The January transfer window is open. Whilst a lot of managers begrudge the possibility of their players being pillaged midway through a season, it can present a worthwhile opportunity to acquire reinforcements. Similarly, those who do wish to take advantage of the chance to recruit players bemoan the difficulty of enticing clubs to part with members of their squad. We’ve seen our Viking leader raid Sporting Lisbon and return with our prized loot in the shape of Bruno Ferndandes. It is difficult, but jewels can be recovered.
Paul Pogba’s comments whilst on international duty suggested that he is unhappy at Manchester United. Pogba claimed playing for France is a “breath of fresh air”. He described there being a “magical” atmosphere and a sense of unity that is absent at Manchester United. Such remarks are compounded by the chronic migraine that is Mino Raiola, his comments regularly plunge Pogba’s future into doubt. The double act has become increasingly tedious. The sooner United cancel their circus show, the better.
Also a member of our midfield is Nemanja Matic. The 32 year old looks less like the steely Serbian stalwart he once was and more a malleable metal. I think Solskjaer recognises that Matic is not quite as combative and resilient as he has been, which is understandable considering his age. Therefore Matic is utilised fleetingly. His footballing brain remains sharp, he possesses a wealth of experience and with his maturity he is certain to impart wisdom and advice to some of our younger midfielders.
Senior figures are scarce at United, and after Matic there aren’t many experienced figures in the midfield to offer guidance. If we are fortunate to hold onto Bruno Fernandes he may partially fulfil this role. As and when Matic departs the club, there are not many members of the squad who can provide our younger midfielders with support on and off the pitch. I think United have displayed some foresight with this by appointing Darren Fletcher as a coach. Fletcher has a deep understanding of what it is to be a United midfielder. With this, he has the nous to offer mentorship to our inexperienced midfielders, much like Matic has.
As valuable as Fletcher’s inclusion as a coach may be, further planning might be needed. If and when Pogba and Matic are no longer with us, who is left? We have McTominay, Van De Beek and Fred. McTominay is young and can offer service for some time. From the few glimpses of what I’ve seen from Van De Beek, it’s evident that he’s been moulded and nurtured by a world class club in Ajax. I don’t think I’ve seen enough of him at United to form a proper judgement.
That leaves us to discuss Fred. He seems to divide opinion. Reds either love him or hate him, the embodiment of marmite; he’s either dynamite, or he’s sh… short of the expected quality for a midfielder at United. I am of the opinion that he is a good squad player at best. He reminds me of an over enthusiastic dog whose one and only objective is to get the ball, and will go through anything and anyone to get it. It’s admirable and it’s probably what endears him to the fans who rate him and renders him a bit of a loveable rogue. This style of play is not without risk. We saw this against PSG, Fred was booked as early as the 23rd minute. He then got himself sent off in the 70th. Like many badly behaved dogs, some sought to blame the owner. It was somehow Ole’s naivety that led to Fred being sent off, not the fact he’s just plain daft at times.
If United were to bring in any midfield additions, be it January or the summer, I think we should be considering Declan Rice. At the age of 21 he’s made 116 appearances for West Ham. He has been captaining his club in Mark Noble’s absence, an impressive feat at such a young age. As well as this he’s earned 13 caps for England. What Rice may lack in experience he compensates for in ability. He is a dynamic defensive midfielder who reads the game superbly. Rice has made 191 interceptions, as well as 282 tackles whilst receiving only 12 yellow cards, he is yet to be sent off. His disciplinary record is exemplary in contrast to that of Fred’s. I think he would be a substantial improvement to Fred and an excellent replacement for Pogba.
Another consideration could be Ruben Neves from Wolves. A player who seems to have been in the Premier League for years and years, yet is still only 23, it is testament to how comfortable and adept he is. He has made 132 appearances for Wolves and has scored 13 goals. Neves is renowned for his long range shots and his proficiency from dead ball situations. Much like his compatriot, Bruno Fernandes, Neves doesn’t shy away from a tackle. He has made a total of 176 whilst intercepting the ball 157 times. He is the epitome of a versatile central midfielder.
I don’t think it’s imperative Manchester United make signings in the midfield this January. I do however hope we are consciously preparing for the departures of Matic and Pogba. I believe the likes of Declan Rice and Ruben Neves would be worthwhile signings at some point in the future. The priority for me remains bolstering the defence, but part and parcel of being a big and ambitious club is making big and ambitious signings. Signing either of these two men in January would be just that; big and ambitious.