It appears increasingly likely that one of Louis van Gaal’s first pieces of business as Manchester United manager will be to address the club’s long-standing weakness in central midfield. Despite the £27.5 million capture of Marouane Fellaini last summer under David Moyes, United’s midfield remained a major hindrance.
In recent days there has been much speculation about the identity of the player United are looking to bring in to reinforce the center of their team, with several big names linked.
Here are the current leading targets and the possibilities of each being unveiled at Old Trafford sometime soon.
Kevin Strootman (Roma)
Background: Manchester United have been linked with the Dutch all-rounder since as long as anyone can remember. A good passer, capable of getting forward and strong in the tackle, it is difficult to understand why he wasn’t brought to Old Trafford from PSV Eindhoven. Instead, Strootman signed for Roma last summer for £14.5 million and played a major role in his new side making a hugely impressive start to the Serie A season. A serious knee ligament injury in March not only curtailed his season but ruled him out of the World Cup.
Speculation: Despite an injury that is expected to keep him out until the autumn, there has continued to be speculation that Van Gaal was keen to sign a player who had a major role for his Netherlands team in World Cup qualifying. The Guardian has now reported that United are looking at the 24-year-old as a £30 million January target, with the player’s agent, Chiel Dekker, confirming Van Gaal’s interest.
Prediction: Dekker has also said that there has been no contact between the clubs, while confirming the obvious: that Roma would not be keen to sell. While Roma’s American owners have shown a willingness to do business at the right price before, the club will be back in the Champions League next season and it will surely take a massive offer to prize him away. Counting in favor of a January transfer, though, is that United would not have to worry about him being cup-tied for the Champions League. Still, a transfer next summer appears more likely.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich)
Background: The Germany international is one of the prime examples in the modern game of the all-round midfielder who could instantly do wonders for the center of United’s team. Schweinsteiger, who has often been linked with United in the past, was superb alongside Javi Martinez in helping Bayern Munich to an unprecedented treble in 20012-13. Under Pep Guardiola, though, he has appeared less integral, with the former Barcelona coach’s approach, centered around quick, short passing, not as suited to the 29-year-old’s talents.
Speculation: Spanish-football journalist Graham Hunter has claimed that Guardiola is keen to move Schweinsteiger on this summer. Meanwhile, United have been cited as an interested party by several outlets.
Prediction: Van Gaal is certainly a fan of Schweinsteiger having been the man responsible for converting him from a winger into a central midfielder when he was in charge of Bayern Munich. It is a transfer that would appear to make sense for all parties, with the only stumbling blocked being whether the Bayern hierarchy would be willing to part with such a symbol of the club and whether the United board will pay a high fee for a player who is unlikely to have much of a sell-on value.
Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona)
Background: Fabregas to Manchester United became one of the dominant transfer sagas of last summer, with United having several bids rejected by Barcelona. Certainly the Spain international proved himself an exceptional Premier League performer in his time with Arsenal, and, indeed, may ultimately be more suited to the less structured English game. Things have not gone to plan for Fabregas since he returned to his boyhood club three years ago and he has struggled to cement a regular, defined role in the team, even being booed by his own club’s fans on one occasion last season.
Speculation: It has been widely claimed that Barcelona are intent on selling Fabregas this summer, with leading Spanish journalist Guillem Balague claiming that the midfielder has been told he can leave. There has, though, been mixed reports about Manchester United’s interest, with several sources stating that Van Gaal has vetoed a deal. While Arsenal are thought to have said that they have no intention of activating their buy-back clause, Chelsea have been strongly linked.
Prediction: Although it is difficult to see how he would fit into Jose Mourinho’s team, Chelsea now appear to be front-runners to sign Fabregas. Given United’s previous interest and the fact that it is now common knowledge that Fabregas will leave, some movement might have been expected if Van Gaal was as keen as predecessor Moyes was to bring him in.
Enzo Perez (Benfica)
Background: Perez been moved from a position on the right wing to a central midfield role and flourished last season in helping Benfica to achieve a domestic treble, while only being denied the Europa League trophy on penalties. His performances have been rewarded by being named in Argentina’s squad for this summer’s World Cup.
Speculation: Both Manchester United and Valencia have been keenly linked, with the former Estudiantes man recently admitting he has been informed about their interest by his agent.
Prediction: Aged 28 and never having played in one of the elite European leagues, he would be an unlikely purchase for United. Perez also appeared to confirm what has been widely reported, that Valencia are at the front of the queue to secure his signature.