Vidic and Evra Arrive January 2006
Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been widely reported as saying he definitely won't be making any transfer signings in January.
Now that view is open to debate. The original article was published in the Mail, but the statement seems to have been muddied along the way from an original interview Sir Alex gave to Eurosport-Yahoo.
In that interview he was actually asked by "The Dugout", "As you approach the New Year are there areas of the squad you would like to strengthen at all?"
To which Sir Alex replied:
No, no, the January transfer market has never been the most successful market and that's proved itself over the years. You get very few big transfers. All the big transfers are done in the summer.
That doesn't sound like a "No, definitely not."
In fact the line Sir Alex trotted out is pretty similar to what he has said in the past as reported by The Mail:
In 2006 he said that the January transfer market was over-rated. He ruled out any moves in 2008. And in December 2009 he said, "I don’t see any value in the market and that’s why I didn’t buy anyone more in the summer."
On his birthday (31 December) in 2010 he ruled out any signings. And, being consistent, in 2011 said he would only buy if someone United have always been interested in became available.
While the facts pretty much corroborate his long held view, he signed the following players in past windows:
2003-04 Dong Fangzhuo and Louis Saha
2005-06 Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic
2008-09 Zoran Tosic and Ritchie De Laet
2010-11 Anders Lindegaard
2011-12 Frederic Veseli
So his reluctance is not quite accurate, but his statement about value and big money transfers may be. After all, Fernando Torres (£50 million) and Andy Carroll (£35 million) both moved in January 2011. So, its OK if money is no object.
So when will the next big signing arrive?
Well, if you take Sir Alex at his word, not before next summer. However, he has indicated on more than one occasion that he will sign players who he thinks represent value, whatever time of year it is. And the Glazers have always supported him.
There are a couple of other reasons not to buy anyone right now:
- The squad is pretty much fit now that the longer term injured defenders are back. United have made it to Christmas top of the League without Vidic
- In the last two matches United have played some of their best football of the season and Robin Van Persie is fully integrated into the team
- Most of their rumoured major targets are Champions League cup-tied, so they will not happen until the summer
So of all the likely transfers that Sir Alex would consider, who might be available in January and represent "value" as he would regard it?
And as an added interest, who might Sir Alex promote from within, if he can't get that player?
Oscar de Marcos
So where is the need, if any?
Sir Alex Ferguson appeared in the quoted interview to indicate that no areas of the squad need strengthening. Supporters would tend to disagree.
At the moment there is undoubtedly adequate depth at centre back and right back. Chris Smalling and Nemanja Vidic are back from injury, while Phil Jones, who is also fit, can cover right back, as he showed very well on Saturday. Patrice Evra and Alexander Buttner cover left back and Fabio da Silva should return at the end of the season.
United also seem more than well blessed in the striker department. Apart from their top four, and even if Federico Macheda leaves on loan or permanently in January, they have Will Keane due back from injury in February. In addition, Angelo Henriquez and Joshua King are in the First Team squad.
It seems increasingly likely that Nani will leave as early as January. In addition, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are getting less and less playing time. It may be that they will both retire in the summer. In the meantime, Sir Alex may be keeping them as cover until replacements arrive.
Those replacements could be from outside or inside the club. When the manager failed to sign Lucas Moura and Eden Hazard last summer, it was an opportunity for Anderson to step up to the plate. Before his recent injury, he was doing just that.
So if Sir Alex is going to sign anyone at all, the most likely needs are left and central midfield, i.e. a replacement for Nani and a box to box midfielder.
This is where Oscar de Marcos comes in.
Athletic Bilbao, conquerors of United last season, have had a poor season so far. They have other troubles as well, with Fernando Llorente not playing and looking likely to leave, maybe as early as January.
Bilbao have a restrictive transfer policy of primarily signing Basque players, of which of course there is a finite supply. They have relaxed that recently to include non Spanish nationals for example. Any of their top players would not be easy to replace.
Nevertheless, Sir Alex has had him watched a number of times and is reported to have renewed his interest recently.
At 23 and already a Spanish Under 23 international, De Marcos would fit straight into the United squad. He can play as a full back, midfield or even a forward and therefore would appear to be tailor-made for the Roy Keane type role.
There have also been rumours of United being interested in Fernandinho but with Shaktar Donetsk progressing to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, that interest may just be "spoiling" City's efforts to sign him.
Internal United alternative
The most likely alternative player from within United would seem to be Nick Powell. The coaching team have clearly been working on his defensive skills. From what he has shown so far, he looks like a star of the future.
It has to be said that Kevin Strootman is tailor-made for Manchester United in every way. But why would they sign him and Oscar De Marcos?
While they would appear to be similar players, De Marcos may be more versatile in the positions he could cover.
When it comes to filling the void left by Roy Keane's departure, Strootman seems to be the answer. He could succeed either Michael Carrick or Darren Fletcher in due course in that pivotal holding role that Sir Alex favours.
Neither he nor De Marcos need cost more than £20 million and neither is cup-tied for the Champions League. That means they could both be available in January.
The key reason, however, is the decline in form and condition of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. The fact that Ryan has been used as cover in midfield this season is an indication that Sir Alex is not yet ready to entrust the future almost entirely to the next generation.
If you look at United's registered First Team squad, they have ten players who can play in central midfield:
Anderson, Giggs, Carrick, Scholes, Thomas Cleverley, Darren Fletcher, Nicky Powell, Larnell Cole, Davide Petrucci and Ryan Tunnicliffe.
Of these, Cole, Petrucci and Tunnicliffe are untried in the Champions or Premier League and Powell has had only two appearances in the former and two as substitute in the latter.
If you take out Giggs and Scholes that leaves just four to alternate. Two of those are injured right now and Fletcher is still on the road to recovery.
The match against Sunderland showed clearly what Sir Alex's dilemma is. Carrick and Cleverley were outstanding against City and Sunderland. Anderson showed he was back to his best before he was injured. But after Giggs and Scholes came on last Saturday United lost much of their midfield control and attacking momentum.
So does Sir Alex start to gamble with Petrucci and Tunnicliffe, for example, or does he bring in proven talent. We haven't mentioned Christian Ericksen, but he also might be available at the same sort of money as the other two and also isn't cup-tied.
So in conclusion it is hard to imagine that Sir Alex wouldn't sign at least one of these if the price was right.
Some people seem trapped by the idea of Victor Wanyama from Celtic, but they too are through to the knock-out stages of the ECL. Wouldn't Sir Alex go for Strootman if he has to wait until summer?
If Sir Alex really isn't going to sign anyone in January then surely it's time for Powell and Tunnicliffe to be given their chance?
Who does this remind you of? A young Ryan Giggs? Raw he may be and the end product could be improved on, but these clips were taken from a year ago when he was just 17.
David Gill was recently reported as travelling to Croatia to discuss the possibilities of signing Alen Halilovic and Sime Vrsaljko. Given, however, that United have an interest in Mateo Kovacic dating back more than a year, is it possible that he is the more likely target?
Having lost out to Real Madrid in his protracted pursuit for Luka Modric, it would not be surprising if Sir Alex moved on to the younger version.
One way he has sought value in January previously is by trying younger players.One of the brightest in recent years was Zoran Tosic,who has done well for his country and since he left Old Trafford, but never quite made it in England.
Manucho eventually made a permanent move to Real Valladolid, where he promised to score 40 goals a season. He scored five in his first, but has done better for Angola.
So the last thing Sir Alex needs is another one of these when he has more committed players coming out of his own Academy. And he doesn't need another Djemba-Djemba or, for that matter a Bebe (who also may be an embarrassing surplus to requirements).
Kovacic or either of his countrymen might cost up to £10 million, so if there is any risk maybe it would be better to wait till the summer and sign James Rodriguez.
Jesse Lingard was probably lined up to be the next Ryan Giggs and he too can play through the middle. He has bulked up some, as he needed to, but despite going on the preseason tour he doesn't seem as confident or competent as last season.
Like Robin Van Persie, Robert Lewandowski is a top striker but much more than a striker.
To put him in perspective, he is two months younger than Chicharito, so maybe the rumours of the Mexican's imminent departure are true. Who would you choose?
Once again the Polish striker is a perfect fit for United and again is intelligent with great ball skill.
He is also cup-tied and would almost certainly want to see out the season with Dortmund, but he is casting his eye elsewhere and there is nothing to prevent United from doing a deal in January to bring him in next summer.
So where would that leave Will Keane or Angel Henriquez, if the deal goes through? Probably no worse off because if Hernandez leaves it would restore the status quo. In three years time there could well be a spare berth for one of Keane or Henriquez or James Wilson?
If, as expected, Nani is on his way out, then United need a replacement who can play on either wing. Wilfried Zaha fits the bill.
Whatever Ian Holloway's or his chairman's reluctance to sell is, surely the right price will hook arguably one of the brightest young English talents?
Many people would rather have James Rodriguez, but once again Zaha could be available immediately and would not be cup-tied.
Although he is a similar age, he looks much better and more mature than Jesse Lingard, who could once again be the likely internal alternative.
At anything around £10 million surely he would represent value in the market. Once again United could tie up the deal for him but leave him at Palace until the end of the season.
At this stage, flying high at the top of the Premier League, it comes down to fitting the last pieces of the jigsaw into Sir Alex's master-plan for the future. It includes a dynamic, fluid, interchanging style played by skilful pacy players.
It also involves a blend of older, maturing and younger players. The selection here would all fit with that master-plan.
Apart from Lingard, how about Mats Daehli?