After the embarrassing 3-2 loss against Tottenham Hotspurs in the Premier League, it is quite clear that Manchester United will need to make some pivotal changes to their squad during the winter transfer window.
One of the major avenues that desperately requires some reinforcements is the club’s midfield. Against Andre Villa-Boas’ youthful and lively side, the likes of Giggs and Carrick were thoroughly exploited by the pace and movement of the Spurs’ players while Portuguese winger Luis Nani again put in a relatively wasteful and futile display.
Even though Paul Scholes still managed a decent performance, the England international is not getting any younger and like his counterpart, Giggs, could be soon fading away into the twilight of his illustrious career.
Moreover, even after an inspiring second-half performance by the diminutive central midfielder, what United still lacked was a player who could keep the midfield stable and protect the vulnerable defence. Someone who could’ve given the likes of Scholes, Rafael and Evra optimum freedom to supplement the attack, whereas he himself stayed behind with the likes of Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand to remove any chances of conceding through counter-attacks. Someone who could’ve formed the pivotal nexus between the back four and the front two.
Someone like Kevin Strootman.
Thus, without further ado let’s have a look at why the 22-year-old is the answer to United’s midfield problems and why Alex Ferguson should not even think twice before making a move for the Dutchman this January.
It is not often that one will find a talented 22-year-old keen on leaving his club during the winter transfer window.
Usually, both the club and the player wait for the season to get over and then decide upon the future of the lad during the lengthy summer break.
Strootman, on the other hand, is keen on leaving his current club, PSV Eindhoven, this January.
“PSV Eindhoven's Kevin Strootman, 22, has put Manchester United on alert after the Dutch midfielder revealed he intends to quit the club in the January transfer window.”
According to the player’s agent, the transfer will only be possible if the interested club meets PSV’s asking price for Strootman, which is rumoured to be around £20m.
Even though the price tag is slightly exaggerated by the club, Ferguson and Co. will be in a good position to bargain the value due to the player’s desire to exit.
The Red Devils have been apparently scouting Strootman for the past 12 months and with the player available during the winter transfer window, it will be best for the club to try to squeeze through a deal for the defensive midfielder.
Fitting into United’s System of Play
There are two things that need to be taken into account so as to assess whether Strootman will be able to fit into United’s system of play.
The first, is how exactly will the highly-rated star play in Ferguson’s traditional 4-4-2 formation and the second is his possible role in the team. The following paragraphs explain both points.
After the arrival of Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund in the summer, many fans and critics expected Ferguson to finally change his formation from the ‘old fashioned’ and more exploitable 4-4-2 to a more cohesive and stable 4-2-3-1.
Almost all the top clubs and nations in the world, barring (baring means to show as in baring his soul to the world) FC Barcelona to some extent, use the latter formation as it is the managers’ most favoured formation in Europe. Last season, out of the four semi-finalists in the Champions League, three of the teams used the 4-2-3-1 formation and two of those three went on to reach the final.
4-2-3-1 is without doubt the most efficient and fluid formation in the world. It provides the correct blend of defence and attack and is perhaps the formation that has been able to topple Barcelona’s much acclaimed tiki-taka playing style.
However, much to the surprise of the Old Trafford faithful and the football pundits, Ferguson has until now continued to deploy the 4-4-2 formation.
Call it the Scot’s stubbornness or perhaps unwillingness to change the style of play he has been using over the past several years, but it is highly unlikely that Fergie will ever ditch the 4-4-2 for 4-2-3-1 or any other formation (exempting his use of 4-5-1 in big games).
Hence, one will need to see how Strootman could ideally fit into the 4-4-2 formation.
Being a defensive midfielder, the Strootman will be inserted into the heart of the midfield with either of Tom Cleverley, Paul Scholes or Michael Carrick. Anderson is also an option, but the Brazilian’s career at United is more or less over. Reports brewing up in Manchester suggest that Ferguson has become tired of the 24-year-old’s constant fitness issues and it won’t be time before the former Porto star is shipped out of Old Trafford.
Coming back to the point, let’s have a look at how Strootman could possibly pair up with his possible future teammates using a hypothetical example that pairs him up with Tom Cleverley in United’s midfield.
The Netherlands international will likely operate in a defensive role, assisting the back-four, breaking up the opposition’s play and starting attacks from the deep. This will allow Cleverley the freedom to roam up front and heavily contribute to the attack, something which the 23-year-old will surely excel at.
The two could sometimes also swap their roles during games as Strootman is more than capable of contributing to the team’s attack and Cleverley, on the other hand, is a safe bet to complement the defenders.
One trait that is common in Strootman and Cleverley is that both of them have fantastic visions and excellent range of passing. They could become the catalysts and fulcrum of the midfield strata.
However, if Strootman is partnered with Scholes or Carrick, United’s midfield could become slightly limited as the two lack the attacking impetus and pace of Cleverley. Though, this could well lead to Strootman being more heavily involved in the team’s attack.
Hence, in all due fairness, one can come to the conclusion that a player of Strootman’s calibre and attributes could have few problems adapting to United’s system of play and will fit perfectly into the role of the defensive midfielder.
His duties will be similar to that of Roy Keane and United could finally replace the Irish legend by snapping up Strootman in the winter transfer window.
The Red Devils are Not the Only Interested Party
Strootman is not only attracting interest from Manchester United, but from Serie A giants AC Milan and the novae-rich Russian club Zenit Saint Petersburg.
With the player eager to leave the club in the winter, if Ferguson and Co. don’t plan a swoop for him over the month long transfer season, it is overwhelmingly likely that some other club, Milan or Zenit, will do so.
In the modern-age transfer market where fees of talented individuals are highly inflated and their wage demands equally staggering, Manchester United will find it really hard to find a similar player of Strootman’s talents for a sum that could come down to anywhere between £16m and £18m.
A defensive midfielder is a necessity for the 19-times English champions and Strootman’s alternatives don’t quite appear to suit the Red Devils.
Former Arsenal transfer target Yann M’Vila might be available for the same price-tag, but the Frenchman has a dreadful attitude that could deteriorate the dressing room environment. Lars Bender of Bayer Leverkusen is another option but the German international’s price tag of £25m will surely put off United.
Due to an ever-increasing demand for them, defensive midfielders are not usually available for cheap anymore, with Javi Martinez’s £32m transfer to Bayern Munich a testament to the claim.
However, Strootman is a player who can be bought by United for a reasonable and negotiable fee and Ferguson could be committing a regrettable mistake if he lets go of the former Sparta Rotterdam youth player.