Heading into the January window, David Moyes and Manchester United have once again been linked with a move for Leighton Baines, reigniting the interest and failed bids from the summer.
Baines, having just turned 29, is widely considered a good target for United, a player who’s Premier League ready and able to make an immediate impact. But United are not looking for a player to make an immediate impact in that part of the team; Patrice Evra is the only constant of United’s ever-changing back four and has consistently put in good performances this season. The issue for the club isn’t the now.
Another target for many of the top clubs in the Premier League is Luke Shaw, who Southampton will battle to keep a hold of until the summer. Shaw, at 18, has already displayed excellent maturity at the highest level of English football and is destined to be a regular in the England national team for the next decade.
What the Southampton youngster also represents is an overhauling of an aging squad at Old Trafford, with Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic now in their thirties. Alongside David de Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Rafael, Shaw would be able to supplement a long-term base in the United back line – surely an attractive proposition for a club who have brought in a manager for the long haul. Baines simply doesn’t offer that value moving into the future.
But if Moyes found difficulty in prying Baines from Everton during the summer, the task will be of even greater difficulty in January if the club look to Shaw. Southampton are clearly not in need of selling one of their greatest assets, and even though Shaw will eventually move to one of the bigger clubs in England, the Saints are in no mood to negotiate his transfer at this stage of his career. For both Shaw and Southampton, the thinking will surely be that the left-back has a lot left to learn and offer the club.
United may find some joy in taking him in the summer, though. Chelsea are hovering and there is more than likely to be a bidding war for the youngster’s signature once the season concludes – exactly the scenario Southampton will want.
What should also be said about Shaw is that he looks to be excelling at both ends of the pitch. He has the makings of a well-rounded left-back who is capable of providing both defensively and in attack. With Baines, you don’t always get that. The Everton left-back is deadly from set pieces and offers a lot going forward. Defending, however, isn’t normally seen as his strongpoint. It’s also worth mentioning that he, despite his reputation in the Premier League, is yet to displace Ashley Cole permanently in the England setup.
United’s aim is to help Moyes build a strong squad for the future. Alex Ferguson has assembled very good defensive players to help that cause, but there will of course need to be a similar line of thinking. Baines simply does not fall in line with the building that needs to take place at the club. It won’t be too long before United find themselves in exactly the same situation of looking for a left-back to replace Baines.
For now, Baines is an attractive target and one that makes sense for the club’s immediate future. But a player like Shaw will prove to be far more beneficial to Manchester United, even with an inflated price tag.