As much as this summer is being painted as an opportunity for Manchester United to start again with the arrival of Louis van Gaal after the World Cup, it is very much a period of desperation for the club, a period in which they can’t make the same mistakes that plagued them 12 months ago and led to a disastrous campaign under David Moyes.
And clubs across the continent won’t be oblivious to that desperation. They know United can’t afford another slip up in the market, and even with the impending arrival of a veteran manager who has a record of success across Europe, the pressure is very much on club officials like Ed Woodward to get the ball rolling.
But United don’t appear to be making life easier for themselves. A host of top targets have thrown cold water on the rumours linking them with a move to Old Trafford this summer, and unless swift changes in approach are made, this will start to take the shape of the humbling United experienced last summer.
Toni Kroos, Arjen Robben and Cesc Fabregas made public their lack of interest in moving to United. Whether or not Kroos does eventually leave Bayern Munich this summer, the series of stories linking him with a move to United always looked like a ploy to improve his standing at the Bavarian club. Worryingly, United couldn’t, or are yet to detect, that this is the exact situation that played out with Cesc Fabregas last year.
Van Gaal has reportedly also stated his interest in Mats Hummels. The German international is one of the continent’s leading centre-backs and it makes sense to target a player of that calibre to replace one of either Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand.
But Hummel’s has long intimated that he’d be sticking with Jurgen Klopp’s side, first in his comments following the announcement that Mario Goetze was to move to Bayern, and then midway through the season where he spoke of Dortmund’s ability to replace star players. You don’t get the sense that this is a player thinking of a move away.
Manchester United of course want to go big with their summer acquisitions. Not only was Marouane Fellaini hugely underwhelming, especially at the fee he arrived for, but he’s also proven to be short of the quality required for the United engine room.
The club need to address the issue of having avoided a good central midfield addition for so long, so there is logic in chasing names like Fabregas and Kroos.
But those players have made their intentions known early. It’s the end of May and United know where they stand – or at least they should. Don’t repeat what happened last summer, turning an enquiry into a chase and then into a saga. In the time United wasted trying to land Cesc Fabregas last summer, Kevin Strootman and Thiago Alcantara became available and were snapped up by Roma and Bayern, respectively.
This time around, van Gaal’s knowledge and contacts far surpass that of David Moyes, but it’s still no guarantee. United need to be realistic about what they want and who they can get. Jordy Clasie has shown a lot of promise in the Netherlands and van Gaal will be more than familiar with his qualities. While Fabregas may be out of reach for one reason or another, it’s widely reported that a number of Barcelona’s top stars are available this summer. United are absolutely in need of forwards like Pedro and Alexis.
For all the talk of splashing the cash and asserting a dominant aura, the sensible approach for now is to be realistic. It’s not to say that world-class players are out of reach – far from it – but United must avoid the mentality of wanting or needing to make statements.