfielder often takes shots from uncomfortable or uncanny positions compared to players like Barkley and Ramsey who are more industrious.
It is safe to say that Drinkwater is the weakest in terms of attacking while Barkley marginally overshadows Pogba.
DEFENCE AND DISCIPLINE
This is where we understand the importance of Danny Drinkwater to Leicester’s winning campaign. The midfielder absolutely blows the other three players out of the water in terms of defensive contribution. The defensive score takes into account the defensive contributions on the field like interceptions, blocks while also taking into account the defensive errors made. While Pogba does admirably well for a creative talent of his level, it is worth noticing that Ramsey is more of a defensive liability to the team. It was quite expected that Ross Barkley would not fare well defensively, but he does contribute, to an extent, to the defensive aspect of the team.
The defensive attributes also come with a hint of discipline and this is where the statistics are shocking. Pogba has a significantly higher number of yellow cards compared to the three prospective targets and commits fouls more than thrice that of Ross Barkley. The Everton midfielder has drawn comparisons to Wayne Rooney throughout his career but it is here where he shows that he is better than the United veteran. Rooney is known to have a hot head and often commits needless fouls whereas Barkley’s statistics show a hint of calm in his game, which is something Mourinho would definitely want in his players.
The clear winner in terms of defensive contribution is Drinkwater whereas Barkley takes the cake in terms of his discipline on the pitch.
POSSESSION AND PASSING
This is where Aaron Ramsey’s main skill-set comes to the fore as the Arsenal midfielder is a notch above everyone else as to the Possession Score compiled by Squawka. The score takes into account a midfielder’s purest attributes related to possession, including the ability to hold and dictate the play, and this is where the stats seem worrisome for United. Their star target is absolutely dire, having a negative possession score even worse than Drinkwater, who also has a negative rating.
But, again, what is surprising is the consistency of Ross Barkley. Even though Ramsey is more than twice his overall possession score, the Everton midfielder matches the Arsenal playmaker in terms of pass completion. Pogba is marginally beaten by Barkley in terms of key passes whereas Drinkwater’s low pass completion can be chalked down to his average passing length, which is considerably more than his counterparts. Ramsey and Barkley both boast an 86% pass completion rate but, with Barkley averaging a higher average pass length, the Everton ace out dos the Arsenal midfielder.
CONCLUSION – WHO IS THE BEST CHOICE?
It has been established through the statistical comparisons that while Pogba and Barkley are the more creative of the bunch, Drinkwater provides stability in the midfield with his defensive contributions. Aaron Ramsey is a defensive liability but makes up for it with his ability on the ball. What is interesting is superstar Paul Pogba does not have any particularly amazing statistic which blows his adversaries out of the water and is rather shown up by them on a few attributes.
Jose Mourinho has often reiterated that he needs a specialist for each position and must be on the lookout for a complete midfielder to take command at the centre of the pitch for the Red Devils. Ross Barkley has often been lauded for his well-rounded playing-style and the statistics seem to back that argument. It is also worth noting that Ross Barkley has proven in his past years in the Premier League that he can handle the physical rigours of the league along with maintaining his technical aspect of the game.
The midfielder is well familiar with the Premier League and has shown that, as the saying goes, “he can do it on cold night at Stoke”. It is also to be kept in mind that the midfielder is the youngest of the four players here and at the age of 22, will only improve in the near future.
The transfer fee would be considerably lower than the amount involved in Pogba’s deal as the midfielder would definitely want to emulate fellow Merseyside-born Wayne Rooney and take the next step in his career, while there are still question marks over the Juventus superstar’s interest in the deal. Manchester United could look closer home, towards Ross Barkley as an ideal target in their pursuit of a complete midfielder, if the Pogba deal falls through.