It’s fair to say that Wayne Rooney’s late winner for Manchester United against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday came as a significant relief to manager Louis van Gaal. The goal not only earned a vital three points in the Champions League, but it brought to an end the club’s longest goal drought in more than a decade, which by its end had stretched to nearly seven hours of play.
The fans at Old Trafford, accustomed to quick, attacking player under the long tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson, had begun to openly revolt against the sterile possession play being served up in front of them. Cries of “attack, attack, attack” reverberated around the Theatre of Dreams, and Van Gaal, for all his self confidence, will surely have been feeling the pressure.
One goal, though, will not be enough to abate the critics, which have also included former Manchester United greats like Paul Scholes, for long. The struggles have much to do with Van Gaal’s tactics and personnel decisions, but he has not been helped by the decline of Rooney and the struggles summer signing Memphis Depay has endured translating his starring performances in the Dutch Eredivisie to the rigors of the Premier League. Despite spending more than £250 million since taking charge in the summer of 2014, the United checkbook could be coming out again once the transfer window opens in January.
Speculation in recent days has suggested that Manchester United are targeting one of the Premier League’s outstanding attacking players so far this season. Riyad Mahrez has been a key part of Leicester City’s surprising surge to third in the Premier League table, scoring seven goals and adding five assists in 10 appearances. Reports have claimed that United had the Algerian winger watched at the weekend, however Mahrez’s agent has denied there has yet been any approach from the Old Trafford club.
“I don't have any contact with Manchester United about Mahrez,” Kamel Bengougam told ESPN FC. “He is only focused on this season with Leicester City.”
Another reported United target, however, has made it known he sees his future away from his current employers. Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato was linked with United in the summer, with it widely known that his club Corinthians are eager to move his hefty salary off their wage bill and raise finds from his sale.
Once rated as one of the world’s top young players, injuries brought a sour end to his time at AC Milan, but Corinthians still paid 15 million euros (£10.6m) to take him back to Brazil in 2013. However, the 26-year-old has been on loan at Sao Paulo since last year, where he has begun to rediscover his scoring touch to fuel hopes of a return to Europe.
“Next year I won’t be playing at Sao Paulo, everybody knows that,” he told Radio Globo, according to reports. “I hope England or Spain.
“I do not know if I can stay with Corinthians. I just try to do as well as possible. In football nothing is certain, so it's no problem to return to Corinthians. I am a professional.”
Pato has been linked with a huge number of clubs, from Manchester United and Barcelona to West Ham. It would be a surprise were a club with United’s ambitions to see him as the answer to their scoring problems.
One forward who there is little doubt Manchester United would want to snap up is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star has been a subject of increasingly frenetic speculation over his future after suggesting in recent days that he could imagine leaving Real Madrid. Ronaldo has two-and-a-half years remaining on his current contract and it has been suggested that he could be on the move next summer, with Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United both thought to be keenly interested.
With Real Madrid taking on PSG on Tuesday evening, there has been plenty of talk about a move to the French capital. Ahead of the game, Ronaldo was recorded telling Real Madrid president Florentino Perez that his latest comments had been misconstrued. Yet rumors were sent swirling once again after Ronaldo was seen talking to PSG manager Laurent Blanc at the final whistle and then greeting the French champions’ chairman, Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
If Ronaldo does opt to leave the Santiago Bernabeu, Manchester United will have some serious competition if they hope to bring back a player who made himself a legend at Old Trafford before departing in 2009.