Two of Manchester United’s summer signings have already made a positive first impression at the Premier League giants. Yet for new manager Jose Mourinho, the quest goes on to land the man he so dearly craves to be his fourth signing of the transfer window.
Eric Bailly and, particularly, Henrik Mkhitaryan impressed as Manchester United beat Wigan Athletic 2-0 in its opening preseason contest on Saturday. But Mourinho, who also recruited Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer, has previously confirmed that there will be at least one more signifiant arrival before the season gets underway next month. And there is no question who he hopes that will be, with the pursuit ongoing to land Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba.
While it originally appeared a long shot for United, which won’t play Champions League football next season, to land a player who was also wanted by Real Madrid, its hopes have grown significantly. That’s because Real Madrid has backed off its interest due to United’s willingness to smash the transfer record and pay 100 million pounds ($132 million) to land the France international, despite his disappointing Euro 2016.
And when asked on recent days about the potential of a move away from the Italian champion, who he joined when leaving Old Trafford four years ago, Pogba did not rule it out. He also described Manchester United as his “first family.”
Even reports that United had been set a deadline to complete a transfer by Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola appear to be unfounded. While The Sun’s claim on Sunday that Pogba will sign a five-year contract at Old Trafford when he returns from holiday in the United States appears somewhat premature, the developments certainly look positive for United fans.
Still, with Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri attempting to persuade Pogba to stay right where he is, Manchester United could yet be left disappointed. And it is no surprise, therefore, that Mourinho is also thought to have earmarked alternatives. Chief among those, according to French sport daily L’Equipe, is the man who partnered Pogba in the final of Euro 2016, Blaise Matuidi.
The Paris Saint-Germain left-footer has been on United’s radar as far back as David Moyes’ reign. And his all-action style would be ideal if Mourinho intends to field a three-man midfield. The 29-year-old could even arrive alongside Pogba, per ESPN. He will, though, be difficult to prize away from PSG, having been a key player for the French champions since joining in 2011.
A more surprising link concerns continued reports of Manchester United’s interest in Nemanja Matic. The defensive midfielder was signed by Mourinho when at Chelsea, and played a key role in the club’s Premier League title win two years ago. However, Matic found himself out of favor with Mourinho before the Portuguese’s dismissal last December.
Matic’s future at Stamford Bridge has been further called into question by Chelsea completing a deal for midfielder N’Golo Kante from Leicester City. Chelsea is still keen to keep hold of the Serbian, according to the Daily Mail, although Manchester United and Juventus are set to have made their interest known.
Chelsea is not Mourinho’s only former club he is thought to be considering raiding. Madrid-Based publication Marca reports that Colombia star James Rodriguez can leave the Bernabeu if a club matches the 80 million euros ($88 million) fee Real Madrid paid to land him from Monaco following his Golden Boot exploits at the World Cup.
After a fine first season, James fell out of favor last term, first under Rafa Benitez and then Zinedine Zidane. But the 25-year-old showcased the immense ability he still possess at this summer’s Copa America Centenario, potentially prompting Real Madrid into a rethink and likely spurring further interest in his services. As well as Paris Saint-Germain, even West Ham is said to be keen to land the attacking midfielder.
It is, though, unlikely that he will be plying his trade at Old Trafford come the start of the season. While a hugely talented player, it would be difficult to see how he would fit at Old Trafford, given the arrival of Henrik Mkhitaryan. Unquestionably, if James were to arrive it would effectively spell the end of Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career.