Manchester United are being heavily linked with a move for Dani Alves who will be a free agent this summer.
With Rafael the only natural senior right-back in the squad, United are certainly in need of another but Alves, 31, would command big wages if he joined thanks to being out of contract and no doubt become one of United’s highest earners. Should Louis van Gaal sign him?
To his credit, in the last six games where Alves has completed the full 90 minutes, Barcelona have conceded a total of zero goals. Sure, teams like Elche and APOEL Nicosia didn’t provide the toughest competition but nevertheless it’s still impressive. However, Barcelona could have given him a new contract but decided not to.
On the international scene, Alves was Brazil’s first-choice right-back at the World Cup but has since been left out of the squad by new boss Carlos Dunga, so his time playing for Brazil is over.
From United’s perspective, Alves isn’t getting any better. At 31, he’s in the twilight of his career whereas Rafael is 24 and still has his best years ahead of him but Alves’ arrival would be a roadblock to his progress. It would see Rafael pushed to the bench as Van Gaal wouldn’t pay Alves’ big wages to have him warm the bench.
Would Van Gaal prefer the short term solution of bringing in a 31-year-old right-back than letting Rafael grow into his position again? He regressed last year from his wonderful 2012/13 form but so did almost every other United player, so it’d be unfair to paint him with that brush.
Rafael was told in the summer that he could leave United but he stayed (whether that was due to his injury remains unknown). Since then, Rafael suffered a further injury setback but has now returned in the past two games with some scintillating performances. Fans love Rafael and the feeling is mutual when he plays as well as he has recently.
However, what Van Gaal showed by selling Danny Welbeck was that he wouldn’t be influenced by public opinion and no player was unsellable, not even those with a deep affiliation and connection to the club.
By coming in to manage a new set of players, Van Gaal has the ability to make objective decisions based purely on the player he is watching. He doesn’t have to take into account their rise in to the first-team or their connections to the club, he can make a decision without the need for context.
Does this mean Van Gaal will sell Rafael? Far from it, but his decision won’t be affected by the romanticism of how long he has been at United. If he feels Rafael isn’t good enough, he’ll replace him and the suggestion he told Rafael he could leave may already be indicative of that. That all now depends on whether Van Gaal was fixed in his decision or whether a promising season from Rafael could change his mind.
It all depends on how Van Gaal assesses the whole situation. The likes of Guillermo Varel, Marnick Vermijl and Saidy Janko could be elevated into the senior squad if he felt they were ready were Rafael to be injured again. Alternatively, Alves could be brought in and force Rafael to become his understudy for the foreseeable future.
If Van Gaal truly wants to have balance in his squad, he needs characters like Rafael around. Those players who do have an attachment to the club which is more than a legal contract, those who embody the ethos and take it onto the pitch with them. Their importance shouldn’t be undervalued.