With Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba sidelined for weeks, decimating a midfield roster that was already woefully thin after Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini left the club, Manchester United’s need to sign midfield reinforcements in January is clear for all to see.
However, a third of the month has already now passed and not a single report in the media has suggested that any player is even close to reaching an agreement to come to Old Trafford.
United have, of course, been linked with a host of midfield stars, and not all of those reports can be true. The concerning thing for fans, however, is that unless Ed Woodward has managed to keep negotiations for a mystery player completely under wraps, none of the more seriously reported targets will sign for Manchester United this month.
The top name linked with United this week is Ajax’s Donny Van de Beek. This is highly unlikely to happen for three reasons.
First, in October the 22-year-old clearly stated that he did not wish to change clubs in the January window.
The second reason this is unlikely to happen is that Real Madrid are reported to be keen on signing the Dutchman in June. This report is likely to have some truth to it, given that los Blancos tried to sign the player last summer. It seems unlikely, therefore, that Van de Beek would choose crisis-ridden, Europa League side Manchester United when he could sign for the most successful club in the world.
Third, Ajax have affirmed that they would not consider letting any player go without first signing a replacement.
There are no substantial rumours of a like-for-like player being on Ajax’s radar and there are only 21 days of the window remaining. Moreover, United have not even been reported to have submitted any kind of bid for the Dutchman. Given Woodward and Judge’s painfully slow negotiating habits in the past, it would seem that there is far too much to be done to get this one over the line in the time available.
The Red Devils’ other preferred target according to most reports is Leicester City’s James Maddison. However, there is a similar story here; Leicester are unwilling to sell in the winter and the player has not expressed any desire to move. Moreover, given the £85 million it took to prise Harry Maguire from the Foxes, it would most likely take something in excess of £100 million to land Maddison – more than double the £50 million or so it would take to sign Van de Beek. United would, probably rightly, conclude that this would not represent value for money. The reported £45 million plus Jesse Lingard bid is poles apart from Leicester’s valuation.
Other reported targets would appear to be just as difficult to sign. Juventus have said that Emre Can will not be sold in January and the player has said that due to his allegiance to Liverpool, he would not sign for United.
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith has categorically stated that Jack Grealish will not be sold in January.
United themselves have reportedly dropped interest in Newcastle’s overpriced and out-of-form Sean Longstaff. Sporting Lisbon’s Bruno Fernandes has intimated that he was not interested in the Red Devils’ project and had not been approached by them anyway – although there is a slight whiff of movement in the air on this one, with Record reporting that United are now showing interest. Spurs’ Christian Eriksen has rebuffed United’s advances twice and looks set to join Inter Milan.
The Red Devils have also been linked with Wolves’ Ruben Neves, but Wolves consider themselves a buying rather than a selling club these days and will see United as their direct competitors in the fight for Europa and Champions League places. The player himself is also said to prefer a move to Spain. Even a substantial offer, therefore, might not be enough to persuade club and player to commit to a deal.
A move for Atletico’s Saul Niguez would probably only have worked if it came at the start of the window, as the Spanish club would only consider selling him to raise funds to sign a striker in the same window. And finally, Benfica’s Gedson Fernandes looks to be heading for West Ham, according to Sky Sports.
Olé Gunnar Solskjaer had hoped to sign two players in this window. Woodward and Judge may ultimately be able to pull a rabbit out of one of these hats, but the outlook seems to become bleaker as each day is crossed off the transfer window calendar. Right now, just one midfield signing of the kind of calibre the club so desperately needs seems a long way away.