While focusing on the present is undoubtedly a priority for any club challenging for title honours, it’s the future that must also draw the gaze of a side like Manchester United, safeguarding their success in the years to come.
With the January transfer window comes speculation and, for a team on scale of the Red Devils, that gossip tends to come in as large a quantity as possible.
Sir Alex Ferguson has always shown himself to be a fan of nurturing the talent of tomorrow, and youthful acquisitions will undoubtedly play their part in his team in 2013.
For the record, the following 10 players have all been selected with myriad factors in mind including club, current development, age and perhaps most importantly, how likely they’d be to move.
Furthermore, to be considered as a candidate, the player must not have celebrated their 22nd birthday to still be considered a “youngster” in this context.
Bear in mind, this is more than a list of the top 10 starlets in world football, but more of an in-depth look at who Manchester United fans can realistically hope to see don a Manchester United shirt in the January window.
With that established, let’s get underway.
One of the more well-known targets for Ferguson’s side, James Rodriguez is but the most recent Porto asset to court a raft of continental attention following some monumental form with the Portuguese giants.
Pegged by many as the next Carlos Valderrama, Colombia’s wonder child is already showing his worth as a talisman to his current club, as well as impressing greatly on the international stage.
talkSPORT have reported that Manchester United would need to meet the £38 million release clause in Rodriguez’ contract if they were hoping to purchase, which, while extravagant, isn’t out of the club’s reach by any means.
Given Sir Alex Ferguson’s usually hesitant approach to doing business in the January transfer window, it’s unlikely that the 21-year-old will complete a move to Old Trafford this month, but fans can certainly hope.
A player linked with a move to Manchester for some time now, Christian Eriksen has so far opted to remain in Holland’s top flight despite receiving glowing reviews from across Europe.
Already with over 30 caps for the Danish national side, it’s clear that a lot of faith has been placed in Eriksen as a major future talent, something Manchester United are fully aware of.
The Ajax starlet was previously linked with a switch to the Red Devils, and it’s also been reported that Real Madrid hold a significant interest in his signature, speaking volumes of the 21-year-old’s talents.
In truth, Eriksen plays mostly out of a position similar to Shinji Kagawa, so it’s unclear at this moment as to how high a priority the Dane could realistically be. However, that won’t stop the desires of Red Devil fans wanting him to move.
Speaking to Danish media outlet, Sporten (via Metro), Ajax director Marc Overmars told that Eriksen was not looking to sign a new deal with the club, putting Manchester United on high alert.
Another youth being tipped as a possibility to beef up a withering Manchester United defence, Raphael Varane was once a very clear target for Ferguson before completing a move to the Santiago Bernabeu in 2011.
The France Under-21 international has made 11 starts for Real Madrid this season, impressing as a viable backup option for the La Liga champions at times.
Speaking in November, Sky Sports reported on just why the former Lens starlet chose Los Merengues instead of the Red Devils, with Varane commenting:
"Manchester United? They had just signed Phil Jones in my position.
"My first reaction when Real wanted to sign me was not, 'Of course I will go'. I only made my decision when I knew that the coach wanted me to play in the first team."
Depending on just how willing Real might be to sell their 2011 purchase, Ferguson might once again seek to sign the Frenchman with Varane’s hopes of starting football assuredly buoyed.
However, ahead of what is destined to be an epic encounter between the two, Real and United are unlikely to be doing business this January, regardless of whether the players moving would be eligible to play or not.
In truth, Iker Muniain has been on the European scene for so long now that it’s difficult to believe the Athletic Bilbao youngster is still under 21 years of age.
The Spanish starlet was closely linked with a move to Old Trafford in the summer (via Metro), and although speculation hasn’t quite picked up again as of yet, you can bet that a club like Manchester United haven’t simply dropped their interest in the winger.
The Guardian recently reported Sir Alex Ferguson as saying that Nani would not be departing Old Trafford in January, but suspicions of the Portuguese international’s exit isn’t set to disappear anytime soon.
At just 20 years old, Muniain holds experience beyond his age and would be more ready for a starting spot as a Red Devil than most his age.
With Athletic Bilbao struggling this season and Fernando Llorente set to move on to greener pastures (via Guardian), it would be understandable for Muniain to lose faith in the Basque outfit’s hopes and be tempted by a January move elsewhere.
An outbound Rio Ferdinand?
It’s no great secret that the only thing preventing Manchester United from having taken a more powerful grip on the Premier League so far this season is a poor defensive record compared to their usually pristine standards.
This diminishing aspect of the side’s game has been, in no doubt, down to an unfortunate string of absences and injuries in recent months, with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic seeing their share of time on the sidelines.
Aged 34 and 31 respectively, Ferdinand and Vidic’s time at the top level could be considered a ticking clock at this moment in time, and one of those closely linked as a January reinforcement is Saint-Etienne defender, Kurt Zouma.
At just 18 years of age, Zouma certainly fits the profile of Manchester United’s regular transfer policy and is young enough to be moulded in a manner that the club see fit for years to come.
One of Ligue 1’s brightest prospects, Zouma was reported by the official Manchester United website to have been invited to Old Trafford in a bid to land his services, encouraging many a Red Devil to become excited at the prospect.
With the Mirror reporting that David de Gea might be “dumped” by Sir Alex Ferguson this January, eyes are undoubtedly turning towards goalkeeping options for the Manchester United manager to focus on.
Just to set the record straight, there has been no record of the Red Devils’ interest in the goalkeeper, but Marc-Andre Ter Stegen should be one name to particularly excite the Premier League giants’ fanboys.
The Borussia Mönchengladbach stopper has risen in the Bundesliga ranks in recent years and has been a massive part of the Foal’s emerging success, despite being just 20 years old.
In 26 games across all competitions, the German international has managed to keep eight clean sheets, averaging a record of one clean sheet almost every four games.
While not an incredible tally, that number could improve significantly with a Manchester United defence in front of him and if speculation around David de Gea is to be proven true, Ter Stegen should be considered a primary replacement of even younger years.
The latest in a long line of Dutch playmakers to cause great waves on the European scene, Adam Maher is a throwback to the box-to-box midfielders of old, a potential Manchester United could do with acquiring in the coming weeks.
Although the purchase of Shinji Kagawa undoubtedly beefed up their creative ranks over the summer, one could argue that a more rounded central star is now needed, a profile Maher would appear to fit.
Playing at AZ Alkmaar, the 20-year-old has cut out a reputation as a versatile talent capable of providing ammunition to those in front of him but also giving decent cover to his defence.
What’s more, Maher isn’t aghast to the idea of shifting to slight wider positions in the Eredivisie which, given Sir Alex Ferguson’s favouring of the 4-4-2 tactic, could come in handy should he complete such a switch.
Although there is no official signs of interest from Manchester United, Maher is a good example of the modern midfielder, capable in many areas of his game.
Martin Ferguson, brother of United boss Alex, was sent to take a look at the 21-year-old in his goal-scoring performance over Barcelona in late 2012, and although Neil Lennon is keen to keep hold of his starlet, the Red Devils might be wise to persist.
Having signed on at Celtic Park for just £900,000, Wanyama has done magnificently to raise his profile in the fashion that he has, upping his price tag in the process into the millions of pounds.
The Glaswegian outfit are in no way obliged to sell their central midfielder in January but, should the Red Devils lodge a bid worth enough, the Bhoys may be forced into cashing in.
Wanyama plays mainly out of a central position but is also quite capable as a central defender and contributes consistently in attack.
With the Metro announcing that the South Korean is reluctant to pen a contract extension with Hamburg, Manchester United would be wise to pay close attention to Heung-Min Son’s situation in Germany.
As was mentioned earlier, Nani’s situation at Old Trafford is growing uncertain, making wing reinforcements a veritable option for the English giants in 2013.
Able to play either out wide, behind the forward line or as a striker himself, Heung-Min has pitched in with a tally of six goals in 15 starts for Hamburg this season, and the option of playing for an elite English side might just come across as more appealing.
It’s regularly noted that the Asian market is one that appeals to Manchester United and their investors, and with Park Ji-Sung no longer at the club, Hamburg’s 20-year-old South Korean could be a tempting avenue for the Reds to explore.
One of the English transfer sagas courting a heap of attention this New Year is the question of where Crystal Palace’s biggest starlet and talismanic sensation, Wilfried Zaha, will end up come January.
According to the Independent, Manchester United and Tottenham both hold a firm interest in obtaining the forward’s services, but it’s the former that currently leads the race for his signature.
Zaha has scored five goals and six assists in 25 league starts for the Eagles this season and has been an incredibly important part of the Championship side’s campaign, assuming the role of main attacking catalyst.
The 20-year-old is well valued by his club, who will do their utmost to hold onto the youngster, but the allure of Manchester United may prove too much in the end.
You can follow me on Twitter @TomSunderland_.