One of the greatest testaments to Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial acumen is that he was able to achieve as much success as he did with Manchester United in his final seasons in charge with a midfield that bore poor comparison with leading rivals in Europe and the Premier League. Yet, it could also be seen as a failing on Ferguson’s part not to have signed an established central midfielder since 2007 when both Owen Hargreaves and Anderson arrived.
David Moyes, in his first shot at the big time and with incredible pressure on his shoulders, appears to realize that he cannot afford to rely on such nous to overcome having an undermanned engine room. Signing a midfielder appears to be a priority for the former Everton boss this summer. However, leading target Thiago Alcantara looks set to disappoint the Scotsman and instead leave Barcelona to reunite with his former coach, Pep Guardiola, at Bayern Munich. So, it could well be back to the drawing board for Moyes.
Here are four players that should feature prominently on that agenda.
Kevin Strootman (PSV Eindhoven)
Manchester United’s interest in the 23-year-old dates back almost 18 months. In that time the PSV man has continued to develop into a leading all-round midfielder and last season captained the Netherlands in World Cup qualifying action. Moyes is thought to have continued to monitor the player, but he may have to act quick with Roma having expressed their interest. A bid of around €20 million (£17.3m) may be needed, though, with PSV insisting that he will only leave if a massive offer arrives.
Daniele de Rossi (Roma)
A ferociously loyal servant to Roma throughout his career, De Rossi has turned down various chances to chase silverware elsewhere, including rejecting a move to Manchester City 12 months ago. However, there is a sense that he could finally be pried away from the Italian capital this summer after a trying past season.
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For a long time, the 29-year-old has appeared to be the ideal man to bring a dominant midfield presence to a United side that has been absent since the days of Roy Keane. Tenacious without the ball, the Italy international is also accomplished with it. There has so far been no sign of any United interest, with Chelsea believed to be pursuing him keenly. While his age means that the transfer would break United’s policy of spending significant fees on players who will have little resale value, last summer’s signing of Robin van Persie showed the value in making exceptions for a potential difference-maker. .
Marouane Fellaini (Everton)
When Moyes was appointed, the links with his Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini predictably came thick and fast. The Belgian has been mentioned in connection with most of the Premier League’s top clubs for some time on the back of his performances since making a £15 million switch from Standard Liege in 2008. Some of his best displays have come in dominating United and earning Everton prized results in the past two seasons almost single-handedly.
His power, dynamism and under-rated ability with the ball would certainly enhance the United midfield. A clause in his contract allows the 25-year-old to join a Champions League side for a reported fee of £23 million and with Arsenal believed to be hesitating about whether that represents value for money, United might be wise to step in.
Claudio Marchisio (Juventus)
The experienced Italy international may not bring the same defensive contribution as the others mentioned here, although he is accomplished in that area, but he would greatly enhance United’s ability to control the ball through midfield. The Premier League champions are long-term suitors of the 27-year-old and there have been some conflicting statements made over his future this summer. With former United midfielder Paul Pogba pushing for a more regular starting berth in Turin, United may be wise to test Juventus’ resolve to hold onto Marchisio.