Manchester United know what their transfer priorities are now – Manchester Evening News

It was the former Prime Minister Harold Wilson who quipped ‘a week is a long time in politics’ and that quote has long since been amplified for football; where a week is an eternity and a month a lifetime.

Marcus Rashford broke a five-game drought against Liverpool a ‘lifetime’ ago, the second of nine goals in 10 for club and country. He is in the midst of career-best form.

Before Gareth Southgate dropped Rashford from the England XI in the Czech Republic, he appeared careworn and his United place queried during the previous international recesses. Rashford dropped out of the England team again in Kosovo on Sunday, only it was a ‘rest’. Rashford was introduced and caressed a 10th international goal.

Solskjaer has followed Southgate’s cue and used Rashford as a ‘wide raider’, a tactic underpinned by the return of a specialist centre forward in Anthony Martial. The split striker tactic was pivotal behind the Liverpool breakthrough.

 

Rashford was forlorn as a frontman and, as the autumn leaves dropped, so did his head. His role on the left was jeopardised by the whippersnapper Daniel James more comfortable there. James, jittery on the right in his first United start at Wolves, has resurrected the old-fashioned winger there over the last month.

Rashford, Martial and James have lined up in just five league games and, despite an inauspicious win ratio of 40 per cent, plundered five goals between them. They provided all four in the clinical opening weekend dismissal of Chelsea and the three league matches where United have registered two goals or more have come with Martial at the tip of the arrow. Without Martial, Solskjaer was desultory.

 

The attack is still an injury away from impotence and supplemented by an inadequate playmaker in the game Andreas Pereira. James Maddison will be beeping on United’s radar until May.

Quantity has reigned over quality at United for years and they began the campaign with nine forwards. Mason Greenwood has looked unflappable in the cups, where Juan Mata now specialises, Ben Foster has had more attempts on target than Jesse Lingard, Alexis Sanchez was jettisoned and Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong are refusing to commit.

 

The United hierarchy have spoken about ‘three to five’ signings across the winter and summer windows in 2020 and want a minimum of four. They ended the summer devoid of a midfielder and an attacker and you could multiply both departments by two with Nemanja Matic open to a winter departure and Paul Pogba pining for Spain.

In the Ed Woodward era, United have only had a truly fulfilling summer window in 2016, when Woodward was taken aback by Jose Mourinho’s aggressive forward planning. United’s humble brag about the recruitment restructure will only be vindicated if they occupy every vacancy over the next two windows.

Woodward arrives for a meeting in London last week
Woodward arrives for a meeting in London last week

United have already trotted out excuses should they fall short again: “You get screwed in the market.” “We don’t have a magic wand like 10 years ago.” High-level sources also concede recruitment was ‘the biggest problem’ at the club in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. “If you don’t get the recruitment right you’re f****d,” a source said.

United took nine years to unearth a genuine gem in James after Jim Lawlor found Javier Hernandez in 2010. The Wales international was such a throwback to Ferguson’s networking that James’s national team coach Ryan Giggs gave Solskjaer with glowing scouting reports. Even if there is a £15million game-changing playmaker in the Championship, James’ status already ensures the price is greater.

 

United have never broken the £150m barrier in a summer window for first-teamers and, however reasonable Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire were, the real cost was how long it took Matt Judge, the head of corporate development, to negotiate their fees. United operated via a one-at-a-time strategy in the summer and ran out of time.

Maddison and Jadon Sancho would comfortably command in excess of £150m between them and Erling Haaland, the top scorer in the Champions League and with a staggering 22 goals in 16 for Red Bull Salzburg this term, is pushing nine figures. The Glazer family are not going to sanction an extravagant outlay, with or without Champions League revenue.

And so to the paraphrasing of another political quote: it’s the midfield, stupid. Martial has enriched an impoverished attack yet the midfield is poverty-stricken, with little in reserve, and midfield bargains are easier to come by.

 

Juventus recruited Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot on frees, Leicester discovered the £5.6m N’Golo Kante at Caen in 2015, Chelsea nabbed him for a knockdown £32m the following year, Real Madrid bought the £30m Luka Modric in 2012 and Toni Kroos for £20m in 2014, and Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich was sandwiched between for £21.6m.

Andrea Pirlo was a free in 2011 and Manchester City acquired Yaya Toure for £24m three years before they shelled out £10m more for Fernandinho. Mousa Dembele cost £15m and Fabinho £3.7m more than Matic. Ferguson marvelled at the £10m Newcastle paid for Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye at the start of the decade.

That was aeons ago.

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