The level of change at Manchester United this summer was always going to be seismic. After a season of initial stagnation and eventual regression under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal has been tasked with facilitating a Red Devils renaissance. And such is the ruthless nature of the Dutchman, casualties were inevitable.
After having a couple of weeks to run the rule over his playing staff, the cull of players on United’s books looks set to begin in earnest, with reports suggesting a plethora of current players will be on their way out of Old Trafford this summer, starting with Marouane Fellaini.
The Belgian midfielder was Moyes’ marquee signing last summer but looks set to leave the club after just 11 months in Manchester. According to David McDonnell of the Mirror, Van Gaal is “desperate” to move Fellaini on, and that could see United cut their losses in a deal that’d see them recoup less than half of the £27.5 million they splashed out for him.
Here’s the story on the back page of the Mirror, as noted by Nick Sutton of the BBC:
Napoli are reportedly interested in the gangly midfielder, but financial constraints could see them push for a loan deal instead. The Neapolitans insist reports that the player has met with Napoli representatives are wide of the mark, though, per Gianluca Di Marzio. According to McDonnell, United would prefer a permanent deal.
While Fellaini is undoubtedly the most pertinent remnant of Moyes’ flawed stint in charge as manager, the fire sale doesn’t look likely to stop there, with McDonnell’s piece also claiming Nani, Shinji Kagawa and Anderson are also set to be moved on during the window.
Van Gaal has also discussed his plans for another player on the periphery of the first-team squad. Wilfried Zaha made limited appearances for United last season after he joined from Crystal Palace last summer and was eventually shipped out on loan to Cardiff to get some much-needed first-team minutes.
Zaha typically plays as a winger, but in the 3-5-2 system Van Gaal is looking to implement, the only natural width in the side comes from the wing-back positions. As such, the United boss has insisted the England international will have to play as a striker, and he’ll get a chance to do so in United’s next match against Inter Milan, per Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail:
He will have to play as a striker as he can’t play the other positions in the system. Ashley Young can play as a wing-back. Zaha cannot do that so he will be a striker.
I have spoken with him and I think he can do it. We will see. He will play the second 45 minutes of this game and will play as a striker.
Zaha is the only player on the tour yet to play a minute and, while Van Gaal claims the winger has “worked well,” Ladyman admitted he thinks the Dutchman may have his doubts about the youngster:
LVG also suggest no problem with Zaha. "He has worked well". not sure I believe that one...only player not to figure so far... #MUFC— Ian Ladyman (@Ian_Ladyman_DM) July 26, 2014
Should Van Gaal cash in on Fellaini?
After something of an understated start to his time at United, Van Gaal seems to be increasingly impinging his stamp on this team. And while the Dutchman will undoubtedly be looking to bring in more players before the window ends, the players he moves out and how that effects the balance of the squad will be vital as to how he fares during his first season in charge.
Last summer the supporters had to wait until the final day of the transfer window before the club conducted any meaningful transfer business, but with the former Bayern Munich and Barcelona boss at the helm, United have a set of clear ideals they’re building towards. So you can bet any players who don’t match Van Gaal’s mantras will most probably find themselves on their way out of Old Trafford.
Fellaini looks on the brink of a move after he never quite adapted to life at an elite club. Admittedly, he was never given a run in the team in his best position—off the centre-forward—while at Old Trafford, but with a host of classy players vying for that No. 10 spot, a transfer out of Manchester seems the best course of action for all parties.
For Zaha, making an impact also looks as though it’s going to be tough. As Van Gaal alluded to, the former Palace man doesn’t have the natural industry or defensive nous to cut it as a wing-back in this system, and it’s difficult to see the 21-year-old ousting the likes of Robin van Persie or Wayne Rooney from one of the centre-forward berths.
Zaha is indisputably talented and, given playing time, could flourish as a winger in the Premier League. But Van Gaal is notorious for sticking by his ideals, and ultimately, that’s what will come first as he looks to re-establish this United team among the elite of English and European football.
So as the Dutchman gets further acquainted with his players and tunes into how adaptive they are to the various demands he places on them, expect a rush of outgoing transfers. For those players on the fringe of this United first team, this pre-season spell is quite simply make or break.