Manchester United spent almost the entirety of the recent window chasing Barcelona midfielder, Frenkie de Jong, with the Dutchman having emerged as a top target following Erik ten Hag’s appointment at Old Trafford at the end of last season.
The former Ajax boss had appeared keen on a reunion with a player who had starred under his watch during their time together in Amsterdam, notably lauding the playmaker as the “conductor” in his side back in 2019.
As it proved, however, despite the Red Devils’ continued pursuit of the 25-year-old – which included striking an agreement with the La Liga outfit for a fee of around €85m (£72m) – no such move came to fruition, with the player having seemingly been reluctant to make the switch to Old Trafford.
Having been left somewhat humiliated by that lengthy failed approach, United ultimately turned to serial-winning Real Madrid star Casemiro to help bolster their midfield ranks, with the Brazilian icon joining in a £70m deal.
The 30-year-old offers a different profile of player to that of De Jong, however, due to his strengths as a defensive-minded colossus in front of the back four, while the Netherlands international is a more creative and dynamic presence who can “make the difference”, in the words of Ten Hag.
The new United boss had suggested over the summer that he would mould a current player at the Theatre of Dreams into a De Jong-esque asset if the club were unable to sign the 5 foot 11 gem, with summer signing Christian Eriksen having somewhat taken on that role in recent weeks.
There is another who could do the job on a more long-term basis, however, with academy prospect Zidane Iqbal a potential solution, with the 19-year-old said to have been studying the Camp Nou star’s game even prior to Ten Hag’s arrival.
The highly-rated teenager – who has been dubbed a “special talent” by Hesham Bilal-Hafiz – was handed his senior bow last term by interim boss Ralf Rangnick, entering the fray alongside friend and fellow debutant Charlie Savage in the Champions League dead-rubber against Young Boys back in December.
While something of a forgotten affair due to the nature of the game, Iqbal’s entrance caught the headlines as it saw him become the first South Asian footballer to have played for the club, with the youngster now something of a “trailblazer”, according to Bilal-Hafiz.
Although that remains his only first-team outing to date, the Iraq international did catch the eye during the Red Devils’ pre-season tour, notably impressing in the victory over rivals Liverpool in Bangkok.
That second-half cameo saw the Manchester-born starlet produce one moment of quality, in particular, as he brilliantly turned away from opposition powerhouse Fabinho in the centre of the park, showcasing impressive confidence despite his tender years.
Reports have even suggested that Ten Hag was left surprised that the two-cap gem had not been utilised more in recent seasons after seeing his talent first-hand in training, with that a possible indication that he could be handed a more prominent role moving forward.
Not only is it always a joy to see an academy gem thrive, but it could also save the Premier League outfit millions if Iqbal can end the need for De Jong’s arrival.