You get the feeling Louis van Gaal is less than comfortable with Luke Shaw as a first-choice wing-back.
Late last month the recently-appointed Manchester United manager spoke candidly about the 19-year-old’s lack of fitness, telling reporters the England international was “not very fit” and unable to execute his in-game assignments, as per The Guardian.
“He needs to train individually until he is fit,” added the Dutchman.
Wednesday’s revelation that Shaw will miss up to a month with a hamstring injury will have only consolidated Van Gaal’s fears. It could also end up providing the former Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss the grounds for acquiring a wing-back of his own choice: Sporting Lisbon’s Marcos Rojo.
A key contributor in Argentina’s run to the 2014 World Cup final, Rojo played one of his best games of the tournament against Van Gaal’s Netherlands side.
Tasked with containing both Dirk Kuyt and Arjen Robben while providing an attacking outlet on the left-hand side of the pitch, the 24-year-old quite clearly caught Van Gaal’s attention. A move to Old Trafford could well be the reward for the performance, which followed a solid if unspectacular season in the Portuguese capital.
According to The Telegraph, United have already made a £16 million bid for Rojo, who has also submitted a transfer request at Estadio Jose Alvalade.
The thinking is that the pacey, left-footed Argentine could operate in the centre of defense while providing cover for Shaw, if not direct competition.
That said, Rojo’s arrival would take United’s summer spending on left-sided wing-backs and full-backs to £46 million—a considerable sum, especially with so many other positions yet to be strengthened.
Van Gaal is already thought to be closing in on Fiorentina winger Juan Cuadrado, as reported by the Express, and Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria could also be on his way to United, according to The Independent.
Sky Sources: Sporting Lisbon defender Marcos Rojo hands in transfer request and tells club he wants to join Manchester United. #SSNHQ— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) August 12, 2014
Both would help address needs in the middle and attacking thirds of the park, but at no position are United more desperate for strengthening than the centre of defense.
It’s in this context that the club’s pursuit of Rojo as a central defender is curious, as the Argentine is most comfortable along the flank and merely a centre-back secondarily. A swoop for AS Roma’s Mehdi Benatia, for example, would make far more sense, especially as the Moroccan has experience playing at the heart of a back three.
But it could very well be that Van Gaal is quite simply uncomfortable enough with Shaw that he feels it necessary to acquire Rojo.
The groundwork for the Shaw deal, don’t forget, was laid before the 63-year-old was hired, and to that end he owes the former Southampton left-back nothing.
But is Rojo the answer?
Probably not. There’s no reason to believe that Shaw won’t buckle down, get fit and quickly fulfill his potential. And failing that, Van Gaal has already shown he can work miracles with Ashley Young.
It's time to focus on more urgent shortcomings.