Although almost no one will offer them comfort, it’s understandable that Manchester United fans might be feeling a little lethargic this off-season. After so many years of footballing dominance in England, last season’s harrowing ordeal was the most jarring of experiences. As the rest of the Premier League looked on, with gleefully moist palms and no little sense of schadenfrued, David Moyes floundered horribly, his signings flopped and United staggered to a seventh place finish, their worst in nearly a quarter of a century. It was a season of wince-inducing results and a constant feeling of dread. When the season ended and Moyes was taken around the back and shot, the atmosphere around Old Trafford lifted slightly, and then when Louis van Gaal was announced as the new incumbent, it lifted a little again. But the hangover from the Moyes era is a doozy, one that even the combined effect of signing Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera can’t fully shake. Certainly, van Gaal’s supremely confident showing at the World Cup with The Netherlands has offered some hopeful respite from the pain of last season, much like a morning-after meal of Vegemite on white sliced bread might offer the gurgley-tummied twenty-something after a evening spent hugging the porcelain. But as of yet there has been no proper hangover cure, no fry-up and black coffee, no wheatgrass-infused, goji berry smoothie, no big signing that will really shatter the memories of last season.
Ed Woodward has recently reassured fans that big signings will be coming soon and that they should be “watching this space”. But United have seemingly missed out on Arturo Vidal and Angel Di Maria, with Juventus reluctant to sell and Di Maria preferring a move to PSG. So who is United pursuing? SkyBet have Manchester United as the most likely destination for Ron Vlaar, if he were to leave Aston Villa, hardly a name to get the pulse racing. Whilst we’re on the subject of central defenders, Thomas Vermaelen has been linked with United for some time now but he’s also not really the tonic that the fans are craving. The hole that the twin departures of Ferdinand and Vidic has left must be filled. Mats Hummels would be a very nice option to do the filling. The German has just come off a wonderful World Cup victory in which he played a vital part and, mobility issues aside, is a very, very good centre back. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are still yet to prove themselves as reliable first choices for the role, with Smalling’s place in the squad shaky at best. Jonny Evans has performed adequately when partnered with an experience defender, which Hummels is. Hummels is alledgedly open to a move to Manchester, Dortmund permitting, and is an admirer of van Gaal’s. They just missed each other at Bayern Munich; Hummels left the club officially in February of 2009, with van Gaal taking over Bayern in July of that same year.
Staying with the defence, Dutchman Daley Blind has inevitably been linked with United as well, following his own excellent showing at the World Cup. Able to play at left back and defensive midfield, the 24 year old is more likely to be brought in to cover for Michael Carrick, who has been ruled out of a large chunk of the beginning of next season with an ankle injury. It’s an added bonus that he can cover for Shaw at left back as well, and may well migrate over there when Carrick returns.
Herrera will help to add quality to a midfield desperately short of it. Tom Cleverly and Marouane Fellaini are both nervously looking over their shoulders because if another signing is made in the central midfield area, one or both of them are surely destined to be leaving the club. Moyes target Cesc Fabregas was snapped up by Chelsea, and so is no longer an option. Toni Kroos has made the move to Real Madrid. Kevin Strootman, a known target for van Gaal, is yet to be acquired. United could do much worse than look closely at Sami Khedira, whose move to Arsenal has stalled over wage demands. The German, displaced by Kroos’s arrival at Madrid, was outstanding at the World Cup, and fits exactly the mould of midfielder that United have craved for longer than most can remember. Muscular, good in the tackle, positionally disciplined and capable of keeping possession, he is an incredibly handy two-way player. If United are willing to meet his wage demands, he certainly represents an upgrade on the current midfield crop.
Attacking wise, United are actually fairly well stocked. Mata, Rooney, van Persie and Januzaj are an exciting group with the potential to be one of the best front sections in the league. Where the standard drops off is in the second unit; Ashley Young, Nani, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa are only tenuously holding on to their spots. Young and Nani ought to be sold, and with Antonio Valencia as the only other covering winger, new blood is required here. This is where Di Maria was being brought in to play, but, as said earlier, a deal for him is far from certain. Are there any Dutch wingers going around? Robben has ruled out the possibility of leaving Bayern, and Memphis Depay is still a youngster, yet to leave the relatively mild Eredivisie. Alexis Sanchez has gone to Arsenal, so he’s out of the picture. Well, how about Xherdan Shaqiri? The Bayern Munich winger was very much put off by the club president referring to him as “one for the future” and has since been heavily linked to a move to Liverpool. From a United perspective, this deal might be a case of killing two birds with one stone; acquiring a skilful, pacey attacker and royally pissing off Liverpool with the same deft swipe. It’s a win-win.
So, for all of Woodward’s reassurances, the considerable funds available, and van Gaal’s ambitions to take the club back to the summit, Manchester United are yet to make that big signing. No doubt they will pull at least one off before the season starts, but it will be fascinating to watch where in the team they decide to strengthen and with whom. All the Red Devil faithful will be eagerly hitting the refresh button on various outlets’ transfer updates page, awaiting the relief that will come when they see the picture of the new star holding that red shirt.