Bobby Hare – @BobbyHare – reckons United are like a supercar without the engine. Add a souped up central midfielder and watch them go…
It’s been painfully clear for three seasons that United’s central midfield is in urgent need of attention. That the club has still strongly competed during that period is testament to Sir Alex’s enduring brilliance and an underrated level of ability in other positions. Worryingly, the umbilical cord to Giggs and Scholes remains firmly attached, and while their class is indisputable, there is something worrying about these elder statesmen being such integral components of the United machine; by all rights, they should be clapped out by now.
It hasn’t helped that the likes of Cleverley and Anderson, on whom many of Fergie’s well-laid plans will have been premised, have grown so familiar with the treatment table. When Fletcher’s nasty illness is entered into the equation, it’s clear that United are woefully under resourced in centre of the park. 90% of the time, the old stagers are still capable of schooling those before them, but problems have arisen when facing the midfield aristocrats; United have been disparagingly cast as the paupers. For a club whose supporters have been brought up on marvels like Robson and Keane, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
In these (externally imposed) austere times, United have been unable to enter the transfer market and compete for the much prized world class central midfielders. That said, given the current state of affairs, merely a very good player would represent an improvement. Following extensive research (a chat with my mates during today’s lunch hour), here are five options for the United engine room:
The diminutive Croat has apparently been on United’s radar for a couple of years, but he has also been of serious interest to Chelsea, while current press speculation suggests that he’s Madrid bound. Given that Daniel Levy – Chairman of Tottenham – likes to barter more than an East End market stall holder, this all tallies up the mother of all bidding wars, and United will always finish third in this particular contest.
At his best, Modric picks passes in a fashion reminiscent of Scholes, but he doesn’t dictate games in the same fashion as the Ginger Prince. Many Spurs fans point out that the flashes of genius have been rather intermittent since his £16m move from Dinamo Zagreb; he certainly blew more cold than hot last season.
At the recent European Championships, Modric displayed an ability to retain the ball under intense pressure, excelling against the eventual victors Spain. That said, it should be noted that his most prominent passages of play came when pushed to in to an advanced midfield position. United should be looking to a technician with real defensive nous, and Modric would represent a spurious solution (and an expensive one).
The giant Belgian has a magnificent bouffant hairstyle, and it’s as though positive perceptions of his ability are correlated with the volume of his barnet. In reality, Fellaini is an aggressive clogger who is notable for occasionally wreaking havoc in the opposing penalty area. What’s often overlooked is that the Everton man’s rise to real prominence has taken place since his move to the final third of the field; he never looked anything more than competent when played as one of the hubs of the team.
With Fellaini the conundrum is a simple one: do United want to play in the style that this sort of player would promote? He’s not a stand out passer and although he ‘puts himself around’, he’s never really displayed an inclination for doing a quality job of screening the back four. He’s actually just a better version of another Goodison legend, Thomas Gravesen, who masked his various footballing deficiencies by being angry looking. His deception was so good that he earned a move to Real Madrid, where his most notable act was being cowed by the imposing Robinho.
Dembele, another Belgian, is the opposite of Fellaini in that his best form has come as he’s been moved deeper. Signed as a forward, the Fulham man has made a name for himself with his effortless distribution of the ball and his incisive dribbling from central areas. Having served his Premier League apprenticeship at Craven Cottage, where the right sort of footballing values are encouraged, Dembele fits the current profile of United signing: young, talented, Prem-proven, with the scope for substantial improvement at a bigger club.
It’s fair to argue that the same defensive reservations surrounding Modric apply here, but it’s important to remember that Dembele would probably cost half the money, meaning United would land a quality ball-player and still have scope to add some much needed defensive steel. Another tick in the box is that Fulham aren’t notorious for driving a hard bargain; indeed, United have dealt with the West Londoners twice in the last decade, bringing Saha and Smalling to Old Trafford for princely sums.
Following a highly successful Euro 2012 campaign, Moutinho made a number of observers sit up and take notice, though obsessive students of the game will know that the box-to-box man has been around a number of years. The Porto man clearly has a terrific temperament, having previously captained Sporting Lisbon, while his dynamic style belies his slight frame. Similar to Modric, a quality showing against the Spanish has further inflated Moutinho’s rating; excepting his ridiculous Fred Flintstone style run up and subsequent penalty miss.
Problematically, Moutinho follows in a long line of players whose price tag soars following a creditable international tournament performance. Sums of between £20-30m have been bandied around, and United need to be careful not to land an exorbitantly priced lame-duck. Moutinho is clearly a good player, but is such a lavish sum befitting of a player who has never previously looked like a top-drawer midfielder? With the Glazer-imposed financial restrictions, there won’t be any opportunity to rectify a costly transfer error; in this context, is it sensible to go all in on the back of a decent summer performance?
This may lead to a few raised eyebrows, but hold on a moment. The Arsenal man’s contract runs out in 2014 and with his current club in the midst of a civil war, players of Song’s quality could be looking for an exit route. Having enjoyed his best personal season in 2011/12, when he formed an at times telepathic partnership with the now-dissenting van Persie, the Cameroon man may be concerned at the Arsenal talent drain. What price on his contract extension talks stalling in a fashion similar to the club captain and Nasri before him?
Song is nominally a holding midfield player, though he has caught the eye most with a series of quality assists in a more advanced role. There are clear deficiencies to his defensive game, not least his naivety/unwillingness to track runners in behind him, but at 25 he would surely be malleable enough to have some discipline instilled within him. In any case, Song would have the insurance of the conscientious Carrick behind him, freeing him dominate further up the field.
*Javi Martinez was excluded from the list due to the increasing likelihood of him signing for Bayern Munich over the coming days.
So there we have it- five viable central midfield transfer targets. We’ll probably not sign any of these players but that’s life.