Despite Manchester United’s achievements over the past week, it is fair to say that the club’s chances of finishing in the Premier League’s top four and qualifying for the Champions League depend on their ability to strengthen the current squad in the January transfer window. With just 23 days to go until that window opens, executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward needs to start getting his ducks in a row and focus on the three transfers that are achievable and not be distracted by the three that will prove to be fruitless.
First, the three that can happen:
Christian Eriksen (Spurs)
With only 6 months left on his contract and frozen out of the first team by new manager José Mourinho, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will be desperate to salvage some income for the 27-year-old. Whilst Eriksen’s preferred destination is Real Madrid and the likes of Juventus and Atletico Madrid are said to be interested, as reported here last week, Eriksen is reported to have ‘an attraction to the scale of United’. He will also not want to spend the rest of the season warming the bench at Spurs and of the chasing pack, United are probably the only club ready to move for Eriksen in January and pay close to the £40 million that Spurs want to recoup for the player. This gives United a very realistic chance of signing the Dane.
Erling Braut Haaland (Red Bull Salzburg)
Haaland has been linked with pretty much every top club in Europe, so competition will be fierce, but there are a couple of things that United have in their favour that might enable them to pip everyone else to the post for the young Norwegian’s signature. First, Olé Gunnar Solskjaer managed the player at Molde and can offer a familiar face in a project that is built around youth development. Second, United are probably the only top club that can almost guarantee Haaland a place in the starting line-up. Whilst negotiating with Haaland’s agent Mino Raiola is notoriously complicated, United are clearly well-positioned to steal a march on their competitors in January.
Bruno Fernandes (Sporting Lisbon)
Fernandes is arguably the easiest of all the transfer targets to sign in January, with current club Sporting Lisbon desperate for cash to solve their mounting debt problems, a negotiable buy-out clause of around £84 million and a player who has expressed a desire to play in the Premier League. Moreover, with Spurs reportedly withdrawing their interest for the Portuguese, there is, incredibly, little opposition to United in the fight for his signature.
Let’s now go on to the three that won’t happen:
Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
The Englishman is another player who is coveted by a host of Europe’s elite clubs, but aside from the competition for his signature, there is also the issue that Dortmund are adamant the player won’t be sold in January, with director of football Michael Zorc saying there is ‘no scenario’ in which this would happen. Even if this proved to be untrue, United would have to fight off the challenges of Chelsea, Real Madrid and Liverpool. Not mission impossible, but mission highly improbable in January.
James Maddison (Leicester)
Maddison is almost certainly high on Olé Gunnar Solskjaer’s wish list – possibly top of the list – and has all the trademarks of a Solskjaer player – home grown, young and improving, and a lifelong United fan. However, there is a premium on English players and Leicester drive a hard bargain; United may be unwilling to fork out the £100 million plus that may be demanded for the player. Even if they were, with Leicester flying high in the Premier League, it is unlikely that the deal would take place before the summer.
Mario Mandzukic (Juventus)
With unsettled Mandzukic almost certain to move on in January and United desperately in need of attacking reinforcements, it would seem very likely that a deal could be reached for the veteran striker. However, as reported here last month, United are believed to have cooled their interest in the Croat – his profile is probably the opposite of the young, fast, mobile and hungry Solskjaer-type player that the manager would welcome. Moreover, Solskjaer has stated that the club will not make short-term signings which, given that Mandzukic is 33 years of age, would appear to rule him out. A 6-month loan deal may be the only chance of seeing Mandzukic in a United shirt in the new year, albeit a slim one.