After what seems like an age since his appointment, Louis van Gaal has officially been unveiled. The gap between confirmation of his employment and his first day on the job was a concern. The idea of Woody being left to his own devices, eyeing ‘marquee signings’ like a horny teen in Magaluf, was not a happy one. Yet despite those fears the transition between election and inauguration has actually proved to be positive. The aquisitions have been sensible and the new man’s reputation has been further enhanced thanks to the strong performance of the Netherlands under his stewardship in Brazil. Moyes appointment was recognised as a gamble; no such eyebrows are being raised this time around.
The press conference was reassuringly predictable. The fluff of glitzy presentation and wheeling out of Sir Bobby was cliched yet effective. The man himself was the expected embodiment of confidence. van Gaal has presence. He dominated the room in a manner few are capable. The cutting response to TClevz’ (alleged) BFF from the Mirror served notice that it was the journalists who were on trial in the court of King Louis. The Moyes comparisons are hard to avoid and deeply unflattering to the Scotsman. Charisma is a quality that comes naturally to a lucky few and unfortunately for Davey he was not amongst their number. If Moyes’ media engagements became a game of waiting for the blunder, those present hung on his successors every word for very different reasons.
Much has been made out of the fairly anodyne comments already. Speculation over whether the references to sponsors were a veiled protest at the commercial conquests of his employers are fanciful at best. Similarly, pledges that time will be taken to assess his squad are hardly groundbreaking and will be conveniently ignored by the legion of rumour mongers who would have us believe that Arturo Vidal has all but picked out his shirt number.
The tone was an amenable mix of confidence for what lies ahead and deference to the significance of the football club. I am in no doubt that over the next few months van Gaal’s public pronouncements will have us both crowing our approval and trying to hide our embarrassment. Remind you of anyone?
After recently moving from Chelsea to Manchester United during the January transfer window, new fan favourite Juan Mata decided to open up to Canal+ in Spain and talk about his relationship with David Moyes, how De Gea harassed him constantly about making the move and much more. Below is a (near) full transcript of the interview.
On Manchester United’s interest:
I knew there was an interest, although I didn’t realise it was true until the two clubs started talking to each other. Chelsea told me there was an offer, an important offer. In the end, I did it due to the situation I was in over the past few months, and the opportunity to be at Manchester United, one of the biggest clubs in the world. When you’re looking from the outside, you think it is, but it’s only when you are a part of it that you realise that it really is one of the biggest clubs in the world. Here I am, very happy in this new city, in this new step in my career, and I hope that everything will go well.
On whether he feels any pressure:
No, no. Simply no. Because when I’m on the pitch, all I think about is playing, enjoying myself and feeling comfortable, like I always have. At the end of the day, the price of transfers during the window is something for clubs to sort out and as players, we have nothing to do with it. What we have to do is turn up, train, enjoy the training and enjoy the football. In the end, everything happened so quickly. I know that I have responsibilities, but this doesn’t stop me from enjoying it and producing on the pitch.
On the club’s objectives:
The objective is to get to the Champions League spots. It’s difficult because Liverpool are doing well, so are Arsenal, as well as Tottenham and Everton, who are all clubs also fighting for them, but I think we have a team who can do it. This is Manchester United. When this club wins two, three or four matches in a row, it has a very important mental strength, a winner’s mentality. We are coming and I think we can do it, but we have to win a lot of games first.
On his first time out at Old Trafford as a Manchester United player:
It was really emotional. It was incredible. I’d already played there as the away team, but playing there as the home team, just imagine. The stadium is huge, the fans are very dedicated to singing and it was all good, because we won, I found myself on the pitch surrounded by top quality players and from the off, the first training session, they have helped me integrate as best possible. Physically, I hadn’t trained a lot the previous week, but I feel good.
On his new teammates:
I’ve known David (De Gea) since we played for the national team at youth level. The week before I arrived, he was hassling me and when I arrived I stayed with him. Everyone has received me well, but he has been the one who has gone out of his way the most.
I didn’t know Giggs, but I had and still have a lot of admiration and respect for him. He’s been really good. He has helped me from the very beginning, made sure everything went perfectly. It’s a pleasure that he’s here and it’s a pleasure for me to play alongside a player like him. To reach 40 and still be playing at this level is fantastic.
Van Persie, Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck. These are all players who always score goals. Playing with them is a pleasure. I got an assist for Van Persie and what’s great about playing with them is that if you pass them the ball, it’s a goal. It’s a goal pretty much every time.
On David Moyes & the club:
More than anything, he made me feel important and I think that’s fundamental when you arrive at such a big club that has made a huge investment in you. It’s nice when the manager tells you “Juan, you’re important to the team and we need you on the ball as much as possible” and that’s what I try to do. My relationship with him is good, friendly and from the off, he seemed to me to be a great person.
This is a club that should always be fighting for the Premier League. I think, in the last 20 or 21 years, they’ve won 13 times. The mentality of this club is to win and fight for all the trophies. Unfortunately this year, things haven’t gone so well in the league, but I believe there is still time this season. With the mentality and the staff that we have, I believe we can climb up the table and win as many games as possible.
There are good people here. First and foremost young people. When you play for Manchester United it’s difficult because you have a lot of responsibillity. I don’t know what will happen in the summer but the manager said the other day at a press conference that he’s going to be signing players. I think this club is at a stage of change, a bit of change in the project, but as I’ll tell you, at this club the best players in the world will always arrive.
On Sir Alex Ferguson and the future:
All he has done here, everything Ferguson has complished is pretty much unattainable. He has won everything possible to win with this club in the last 20-25 years and it’s tough to maintain such a level of excellence. But at the end of the day, it was these players that won the league last season. And the new manager has arrived knowing what this club is. I think he has a great relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson and with time everything will get better, the results will get better and we’ll get back to being where this club deserves to be.
On Mourinho and Chelsea:
We spoke and he [Mourinho] said that he thought this was a good option for me, and I told him I thought this was a good option for me. We didn’t speak for long. I wasn’t playing, and to be honest, I am happy when I play football. It’s the thing I like to do the most. He wished me good luck and told me to be good, as did everyone at the club [Chelsea]. I’m very grateful for my time at Chelsea and for all the trophies I have won. We had a fantastic relationship, I had great relationships with several of my teammates. They weren’t just my teammates, but my friends. Fernando [Torres] for example. I was very saddend to tell him I was leaving him. It was tough to tell him I was going because he is a very important person to me, but we’ll keep in touch we aren’t that far away from each other.
I’ve already had a tour around the city! The other day I was having dinner with David Silva and he recommended a couple of places to me. I think there are several beautiful places in this city and now I get to discover another city in England.
Now I’d like to present you to my friend, the one that has welcomed me here. He does everything with me, he’s part of my security team, he takes me to get to know the training ground, he shows me the city, I present to you; David de Gea.
De Gea walks in and sits next to Mata
Mata: Tell them about all the messages you have been sending me!
De Gea: Yeah, I’m sure you had to get a phone and everything was a bit crazy. But it’s good that you are here and we have gotten you here.
He’s a great player that will help the team a lot and knowing him as a person, he will also help in the dressing room and help the whole team grow.
Mata: We are going to be neighbours too, so that’s good!
De Gea: Yeah, I brought him to the nice part of the city
(both laugh again)
Mata: He’s a realtor too!
(Journalist asks if there are any other Spanish players living nearby)
Mata and De Gea both mention that they think Navas and Negredo live close.
De Gea: I think he has come in and played very well. I’m very happy that he is here and I hope he keeps growing as a player and that he continues to improve the club.
Mata: OK, that’s it.. I will pay you that dinner that I promised you!
Transcribed and translated by @sardinetrawler & @CheGiaevara
Every Christmas I take great pleasure at laughing at others. Not exactly in the spirit of Christmas I accept but with good reason. The regional news runs the same Boxing Day feature on the fools who have left the warm bosom of the family home at the crack of dawn to queue outside High Street shops in the hope of getting first option on whatever unsellable tat they have slashed the price of to free up warehouse space. Clothes, phones and tablets are bought destined to be used once and subsequently discarded as ‘I didn’t really want/need it but it was in the sale.’ Some people crave the rush of consuming, the sensation of relief that they have acquired something they previously lacked – never mind whether an actual need exists. Which brings me to football…
In previous years the January transfer window has largely been an irrelevance to United. Signings have been part of a longer term plan rather than the ‘save our season’ purchase we associate with fiscally irresponsible sides fighting relegation. This season however the mood is very different. Collective wisdom suggests Moyes and Woodward must act next month if Manchester United are to achieve the bare minimum of a successful season. It just might be however that the brave and unpopular approach might just be the right approach; namely, restricting spending to all but the most minor of additions.
I have held this view for less than 48 hours – and it could be subject to change. Before Tuesday evening I was of the opinion that bringing in quality – whatever the cost – was necessary. Buy out clauses should be triggered and our midfield renovated. Then I spent two hours hosting our Transfer Special podcast and reality bit; as we worked out way through the eighteen (!) central midfielders that have been linked with Manchester United it became clear that the likelihood of attaining the right players in January is far trickier than merely opening the cheque book.
A succession of issues stand in the way of bringing in the quality of player we require to boost the team; reservations about changing club mid-season, unwillingness to move before a World Cup, prohibitive release clauses, and questionable evidence that they can adapt quickly to a new culture came up time and time again. The intense scrutiny facing new recruits in January will be even greater than that ordinarily placed upon a Manchester United signing. In the summer we brought in a proven international footballer, who has already performed impressively in our league and whom many Reds had coveted for a number of years.
All circumstances that would surely lead to a smooth transition and instant impact, yet Fellaini has struggled. The man who has managed him for many years admitted that the expectations of playing for a club like Manchester United have proved harder to deal with than anticipated. What chance then a winger who has never played outside Brazil, a young Spanish midfielder or a once great Dutchman who has failed to find consistency for three years. Exceptions do exist. If a player of the calibre of Ilkay Gundogan became available then United should be asking how much and handing over the monies. Such players though are thin on the ground and for reasons already stated highly unlikely to either be available or keen to move at this time.
The scenario that must be avoided is panic buying leading to the acquisition of players on account of availability rather than suitability. Paying over the odds, eating into the summer transfer fund, would be a desperate response more in common with a Wonga loan than a measured investment in a successful business. There is a reason we have kept our January spending to a minimum in the past and it should not be forgotten amidst the clamour for change. The temptation must be enormous for Moyes to appease disgruntled fans across the world yet he must tread with caution. Ed Woodward took the fall for the debacle in the summer with Moyes largely escaping criticism. Yet the one addition has failed to have any real impact on the quality of the side and the manager and coaching staff must take some of the blame for this. If this is followed by further underperforming purchases then the manager will have some explained to do to his parsimonious bosses.
So Woodward should give himself a well deserved month off and do another disappearing act to warmer climes? Not a bit of it. There is transfer business to be done in the new year – making contact with clubs and representatives of those players already identified as being of the required quality and setting up moves for the summer. At the same time, inviting interest for those players marked for departure and negotiating terms acceptable to the club.
This season has always been about managing transition and if the new boss can’t achieve a top four finish with a squad who walked the league twelve months earlier then serious questions would have to be asked about his job performance. It might not set pulses racing but eschewing short term temptation and playing the long game might ultimately turn out to be the wisest move our beleaguered boss could make.
Every team needs that sort of player that make the opposition quake in their boots. The type of player that will force his opponent to commit, gamble and eventually crumble. The type of player that, when the other team’s manager reads out the opposing eleven, you hear a unified sigh throughout the dressing room: you know it’s going to be a long afternoon as soon as you spot his name on the team sheet.
It doesn’t really come down to technical ability or passing range, it comes down to your willingness to combat your opposition to the ground. Roy Keane, even though underrated, was never the most technical player. However, when teams saw his name on the team sheet, they knew what was coming. That alone won games. The fear and the anticipation, knowing that across the pitch stands a man who doesn’t think twice before sacrificing his body for his team. Manchester United have lacked that. A man that can dominate a game just by being who he is. That man can be Marouane Fellaini.
If there’s something fans have complained about for the past years, it’s United’s lack of presence in midfield. Despite catching a lot of grief, Sir Alex Ferguson did try to address the issue several times in his last few seasons at Old Trafford. Owen Hargreaves was unlucky, so was Darren Fletcher and Anderson never fit the role to begin with. The emergence of Tom Cleverley gave United a new perspective to how the midfield was to be run, while Phil Jones, who really is a centre back, was the only pure physical specimen when called upon in midfield. This has left Michael Carrick with the herculean task of controlling a midfield by positioning himself excellently, balancing the midfield and defence and acting as a deep-lying playmaker. A test which he has passed with flying colours, but that perhaps needs a bit revamping under David Moyes.
Although Carrick controls a game from the deep, even he has seem himself being combatted to the ground by the likes Yaya Touré. When faced with intense pressure from teams such as Man City, Liverpool and Everton, that task becomes too great even for Carrick. This is where Marouane Fellaini comes in. At 6’4” and with the frame of a barn door, there’s only one adjective that could describe him at the heart of Manchester United’s midfield: Brobdingnagian. Despite not being credited for it, Fellaini levels out his lack of pace with a high footballing IQ. He’ll position himself where he thinks things will happen. This may also be the reason why David Moyes used him as an offensive midfielder for a great part of the 2012/2013-season. As midfields would be running at Carrick and Fellaini, they’d face a battering ram of gigantic proportions in Fellaini before Michael Carrick elegantly sweeps away what Fellaini misses, somewhat in a similar manner to how Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand made their partnership in the heart of defence function.
But this is midfield, right? And Fellaini adds plenty of things to a Manchester United midfield that severely lacks presence. He’s not a midfield maestro and nor does he need to be. Looking at how Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney interchange in terms of dropping deep and establishing play from the back, Fellaini won’t need to part take in that. He will be called upon to carry the ball between the opposing lines. Again, something which he often did do at Everton, knowing that someone would secure the space left behind.
The undervalued factor, however, is the intimidation he’ll scare out of opposing teams. In his first interview with MUTV after having signed Fellaini, Moyes mentioned how teams absolutely hate playing against Fellaini. United fans will know this all too well having seen United struggle to keep up with the behemoth in the league opener against Everton last season. This is also where the comparison to Roy Keane comes in. Fellaini is no Roy Keane, let’s put that to bed already, but he’s the player you’re looking over your shoulder for. Because you know he’s coming. And you know it’s going to hurt when he gets there.
As the summer transfer window rolls into July, Manchester United continues to be linked with a number of high profile names. Robert Lewandowski, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, and even Edinson Cavani have all been rumored to be on their way to Old Trafford. Most Red Devils supporters would be thrilled to see any of these players in a Manchester United shirt next year, but it would be the arrival of Thiago Alcantara, from FC Barcelona, that would best serve the club. Read more…
Anderson’s exit from Manchester United has long been on the cards, but the midfielder’s recent admission that he could return to his ‘roots’ could see the Premier League leaders step up their interest in Porto midfielder James Rodriguez.
A possible loan deal back to Porto has been mooted, but both player and club will be keen for any move to be permanent.
Anderson has suffered a succession of injuries during his time at Old Trafford, but a collection of poor form, lack of goals and inability to keep the ball has seen the early appreciation of the Brazilian midfielder’s energy and drive quickly dry up.
The player himself has publicly admitted that he has “tried to leave [the club] several times but never managed it”, whilst rumours of a move to Brazil are also steadily increasing.
Anderson has been quoted in Portuguese paper A Bola, as saying that “Porto are the only club I would consider moving back to Portugal for… my past is there” and a return to the Estadio do Dragao could provide the hard-working midfielder with an outside chance of making the Brazil squad for the 2014 World Cup, should he be able to stay clear of injuries.
Manchester United are likely to recoup less than half of the £20 million fee that the Red Devils paid for the Brazilian midfielder back in 2007, but Anderson’s impending departure could help improve Sir Alex Ferguson’s long term pursuit of Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez who has once again excelled in the Liga Sagres.
Rodriguez followed up his title-winning performance of 13 goals in 20 games last season, with eight goals in 17 appearances this time around, as the Dragons once again battle Benfica for the Primeira Liga championship.
Nicknamed ‘El Nuevo Pibe’ by former Colombian great Carlos Valderrama, Rodriguez has been likened to former Manchester United player Cristiano Ronaldo with the player’s dribbling ability, ball control, shot power, creativity and overall speed drawing comparisons.
Rodriguez won the Primeira Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year award last year and the 21-year old is thought to be open to a move to the Premier League leaders.
Sir Alex Ferguson is keen to reengineer his attacking line for next season following the January acquisition of Crystal Palace prodigy Wilfried Zaha and Portuguese winger Nani is another who could leave Manchester United in the summer.
After being priced out of a move for Gareth Bale last season, Sir Alex Ferguson may use the extra Premier League television money to secure a deal for long-term target James Rodriguez, whether Anderson can facilitate a move back to Porto or not.
Centre back, defensive centre midfielder, centre midfielder, attacking centre midfielder. Centre something. That seems to be the priority at Manchester United. A few weeks ago, we needed a centre midfielder; today, according to various reports, we are in need of a centre back.
Whilst both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have enjoyed a rather successful season, it is fair to assume that their time at the club is limited. Add to this the fact that Phil Jones seems to be in the process of being moulded as a defensive midfielder, used primarily to shadow and hassle key men in the opposition’s team, it is understandable that a certain doubt has been cast over the strength of Manchester United’s defensive core.
Once the two experienced centre backs decide to call it a day, Manchester United will be left with only two out and out possible starting central defenders: Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans. If you are a regular visitor to this website, you will know that I am yet to be entirely convinced by Chris Smalling and believe that he will only ever be a squad player at Manchester United. Again, as I have also previously stated, I hope he proves me wrong and establishes himself as a great centre-back for the club, but until that day comes, I believe that yes, another centre-back will need to be purchased to replace the two departing veterans; perhaps not this summer, but most definitely the next if they want to remain Premier League favourites. At the moment, United are odds on favourites to reclaim their title with Ladbrokes at whopping 1/200.
The only question is who? Who out there is cheap enough not to break the bank, but good enough to directly fill the big boots of his predecessors? The answer is: there aren’t many.
Kurt Zouma (Saint-Etienne)
If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I am a huge fan of the imposing youngster. I (fairly) recently wrote an article on him for this website, which you can read here. As stated in said article, I do not believe Kurt Zouma to be entirely ready to make the jump to a starting position in the Premier League. On the other hand, if purchased early and perhaps sent out on loan to gain some experience at another British club for a season or so (coincidentally just around the time a new centre back will be needed), Kurt has the potential to establish himself as one of the great centre backs of his generation.
Nicolas N’Koulou (Olympique de Marseille)
As a defender, Nicolas N’Koulou nearly has it all. He has the pace, the strength, the concentration and the positioning. His only weakness (and even then, he’s not half bad) is his aerial ability. Extremely capable with the ball at his feet, Nicolas isn’t one to shy away from running out of defence and picking out a good pass to one of his teammates further up the pitch. With teams nowadays relying more and more on versatility and ball ability, Nicolas N’Koulou would be an asset to the majority of big teams around Europe and with a reported price tag of £8 million, it is understandable why many teams have already expressed their interest in a player who, were he not playing for a Ligue 1 club, would be valued at around £20 million.
Dedé (Vasco de Gama)
When it comes to the Brazilian league, my knowledge is fairly limited. I know of players, yet I wouldn’t feel entirely comfortable describing their strengths and weaknesses as I only catch one or two games a term. I know Dedé to be a talented centre back but I would much rather let @CheGiaevara, someone who has seen a lot of the big Brazilian, describe him for this article:
“Dedé is a freak of nature. At six feet three inches, with the body of a supreme athlete and the ability to dominate his opponent, he strikes fear in the hearts of attacks everywhere. The general tradition of fullbacks attacking has moulded Dedé into covering the space they leave as well as covering his own. He outmuscles, outruns and often outsmarts his opponent, including one fellow by the name of Neymar. Dedé’s tempo and pace often covers up his lack of positional skills, which could become a problem in the Premier League (see David Luiz). However, he posses the power to move the ball out of the defense, in which he has earned the original nickname “Dedéckenbauer” by the Vasco da Gama faithful.”
Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)
As you can see, options are running a bit low, yet Hummels isn’t exactly an impossible target. Admittedly, he has recently signed a new contract until 2017 with Borussia Dortmund but Thiago Silva did so with AC Milan a few weeks before signing for Paris Saint-Germain. Manchester United were linked with the German defender around November last year and since then, Barcelona have been the latest club to be linked with the German rock. Still only aged 24 and with 24 caps under his belt for Germany already, Hummels has the ability to be one of the first names on any team sheet around the world. A price tag of over £30 million may be required to acquire his services but as Manchester United saw with Rio Ferdinand, great quality generally comes at a high price.
I recently read an old article on TalkSport, similar to this one, linking Manchester United with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Giorgio Chiellini. Whilst I, along with a vast majority of Manchester United fans, would love to see players of their ability at the club, their price tag would be exorbitant. Even Hummels is more of a wish than a realistic target.
Are there any other defenders I may have missed whom you believe would be an adequate fit to replace Rio and Vidic, all the while consolidating our back line? If so, feel free to leave you suggestions in the comment box below.
Whenever I mention Kurt Zouma on Twitter, I get a few questions regarding who he is and where he plays so here is a short and sweet explanation from an article I wrote for Sport Witness a few months back: “Kurt Zouma, born October 27th 1994, is the perfect example of a meteoric rise in the world of football. Getting his first start at the age of 16 for Saint-Etienne, the French club have never really looked back since. Very quickly finding a place in the hearts of fans due to lively and mature performances, the bulky defender (1.85m/87kg) started 16 games for ASSE, making a grand total of 24 appearances in his first season for the first team.”
Now, as some of you may know, the subject of the ins and outs of football is something that I take a great interest in and the Zouma saga is one I have been following in particular. Why? Simply because I believe that Kurt Zouma is a player destined to achieve great things in the world of football. As the description above shows, Kurt Zouma is a player who started his first team career before most. Now aged 18, Kurt has had a rather unfortunate season with a few niggling injuries. Despite this, he has managed to start 10 games for Saint-Etienne, impressing each and every time.
Now onto the main part and the question most Manchester United fans have on their mind.
Do we need him?
My answer is rather straightforward and simple: Yes. Manchester United cannot afford to pass up yet another cheap and extremely talented player in the summer. The list has grown too long and depressing.
Whilst many view Chris Smalling as the natural replacement for Rio Ferdinand, I do not. Despite impressing lately, I firmly believe that Chris Smalling will remain a squad player at Manchester United, filling in for the likes of Rafael at right-back and for the centre-back pair. For me, there is one perfect player to replace Rio and that person is Kurt Zouma. Before you all get your pitchforks out and start making effigies out of Anderson’s body with my name on it, let Chris Atkins from The Elastico explain to you why Zouma has what it takes to be successful wherever he goes:
“When it comes to describing Zouma’s style of play, it would be easy to over-emphasise the physical attributes that he brings to the team. After all, he is a man-mountain, as well as being blessed with acceleration that belies his sizeable frame. However, it should not be ignored that the centre-back’s game shows great maturity for a player of his age. Indeed, a quick look at the statistics (whoscored.com) will tell you that whilst he makes considerably fewer tackles than his defensive colleagues, Zouma makes an astonishing number of clearances, blocked shots and interceptions each game - testament to his acute ability to read the game.
Indeed, given his physique and maturity of play, it would be difficult to work out quite how incredibly young the defender still is without being informed. There are, of course, areas that the defender must improve upon. Perhaps, despite how obvious his strength is, he could make more of this natural advantage and attempt to rob the ball from the player’s feet more often. Zouma did score twice early on in his debut campaign, but he can also look to be more forceful in the air and attempt to contribute more in an attacking sense from set pieces. However, the fact remains that Zouma plays with an authority that is rare in one so young, he displays intelligence in his positioning and, when in possession, is comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and receiving the ball in tight situations. A fine, all-round prospect.”
Now comes the inevitable question: Where would he fit?
As I have previously stated, I do not believe that Chris Smalling possesses the potential to become a regular first team player for Manchester United (If I’m wrong, come back to this article in 3 years time and rub it in my face. I’ll have deserved it) and I believe that (recent selections point to this) Phil Jones will be remoulded into a defensive midfielder over the next season. This leaves only Jonny Evans as the sole quality centre-back at the club once Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic call it a day, leaving the club with no other choice but to delve once more into the transfer market for a centre-back.
I agree that, at the moment, Zouma isn’t particularly needed, nor do I believe that he is ready for the Premier League (yet); however, a deal similar to Wilfried Zaha’s in the summer could be an option. Zouma needs first team experience to fully develop as a player and loaning him back to Saint-Etienne for another season would be beneficial for both parties. In fact, buying him and loaning him out to any club, even a Premier League one (look at Welbeck and Cleverley) would be useful.
To conclude what was originally set out to be a short article: Do I believe that Manchester United are interested in the player? Yes. Do I believe that this transfer will come to fruition? We are talking about a team managed by Sir Alex Ferguson here. Anything can happen.
You are all legs, and strong. But you move well, Wilfried. Like Nani if Nani knew Lance. You are fast. You are as close as we have ever been to Usain Bolt in a Manchester United jersey.
Your team- the one in London- calls you a ‘striker’. Are you? What does Wilfried have to say about that? How much striking do you actually do? I saw your clips on YouTube… I would not call you a striker. Clip after clip of game after game there you are, caving in the opposition’s defense by collapsing in from the right, or the left, and stepping-over with those windmills we call legs; Don Quixote would accept the challenge.
You are clever with the ball, and you love to dance. It can be difficult to truly understand that what you do can be so difficult- the balance to stay upright, the strength to stand firm, the speed of thought necessary to respond to outstretched legs, and pointy elbows, all in an attempt to keep the ball under your control. Yes, you are clever. You are Oscar Wilde with a football.
You are young, Wilfried Zaha. You are two decades young… Messi had two La Liga titles and a Champion’s League medal at that age. Not that I am comparing you to Messi, nor that I would ever compare you to Messi, just that ‘youth’ can be relative. You are young, but you are strong.
What do you want, Wilfired Zaha?
Do you want to leave Crystal Palace? Are you ready? I hear so much about you and Manchester United, that I wake each morning, hoping to finally see that picture; you, and Sir Alex, his arm about your shoulder, beaming and smiling, hopeful, ever so ready to begin working together. I want to read stories where United players and staff praise your “awareness” and go on and on about how much “skill” you have. I want to read about Nemanja marveling at your strength. I want to see you don the red of Manchester and kiss the badge. I want to see you score against City after fighting off one or both Toure’s and side-stepping Hart.
I want to see you and Robin, and Wayne, and Chicha, and the rest of your front-line brothers-in-arms celebrating another win, another week at the top.
I want you to beat Liverpool and Chelsea and Norwich and Spurs.
But I digress…
What do you want. Wilfried Zaha?
Do you really want to play for Sir Alex? Do you really want the world analyzing your every step, your every move, your every decision? Even Ronaldo could not handle it. That was why he engineered a move to Spain, to get away from the lights, and the questions at United. Oh, the questions, Wilfried! Do you want to answer the questions? Can you? Come to think of it, Ronaldo was not as strong as you are, and he was older.
Do you want a Premier League trophy? A Champions League medal? No disrespect to Palace, of course, but your chances at both greatly expand at United. You will have to work, Wilfried. Scholes works, and Giggs. They are old, and do not have your strength. Ronaldo was legendary for working harder than anyone, and even he did not possess your power. You are all legs, and strength. But you will have to work, Wilfried. Harder, perhaps, than anyone else.
You will be watched. Not just in England, but in the Ivory Coast, and in California. They will write about you, and take your picture, and they will want answers- remember all those questions?
I am going to be direct here; trying to bring Gareth Bale to Old Trafford would mean a tedious transfer saga, an inflated fee and could well prove impossible to achieve. Despite all this, I think an attempt should be made, and summer 2013 is the time to strike.
Being married to a Spurs fan, I have watched more Tottenham games than any of our other rivals. It has been an entertaining sideshow for me to focus on Bale’s quest to perfect his Cristiano Ronaldo impression. All the elements are there of 2006 version Ronaldo; increasing goal return, diving reputations, more ostentatious attempts from distance, open disapproval of teammates’ shortcomings, growing awareness of how to roam from the wing effectively and even the trademark infuriatingly selfish away performances.
The decision for Bale then is how he moves to the next level. For all Villas-Boas’ impressive endeavours, the feeling remains that qualification for the Champions League represents the summit of Tottenham’s ambitions. It won’t be lost on Bale that his breakthrough moment came over two seasons ago now. He will take some comfort from improving as a player in this time, but the bottom line is in terms of achievement he has made no progress. The sale of Modric reinforced the view that Spurs are destined to remain a second tier club. If Bale is to become one of the Europe’s premier players then logic would suggest a move to one of the Europe’s premier clubs. Only by being surrounded by superior players and competing for trophies can Bale truly fulfil his potential.
But why United?
Daniel Levy attempted to soften the blow of finally losing Modric by announcing a new partnership with Real Madrid. Speculative assumptions were immediately made that this paved the way for Tottenham’s other prize asset to make the same move in the near future. Madrid would certainly fit the profile of the challenge Bale needs as he turns 24 in the summer. Where better to establish yourself as a successor to Ronaldo than at the club where he has become the undisputed second best player of the planet? Herein lies the problem, a move to Madrid at this stage would see Bale directly competing with Ronaldo in order to play in his preferred role. As the feted Modric has found, there are no guarantees at Madrid and a bit part role is a real (forgive the pun) possibility. Is operating as Ronaldo’s understudy an effective way of auditioning to be leading man? Ask Luis Nani. In my view a move to Madrid would see his minutes limited, his role ever-changing and his development stalled.
Which brings me to Manchester United. If Bale were to move to Old Trafford he would be the marquee signing and clear first choice in his preferred position. A debut season at the club with an experienced, Welsh legend for company would allow him to make the transition to the top tier in a comfortable environment. From United’s point of view, he would bring qualities we clearly lack. It is a strange scenario we find ourselves in where our success this season is in spite of an underlying collection of wingers. Young has been tactically useful if limited, Nani has been absent sometimes in body – always in mind, and the less said about Valencia’s regression the better. It is a damning indictment of our options that our most impressive wide players this season have either been fullbacks or 38 years of age. Bale would bring direct running, consistency of supply and an added goal threat. It isn’t hard to think of him linking up spectacularly with the players we have both emerging and established.
Making sense is one thing – actually happening is another. In a dream scenario for many we would be saving our summer budget to bring in that central midfield colossus Reds have been demanding for years. The likelihood of that is a subject for a whole other article but recent seasons would suggest ‘no chance.’ Defensively we have been porous this term – yet with Smalling, Jones and Evans already at the club is a major move for a defender likely? I’d suggest not. At the time of writing, an interest in Zaha has been confirmed yet this would be an acquisition for the future rather than a purchase to solve our immediate wide issues. James Rodriguez is another name frequently linked; but I confess to being in the dark about his likely price tag and/or adaptability to our culture. Bale would carry no such concerns as a proven Premier League player who has excelled in his fleeting opportunities on the European stage. The biggest stumbling block therefore would be cost – the sale of a couple of well-paid squad members (Nani? Anderson?) and likely departure/retirement from at least one from our veterans corps would free up space on the wage bill.
The transfer fee is a trickier issue. The hostility between the respective boardrooms is well known; and Levy would revel in his reputation for driving a hard bargain. A fee in excess of £35m would not be unexpected. A bridge too far in the era of Glazernomics? Perhaps not. The signing of van Persie (minimal resale value, high wages, significant fee) showed a willingness to splash out when a player becomes available of a) sufficient quality to significantly improve fortunes on the field, and b) has the status or potential to be a marketable name throughout the globe. Bale ticks both boxes. In addition we were allegedly willing to pay major sums for Hazard and Moura – players with a similar (or in Lucas’ case arguably lesser) status and record to Bale. Hope springs that the board would be willing to spend big to secure Bale’s capture. Much talk since the Champions League draw has been of ‘bringing Ronaldo home’ – that is beyond our financial capability but Bale is the next best thing.
Do I think it will happen? Probably not. By this stage I would have expected a greater public charm offensive and calculated leaking to prompt Fleet Street ‘exclusives’ that the deal was on. However as today’s opponents love to remind us, I can ‘dare to dream’.