The Hard Tackle assesses the prospects of Manchester United in pursuit of their priority targets heading into the summer transfer window.
Manchester United are currently at their time or reckoning. Never in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era have the Red Devils been in such a stable state than they are in right now, having grown in a very organic manner under the tutelage of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has groomed a number of players while adding to the quality of the squad with some fundamental signings.
However, now is the time for them to put their foot on the gas in order to take the squad to the next level. Indeed, if Manchester United are to catch up to Manchester City, they need to add that extra bit of quality that is missing in some key positions, which will, in turn, eliminate some of the unnecessary mistakes that tend to creep into United’s gameplay at times.
These positions are namely centre-back, defensive midfield and the right wing. Now, in order to bolster each of these positions, it has been mooted that Solskjaer has drawn up a shortlist of targets to fit the bill for him, with priorities being identified as well for each of the positions. Jules Kounde, Declan Rice and Jadon Sancho are thought to be these priority targets.
However, if the summer of 2020 taught us anything, it is that it is one thing to prioritise the transfer of a player and another altogether to secure his services. Manchester United are well aware of this fact. After all, they tried and failed in their pursuit of Sancho last summer, with the English international now once again on their radar.
With that in mind, The Hard Tackle will now attempt to list down and analyse the chances of Manchester United being able to land each of their three aforementioned priority targets in the summer transfer window.
The heart of the Manchester United defence has been a hot topic of debate for the club. While in theory, the Red Devils have three quality centre-backs and one promising young defender for the two positions, a closer look reveals just why it is imperative that the Red Devils make it a point to sign a central defender.
Harry Maguire has become a pivotal figure for the record 20-time English champions in the central defensive unit over the last couple of seasons, even though he might not be a favourite for some sections of the fanbase. The sheer importance of the English international has never been more evident than in the past week or so, when Manchester United have struggled badly in the captain’s absence.
Indeed, while Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly have bagfuls of talent and their own set of strengths, neither has managed to be entirely convincing over the course of their Manchester United stints. Add to it the fact that Axel Tuanzebe has just not managed to establish a foothold at the heart of the Manchester United defence despite being rated highly, and it is clear that a centre-back is the need of the hour at Old Trafford.
Enter Jules Kounde, who is one among a plethora of centre-backs to have been linked with the Red Devils. And while the list includes the likes of Raphael Varane, Pau Torres, Cristian Romero and a few others, the Frenchman is at the top of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s wishlist. Now, it really is not hard to see how Kounde would fit in alongside Maguire, while his prowess on the ball is only a bonus for a side that often tries and fails to build up play from the back.
For Kounde, a move to Manchester United will be a chance to take his career to the next level by playing for a team that has genuine title-winning aspirations, at least from the sporting sense, even if it is not palpable on the board room level. However, Sevilla are adamant at recouping the entire €65 million that his release clause is valued at, which Manchester United are presently unwilling to meet.
From Sevilla’s perspective, it is clear why they would want to remain hellbent on securing the €65 million from his sale, seeing as that money could be critical in rebuilding their squad and get closer to the ‘Big Three’ of La Liga. But, at a time when Manchester United need to allocate funds smartly to complete the transformation of their squad, such a stance could see them turn their attention elsewhere, with Varane an attractive target as well. So, this is a move that might not necessarily see the light of the day.
Transfer Possibility: 6/10
From the heart of the Manchester United defence we move on to the base of midfield – another component of the spine of the side that must be reinforced. The most basic reason why this must be done is the fact that Nemanja Matic has shown signs of age catching up to him and needs to be phased out over the next season or two.
In his stead, Fred and Scott McTominay have stepped up marvellously in the middle of the park, but their dual presence does not bode well for Manchester United in the long run. That is because Fred and McTominay – seeing as they are not natural holding midfielders – often do the job of one player without providing the ball progression that is needed from the midfield to stitch devastating moves.
Now, a Declan Rice does not have that ability to progress the ball as well as a Fernandinho or Sergio Busquets. But, what he lacks in prowess on the ball, which is still not average by any means, he more than makes up for it with his mobility and excellent reading of the game. That is exactly the kind of player Manchester United need right now to move Paul Pogba back into midfield or perhaps fit Donny van de Beek along with Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.
Indeed, with one player doing the work of Fred and McTominay, plus more, Manchester Unted will have the ability to retain their shape not at the back but out at front as well. However, with West Ham United having the possibility of playing European football next season, they could well convince Rice to stay put and push for a place in the UEFA Champions League.
On the flip side, though, Manchester United can lure Rice in with the prospect of playing in the UEFA Champions League, with West Ham only looking likely to qualify for Europa League in the best case scenario. A potential big-money transfer fee could be a stumbling block as well, but for all intents and purposes, Rice could be within reach of the Premier League heavyweights, with reports suggesting he is open to a move as well.
Transfer Possibility: 7/10
Last but not the least is a player who has been on Manchester United’s agenda for well over twelve months now. And, after missing out on his services last year, the Red Devils could be better equipped to make a move by the time this summer’s transfer window opens.
This time around, it has also been suggested that Sancho has a “gentleman’s agreement” with Borussia Dortmund to seal a summer move if a suitor meets their asking price. This is where things get a little complicated as the Bundesliga heavyweights want to recoup €100 million in exchange for his services.
While in the long run, Manchester United can get a lot of value for money from such an outlay, it is important to remember that we are living in the times of a pandemic that has adversely affected the finances of just about every club. That, though, holds true for Dortmund as well, meaning there is a chance that a compromise could be reached for a slightly lower sum, with Sancho confident of sealing a summer move.
As for Manchester United, their need for a player like Sancho is pretty straightforward, as they continue to seek a solution for the long-standing issue on the right wing. While Mason Greenwood has mitigated the problem for some time, his long-term future is still deemed to be as a striker, which leaves Amad Diallo as the only natural option on the right flank.
With the teenager still quite raw and in need of time to get to the required levels, Sancho is just the kind of player who can come in and hit the ground running while adding the goals and assists from the right wing, taking some of the burden off of Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford. The player, too, could do with a move to Manchester United, who look primed to become title contenders, something Dortmund have realistically not been for quite some time.
Transfer Possibility: 9/10