Manchester United's season is as good as over. They are seventh in the Premier League, out of the FA Cup, and a miracle short of winning the Champions League. The Red Devils' squad needs some serious surgery this summer if they are to challenge next year. One man could fix a lot of problems—Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan.
United are on alert after their long-term target was reported to be "completely open" to leaving Dortmund. As The Daily Mail reported, Gundogan's father and agent said of his son's future, "everything is open" once he returns to full fitness after six months out with injury.
Mirror Football reports that Dortmund could even be interested in re-signing Shinji Kagawa from United as a part-exchange deal. The Japanese playmaker moved to Old Trafford from the Westfalenstadion in 2012.
With forward Juan Mata joining for a club-record fee of £37.1 million in January, United clearly have the funds available to go after players of Gundogan's calibre. But what can the German bring to David Moyes' squad?
Although currently injured, Gundogan is famed for his bursts forward from midfield. While Michael Carrick is an expert passer of the ball, he often struggles to grab a game by its scruff and power United to victory. Introducing the dynamic Gundogan alongside him would allow Carrick to sit deeper, breaking up attacks and distributing possession. Gundogan would be the team's engine, collecting the ball from Carrick to enter the opposition's half and bring United's forwards into play.
Up-front, United have great options. Combine Mata with Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Adnan Januzaj, and David Moyes has a front line that will frighten most teams. What he does not have is a player with the ability to give them the ball. Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp uses Gundogan in a midfield two behind four forwards, and it is a system that would suit United. Those four front men supported by an energetic midfielder would bring back memories of United under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Essentially, Gundogan could be the player for United that Anderson promised to be.
United hardly look like a side that won the title last season and it will get worse this summer. David Moyes stands to lose some of his most experienced players, with Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs all likely to leave or retire. Gundogan has won the highly competitive Bundesliga with Dortmund and been to the Champions League final as recently as 2013. With Dortmund the best-supported club in Europe, Gundogan is used to playing in front of over 80,000 fans each week.
Other United transfer targets such as William Carvalho lack the same levels of Champions League experience. There will be no question marks over Gundogan's ability to hit the ground running at United. Experience such as that will be invaluable as Moyes attempts to rebuild the club.
Statement of Intent
It is one thing for a club to spend big money on one transfer, but it sends an entirely different message to its rivals if the club backs that up with another signing. Gundogan is a proven world-class player. It will take a hefty fee to prise him from Dortmund, but United can use that to their advantage. By singing Mata and Gundogan in two transfer windows, they can show Manchester City and Chelsea they mean business for 2014/15.
Before Mata arrived, United had not paid high transfer fees for years. The reliance on unearthing cheap talent or nurturing youngsters through the system is laudable, but not in keeping with the modern game. A former United captain agrees. As ITV.com reported, Roy Keane said:
United have kind of cut corners in terms of transfers in the last few years, they’ve not gone out and got the big players, and it’s just caught up with them this year.
Manchester United need an overhaul of their squad, that much is clear. Their defence is a mess and the retirement of Vidic will not help matters. But after signing Mata, they have the attacking talent they need to score goals. Now they must act to find a player capable of supplying those front men. Gundogan is that man.