The winter transfer window in English football is something that is either loved or despised. Some view the transfer window as a blight on the game as it reinforces the quick fix mentality that is a direct contributor to the ruination of some player's and manager's entire careers as they are forced to deliver tangible and successful results in unfeasible time frames. Many managers actually try to ignore the winter window altogether, and in recent years, there has certainly been less outright buying and selling in the window than was the norm, before financial constraints and more prudent buying in the summer window became the standard practice.
Of course, there are also those who love the window. It can indeed be an exciting time, and the recent acquisition of Darren Bent by Aston Villa, has produced immediate results for Villa and good vibrations for the Villa faithful, who were starting to wonder what Houllier was doing. Bent, a natural goal scorer, with an outstanding goal scoring record, not only scoring on debut, but also winning the match with that solitary strike. Villa fans will be quite chuffed with that one, particularly so when two former Villa darlings on the opposition in Gareth Barry and James Milner, who were transferred away from Villa to the big spending and ambitious Manchester City side who fell to Bents goal.
There is still the notion of the "transfer spree buying mentality" that is bandied about by newspapers and websites desperate to gain sales or hits, but all in all this is is not really the case in the window anymore. It is rare to see the wholesale change and frenetic activity the window is built up as having the potential to provide.
As the focus of this article is players linked with Manchester United, it is a given Alex Ferguson should be mentioned. Ferguson has recently been quoted as saying on several occasions he sees "no value" in the market, and he has no intention of buying players at this opportunity because he is happy with his squad and also has gifted players returning from injury in the next while.
Still, there are inevitably players linked with the club, and in the following slide-show, possible targets will be identified and ranked according to their potential in a United shirt. Conjecture and speculation being what puts food on the table for media types the world over, these two things shall be engaged in during this piece, with merry abandon.
Speculation around positional changes and contract negotiations has meant the Portuguese Fabio Coentrao has been mentioned repeatedly as a replacement for Patrice Evra, even though Evra is still at United and looking every bit the team's left back.
Apparently he is off to Madrid in the summer, though it is not sure how this conclusion has been drawn, as there is really no evidence for it, besides someone at Madrid saying they liked Evra and thought he was a good player. That is all it takes though, for the transfer rumor mill to start firing out all sorts of speculative spiels.
Coentrao has worked hard to make it to where he is today, having initially signed for Benfica in 2007, he has been loaned out to three different clubs and had to work at honing and refining his skills and technical know-how before he really managed to break into the Benfica starting line up. Since he has done this however, he has made easily identifiable progress and turned heads around the footballing world with his electric attacking ability and competency in defense. Primarily thought of as an attacking left full back, he is also comfortable on the left wing and has a good eye for goal.
With United being a glamour club, they certainly fit the bill as a possible glamorous destination for a glamorous full back.
Steven Defour has been in Alex Ferguson's sights for some time now, the Scot a known admirer of the Belgian who has enjoyed a stellar rise to prominence in the Belgian league with club Standard Liege. With United's midfield having been on the light side this season, with injuries and age contributing in equal parts to this thinning of available midfield options, the Belgian could well bolster United's chances at maintaining their yearly challenge on the EPL trophy.
An extremely competent central midfield player who can strike the ball well with both feet, his positional sense and late runs to the edge of the box seem to make him an ideal replacement for Paul Scholes who is nearing the end of his time as a United player. Defour has hinted he is interested in a move to United and would seem to be a top prospect in terms of age and financial outlay.
In terms of speculation, it is certainly worth speculating this player could end up in a United shirt. A talented individual who was made captain of his current club side at the age of 19, he has leadership ability and a good footballing brain, two things that certainly would not go astray at the top level anywhere in Europe.
The Japanese star Kagawa has burst onto the world stage this season with a bang that has reverberated around the footballing world. Purchased by Borussia Dortmund for the meager sum of $350,000 euros from Cerezo Osaka, he has become one of the key players in Dortmunds current rise, with the German side currently 11 points clear at the top of the Bundesliga standings. His passing, dribbling and shooting are all qualities that have made him such a stand out in Germany so far, and even though his stature is smaller than the average footballer, his pace and balance make him an exciting prospect as they more than make up for his lack of size and strength.
Dortmund have valued the player at around $24 million euros in an attempt to stave off the vultures that have come circling their new star player. Manchester United are said to be interested in signing the young international, who is currently at the Asian cup with Japan.
This particular transfer really falls into the broad speculation area as in terms of what United need, they certainly have no shortage at present of creative attackers.
Dortmund have enjoyed a recovery in terms of financial strength in the past few years, and in turn, their on field fortunes have brightened considerably as well. The team they have at present is playing exciting and electrifying football that has taken the Bundesliga by storm. Kagawa has been at the thick of it, scoring eight goals in 17 starts and looking every bit the international star he is becoming.
Do United really need him? The media would have you believe it, and stories circulating have it that United were prepared to bid up to $18 million euros for him. This amount is not quite good enough for Dortmund though, who remain the players club for the time being.
Diarra is currently on the books of Real Madrid though he has been said to be on the outer of the current manager Jose Mourinho's plans. An accomplished midfielder of proven ability, he is a player that could certainly bolster United's options in the middle of the park. Good strength and ball winning ability make him a player that many managers would want as a part of their set up. Known to chip in with the odd goal as well, he is an excellent player to have around, in that he wins the ball and then distributes quickly and accurately, and also has good composure and awareness, which are vital in the type of possession based game Manchester United play.
Perhaps the major factor here would be that he has experience in the premier league and would welcome the chance to become a leading figure in a strong club's starting line up again. Though many are quick to pan the player because of his outspoken attitude, he is an excellent player who was a stand out for Portsmouth before his move to the Bernabeu.
What would seem to be the defining factor here would be the player's proven record of being a key player for top sides. Though he has seemingly fallen out of favor at Madrid, he did enjoy a time there where he was a major part of the club's week-to-week plans. This alone points at the player's ability and also makes him less of a risk as a possible transfer target.
He would of course command a high wage, though he could come at a lesser initial fee. What's more, United definitely need to acquire more world class midfield options.
Leighton Baines has been recently linked to United as another possible replacement for Patrice Evra. The Everton player has been a stand out for the blues for a few seasons now and along with excellent defensive capabilities also has excellent free kick and crossing abilities. Similar it seems to former United stalwart and fan favorite Denis Irwin, Baines could well be just the player to replace the apparently outgoing Evra.
David Moyes would of course be loathe to part with such an integral part of his side, though Everton have in recent times struggled to hold onto players after the interest of more recently successful clubs has become to plain to the clubs players.
He would seem to be an ideal fit for United as he is also English, which would immediately make him a more attractive option for United with the new rules that have come into play regarding foreign players.
He would also be a cheaper proposition than Fabio Coentrao as he is slightly older, and therefore does not so easily fall into the "speculation of future ability" idea that bumps up the price of so many younger and unproven players.
Obviously, he is experienced in the English game and would most likely slot into the United side with ease.
Again though, this possible transfer is all reliant on the reports of Evra going on a Spanish sojourn at the end of the season.
Current Udinese star Sanchez apparently confided in a team mate at the World Cup that he dreamed of a move to Old Trafford. The Daily Mail has repeatedly printed the rumor he is a United target, and the player's agent has also said that Sanchez is "on the verge" of a move to Old Trafford.
On the verge is a funny saying, as it generally means something is about to happen, though in football it occasionally means a player is about to sign for some completely different club.
United do not really need another attacking midfielder at present as they have options in the squad along with Antonio Valencia soon to return from injury and also several players on loan who could well be players of note in the near future.
This particular rumor could well be just another case of a newspaper putting names on the wall, getting out the darts and the blindfold and letting fate decide who they write about next.
He is an exciting prospect, with a prodigious ability and has youth on his side. He will continue to turn heads and Ferguson is always one who has preferred to have wingers at his disposal. There is no doubt Ferguson has heard of the player, but whether he ends up at United is another thing all together.
Paulo Henrique Chagas de Lima, more commonly referred to as "Ganso" is the new big thing in Brazilian football. Currently with world famous Santos of Brazil, Ganso has been linked with Manchester United in the type of brazen speculation that is a hallmark of the modern era of football.
A tall playmaker similar in stature and gifts to Kaka, he is said by many of Brazil's former stars, including Romario and Socrates, to be the best player in Brazil at the present time. High praise indeed for a player who is currently injured and who's contract talks with his current club have stalled.
His height and strength mean he is good in the air which of course would be an asset in the English game. As an attacking midfielder, he could perhaps be molded by Ferguson into a more central role or perhaps even made into an out and out striker.
This transfer at present being well within the realm of broad speculation, it is however known that Manchester United's Brazilian-based scout has been keeping tabs on the player.
Every major footballing power in the club game wants to be the one to sign the next superstar, and Ganso is rumored to be it.
He could well be on his way to Manchester in the future, but whether it is to United or City remains to be seen.
M'Vila has recently been linked with several high profile clubs after becoming a stand out performer at current club Rennes in the French Ligue One competition. He has come out on record recently as saying he dreams of playing for Manchester United.
At only 20-years-of-age, he has already represented France as a full international, recently a part of the French side that triumphed over England at Wembley. A central defensive midfielder, he has been described as having excellent strength and defensive ability and impressed many with the maturity of his showing in the match against the English.
A player who could perhaps be compared to Roy Keane in some ways, as he is excellent at reading plays and stopping forward movement from opposition sides and then quickly finding a team mate with a crisp passing style which enables the team to move forward quickly and exploit space.
He is being watched by the big European clubs though he has said he wants to play for United, whether he does remains to be seen. But at 20-years-old, he has a lot of football ahead of him, and having already played as a full international in Laurent Blancs new French side, he certainly seems to be a player of massive potential.
Sunderland's Henderson has been rumored to be a United target for some time now. Alex Ferguson has been in contact with Steve Bruce over the player, and with United being light in terms of midfield options, the young Englishman could well be a good prospect for the club's future.
In recent weeks though, Sunderland have managed to sell Darren Bent for a good fee, which could mean they do not necessarily need the money, and therefore, could realistically resist offers for the promising young player. Sunderland could realistically be able to hold out for top dollar now, and with the desperate nature of some transfer transactions, they will do well to hold the player for as long as possible.
United are a top side though and any young player who plays in England knows who they are and the potential chances at trophies that playing for such a club gives, not to mention the calibre of team mates.
Steve Bruce has gone on record saying Henderson is a grounded young man who just loves to play football. A tireless runner during matches with excellent ability on the ball, and he is usually the last off the training ground, a dedication that hints at an insatiable desire to improve technique. He could well be a big name in the future, and United do need bolstering in the midfield. He is also English which as mentioned earlier is a big plus with the new foreign player rules brought in by UEFA.
Rodwell has risen through the ranks at Everton, starting out at the club as a seven-year-old. Everton were once giants of English and European football, and in the past, would laugh off suggestions they would sell such a player. The Merseyside Club have experienced a downturn since the heady days of the 80s though and now find themselves on occasion having to let top talent go, in order to balance the books.
Wayne Rooney of course was an Everton player before he joined United, and his sale to United did give the Liverpool-based side some much needed cash.
Rodwell, last year, signed a five-year deal committing his future to the club, and so, it would take a substantial offer to prize the youngster away from Moyes and Everton.
He is certainly a talented individual though who generally plays in a deep midfield role but is known to roam forward on occasion and can score the odd long range screamer. His strength, skill and quick decision making ability make him someone who Ferguson is known to admire, and the Scot was said to be ready at one stage to pay up to $20 million pounds for his signature.
United do need reinforcement in the midfield, and a player like this would be an excellent acquisition for any side.
Again, he is English, which would bode well for him being a realistic target for United, well apart from the usual gross speculation that is seen around this time of the year.
This is one player who Ferguson would dearly love to take to Old Trafford, and it could well be seen to happen in the future.
Conjecture, speculation and outright lies are the things which drive the news of the transfer window onward, the blindfold and dart mentality of transfer headline seems to be rife around this time of year as players from every country on earth are linked with clubs from every corner of the globe.
Who really knows who Ferguson wants to give that ball too?
The transfer window is really the media communities dream as it gives them an opportunity to make all sorts of wild and ridiculous claims about what is going on. This of course means they are able to interest a public that is ravenous for information in the most outlandish stories imaginable.
In the preceding slides, I have tried to steer away from such madness but am sure that several people will be grossly offended by some parts of this piece, just because they can be.
Several of these players could well end up in the red of Manchester United—or even none at all.
Such is the nature of speculative writing; speculation can also be said to be just "a random stab in the dark."