Manchester United supporters will still be licking their wounds after the embarrassing 4-0 Capital One Cup defeat to Milton Keynes Dons, but at a time of strange happenings for the Red Devils, things have gotten even more bizarre with reports the club are set to make a bid for Liverpool's Joe Allen.
According to David Woods of the Daily Star, Louis van Gaal is ready to drop £20 million on the former Swansea midfielder:
The new Manchester United boss wants to boost his ailing midfield and had Allen watched in the Reds 3-1 defeat at champions Manchester City on Monday night.
[...] It is understood Van Gaal does not feel Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley are the players to take United forward and has asked chief executive Ed Woodward to look at bringing in Allen.
Although United's hunt for ball-playing midfielders is well known, this rumour appears misplaced for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it is extremely rare to see a player transferred directly between Liverpool and United due to their intense rivalry. Allenby Chilton was the last man to complete this move in 1938 and is one of five players in history to make the transfer, per Woods' report.
Former United defender Gabriel Heinze caused a stir when he wanted to head to Anfield and eventually took the Old Trafford club to tribunal when his wishes were refused in 2007.
Crystal Palace chief executive Phil Alexander came forward at the time to confirm a plan was in place for Heinze to head to Selhurst Park before being sold to Liverpool to soften the blow, leading Sir Alex Ferguson to admit the player has a "mercenary streak." Heinze moved to Real Madrid instead.
United have been linked with plenty of world-class midfielders this summer—Arturo Vidal, Kevin Strootman and Sami Khedira among them, per Ian Watson of Sky Sports—so it would be incredibly underwhelming to snap up Allen. The 24-year-old is a tidy footballer, but he can't hold down a place in Liverpool's first team and has only dropped in value since moving to Merseyside for £15 million in 2012.
His reported price of £20 million appears wildly misplaced when considering the quality United could pick up for close to this sum. Khedira, a World Cup winner with Germany, is said to be available for "around £12 million," according to John Cross of the Mirror. Granted, he will want heftier wages, but the difference in pedigree is giant.
Even Vidal, arguably the world's best box-to-box midfielder, would only set United back in the region of £34 million, perhaps with Javier Hernandez packed into the deal, per Jamie Anderson of the Express. Allen doesn't come close to touching the qualities of these players, despite being a neat remedy for United's lack of ball retention.
The small midfielder isn't physical enough to sit in a central midfield of two, especially if Juan Mata is to play as the No. 10 ahead. Allen is energetic and doesn't lack for effort, but he isn't the imposing, all-action behemoth United fans have craved for years. He doesn't possess an aerial presence, is prone to lapses in concentration and is the type of player a top team brings on to shore up, not win titles.
A potential midfield of Allen plus Ander Herrera would be seriously lacking in size when considering the rest of the Premier League's talent. Liverpool have Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can to wage war in the middle, while Chelsea's balance is maintained through Nemanja Matic's massive frame.
Manchester City unleash Yaya Toure through the centre, who is backed up by Fernandinho and Fernando, both of whom are committed to the last. United's midfield selection is lagging way behind and looks out of its depth in the top flight.
One has to consider whether players such as Darren Fletcher and Tom Cleverley would oust the likes of James McCarthy and Gareth Barry at Everton, or even Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore at Hull. These are not top four clubs, but they flaunt significantly more authoritative, adaptable and confident central midfielders.
Allen is by no means the answer to Van Gaal's problems. If a bid is to be entertained, the Dutchman must do it after landing one of the aforementioned world-class names. Ridicule would dominate coverage if United are forced to pander to their fiercest rivals for a bit-part midfielder, especially considering the fee being mentioned.
Perhaps most regrettably for United fans, Allen would also be swapping legitimate silverware contenders for a team that is limited to two competitions already this season, per Duncan Castles of The Sunday Times:
It is unlikely the player would want to exchange his excellent relationship with Brendan Rodgers—who he followed to Liverpool from the Liberty Stadium—for the challenge of working at a struggling club. Such a realisation is no doubt a tough one for United's followers, but considering Allen still has plenty to prove in front of the Kop, it's possible he would turn a switch down.
This best highlights the situation at United. Van Gaal needs to quickly improve his entire squad, with midfield and defence an absolute priority. The club will be forced to overpay, but after being walloped against a League One side on Tuesday night, United must spend what is needed to tighten the team up.
A failure to do so will only lead to more embarrassing results, possibly starting with Burnley on Saturday.