Manchester United’s still deepening injury crisis has put more scrutiny on the club’s plans in the January transfer window. Louis van Gaal has been beset by fitness concerns since taking over at Old Trafford in the summer, and the recent international break has provided yet more headaches. Daley Blind returned from action with the Netherlands with a suspected serious knee injury, while record signing Angel di Maria, David de Gea, Michael Carrick and Luke Shaw all picked up knocks that out their participation against Arsenal on Saturday in jeopardy. It means the club could have as many as 12 players unavailable for the trip to the Emirates Stadium.
Having been hampered by injury issues as well as a lack of depth in key defensive areas United currently lie seventh in the Premier League table. Despite those struggles, Manchester United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward, speaking to investors after announcing a drop in first-quarter revenues on Tuesday, cautioned against expectations that the club would continue its summer spending spree into January.
“We are not looking to enter the market for short-term fixes,” he said in a conference call. “We have targets we are looking at for next summer. Should any become available in January, which is rare, we will consider acting on it. But in terms of expectations, we all need to recognize that's a low probability.”
Undoubtedly Manchester United’s most pressing need is at center-back, where, with the failure to replace departed veterans Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, the team has been left conspicuously short this season. Throughout the summer, the club was linked with an ambitious move for Borussia Dortmund’s World Cup winning defender Mats Hummels. Predictably the talk came to nothing, with Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp scoffing at a reported transfer for £16 million. But, despite Woodward’s comments earlier in the week, The Guardian now reports that Van Gaal is seriously considering making an approach for the Germany international in January that could see him become the most expensive defender in England -- eclipsing the £32 million paid for Eliaquim Mangala by Manchester City.
Dortmund’s woeful start to the season increases the likelihood that there could be further big-name departures, however 25-year-old Hummels has only recently reiterated his steadfast commitment to the club. It would be particularly surprising were Dortmund to sell in January, given the message it would send about their ambitions for the rest of the campaign.
Manchester United will also face an uphill task bringing in another January target named by The Guardian, Kevin Strootman. The midfielder, who played under Van Gaal for the Netherlands, earlier this month made his first appearance since a serious knee injury ruled him out of the World Cup. Roma have repeatedly insisted that the 24-year-old is not for sale, although the exits of Mehdi Benatia and Erik Lamela in recent times suggest they are willing to do business for the right price.
Still, major deals next summer currently appear more likely. The most eye-catching recent rumors sees United again being linked with Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale. Indeed, according to the Daily Star, United will go head-to-head with local rivals Manchester City and Premier League leaders Chelsea to sign the Welshman for £90 million next summer. The speculation comes off the back of Bale’s agent revealing that his client chose Real Madrid over Manchester United when he moved to the Bernabeu in August 2013, despite United offering Tottenham more money.
“He could have gone to United and other clubs, but he wanted Madrid,” Jonathan Barnett told Spanish sports daily AS. When asked whether United offered a higher fee, he responded: “Not much more, but more.”
It has been said in some quarters that United’s bargaining position in the aim of finally getting Bale to come to Old Trafford could be helped by Real Madrid’s long rumored interest in David de Gea. Speculation over the Spanish stopper’s future has intensified since former Barcelona goalkeeper and current free agent Víctor Valdés began training with United last month. But, despite his current contract being set to expire in less than two years’ time, De Gea said there was no link between Valdés’ arrival and his own future.
“Yes, my contract runs out in 2016. But they didn’t sign him for that,” he told AS. “Víctor had a difficult injury, he had a bad time and the boss knows him well and has given him the opportunity to recover there.”