Manchester United’s poor season last term and the forfeit of Champions League football has done them no favours. It shouldn’t matter, it shouldn’t count against the club’s history and standing in the European game – just look to their newly-announced shirt sponsorship deal with Adidas. But it’s in the discussion, it creates doubt and players will be mindful of it.
Arturo Vidal was never going to stay at Juventus for the entirety of the prime of his career. In the recent past, Barcelona were said to interested in the Chile international as a means of injecting life and something fresh into their high-intensity brand of football. Domestic rivals Real Madrid have also been touted as a destination, but this summer Manchester United look to be the front-runners for Vidal’s signature.
The Juventus midfielder has made it known that he wants to play for a big club – and why not? He’ll have his pick if the Serie A champions choose to sell, albeit reluctantly.
Juventus have a number of problems facing them in their attempts to keep hold of the midfielder. The Italian domestic league has seen the German Bundesliga supersede it as one of the top three in Europe; for some, the Bundesliga trumps even the Premier League.
The other is that Juventus appear to have hit a brick wall in their efforts to transfer their winning form domestically onto the continental stage. Last season they crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage, despite being placed alongside three other teams who couldn’t, on paper, match the quality of the Italians. Following that, they were unable to make an appearance in the Europa League final, housed at their own Juventus Stadium, after losing to Benfica in the semi-final.
There have been questions about Antonio Conte’s tactics and whether they’re suitable for the Champions League. Their inferior spending power is also an obvious problem. But getting away from the finer points, Juventus just don’t seem to be able to match up to the standards of Germany or Spain’s top clubs just yet.
For Vidal, it will be important to go to a club where he can realise his ambitions to land club football’s most coveted trophy. He’s a three-time back-to-back winner of the Italian Serie A; if he landed at Manchester United, he’d prove a pivotal figure in their drive to reclaim the Premier League title. But will they win the Champions League again in the near future?
Let’s ignore the upcoming season away from UEFA competition. Going beyond, and assuming Louis van Gaal can guide United to a top four finish, the club should be able to build a squad capable of suitably contesting the best in Europe. Van Gaal has been there before, most recently with Bayern Munich in 2012. But the Dutchman is also astute at getting teams to punch above their weight, as seen through the Netherlands’ World Cup campaign.
What is important is that in the recent era of European dominance, no English team has been able to convincingly match up to the continent’s best, either in Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Real Madrid, at their very best last season, were outstanding, while Atletico Madrid also proved their talent and resilience. Chelsea may have won the European Cup in 2012, but the consensus is that they were quite a distance from being the best team in the competition.
United have the history and the prestige, but do they have the quality to win the European Cup in the coming seasons and convince Vidal that his future lies at Old Trafford?
Bayern Munich will have something to say about that. The Bavarians struggled through Pep Guardiola’s inflexibility last term, but they’re far from a mess; simple tweaks and one or two more additions will see them back among the favourites. There can be no doubting the strength of their squad.
The Bundesliga champions have also been a possible destination for Vidal, both recently and prior to his signing for Juventus from Bayer Leverkusen in 2011. And now with Toni Kroos on his way to Real Madrid, Guardiola may opt to recruit the Chilean as Kroos’ replacement.
United are certainly a big enough draw to convince Vidal. But the question is what others can offer. This coming season’s lack of Champions League football aside, United still have some way to go in order to match the strength of the continent’s current biggest hitters.