The Red Devils’ performances this season have certainly been a far cry from the high-velocity, attractive counter-attacking displays that came to define the Sir Alex Ferguson era – something West Ham gaffer Sam Allardyce’s recent quip of ‘long ball United‘ pays specific homage to.
Yet, Manchester United remain one of the Premier League’s finest footballing institutions, and to see them ditch their adoration for aesthetic play permanently would be a huge loss to the English game.
With that in mind, here’s FIVE players that would throw some egg on G.Nev’s face by bringing Champagne Football back to Carrington.
A winger elegant enough for Real Madrid yet the epitome of Premier League compatibility, Gareth Bale may not be the most original suggestion, considering the recent relentlessness of reports linking him with a £120million summer move to Old Trafford, but he’d unquestionably add dynamism, flair and netting prowess to Manchester United’s attack.
It’s that pace and power the Red Devils require most; despite the nippiness of Angel Di Maria, they’ve desperately lacked a penetrative, defence-stretching threat this season.
Whilst the Welsh wizard was predominantly a counter-attacking threat during his Tottenham days however, he’s drastically improved his ability in tight spaces since moving to the Bernabeu, with cute flick-ons, reverse passes and nifty footwork aplenty, in addition to maintaining his prolific supply of goals; 36 in 78 for the European Champions.
Acquiring, Bale would likely require a record-breaking bid, and despite some adverse receptions from the Real Madrid faithful in recent weeks, the 25 year-old appears more than happy with life in the Spanish capital.
He’d not only improve the quality of United’s play, however, adding some much-needed balance to their attack, but would also be a huge statement of the club’s intentions to return to the glory days of old.
Another suggestion that’s interlinked with recent tabloid speculation, and many will be bemused by the suggestion that a defender could improve the quality of Manchester United’s football.
When it comes to combining defensive quality with consistent and progressive distribution from the back however, there are few better in world football than Borussia Dortmund star Mats Hummels – which is perhaps why Louis van Gaal has been chasing the 26 year-old since last summer.
He boasts an aerially dominant 6 foot 4 frame and an exceptional reading of the game, yet is blessed with a Franz-Beckenbauer ability to join or instigate attacks from deep positions, averaging 0.5 chances created and 1 successful take-on per-match during the last three Bundesliga campaigns, with a pass completion rate of 80%.
Having lifted the World Cup with Germany last summer, previously featured in the 2013 Champions League final and taken the armband at Westfalen at the start of the season, Hummels would also address the worrying limits of quality, experience and leadership at the heart of United’s defence.
The one-time Bayern Munich man turned down a Red Devils switch in the summer, but could have a change of heart at the end of the season if Dortmund, currently just four points above the relegation zone, plummet into Germany’s second division.
Recent claims from Louis van Gaal suggest adding a creative presence to Manchester United’s engine room will be his first port of call this summer, so where better to start than one of the most prolific creators in La Liga over the last three seasons? Namely, Atletico Madrid’s Koke.
Indeed, the 23 year-old boasts 10 goals and 30 assists in his last 89 league outings for the Mattress Makers – whilst creating, on average, 2.1 chances per match — and has resultantly emerged as an integral member of a squad that’s lifted five trophies since 2011, including the 2013/14 Spanish title, and made it to last season’s Champions League final.
In addition to Koke’s creative and technical qualities – so almighty that Barcelona great Xavi has dubbed the midfielder as his playmaking successor in the Spanish national team – he offers all the tenacity, industry and discipline one would expect of a Diego Simeone player, in addition to a unique versatility that’s seen him feature in virtually every midfield role since his Atletico debut in 2009.
As one of the most influential and youngest members of Atletico’s starting XI, the Spanish champions won’t be too keen on parting with the La Roja star. He’s quickly outgrowing his surroundings at Vincente Calderon however, whilst his £48million release clause is well within United’s financial reach.
Blessed with an imposing and incredibly athletic 6 foot 2 frame, you might be forgiven for viewing Juventus star Paul Pogba as more of a play-breaker, with some dubbing him as a modern day Patrick Vieira.
He averages 2.5 tackles per match in Serie A, but such statistics and comparisons with the Arsenal icon are somewhat misleading; in addition to the 21 year-old’s pace and power, he’s a graceful,
aesthetic entity whose impact is better felt in the attacking, rather than defensive, third.
The France international’s grabbed six goals and two assists in 20 league outings this season for example, whilst averaging three successful dribbles and 1.5 chances created per match.
Wayne Rooney’s dynamism has resulted Louis van Gaal regularly fielding the forward in midfield this season, and Pogba offers a similar kind of box-to-box, creative service to United’s engine room.
Considered to be one of the top prospects in world football after claiming Europe’s Golden Boy award in 2013 however, Pogba’s agent believes he’ll be the next star to break Gareth Bale’s world-record £87million transfer fee.
The Frenchman’s prior history with the Red Devils could forge a stumbling block. He spent three years at Old Trafford before moving to Turin on a free transfer in summer 2012 after failing to impress Sir Alex Ferguson, and it remains to be seen whether United’s hierarchy would sanction a move – or if Pogba would want to return to his former club.
Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao have struggled to kindle an effective understanding as a strike partnership this season, in my opinion due to a lack of disparity between two strikers whose predominant strengths both lie in elusive movement and clinical finishing, rather than offering anything significant to build-up play.
Indeed, the Red Devils need a more lucid, mobile and playmaking threat spearheading their attack, in the mould of Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez. Both seem improbable transfer targets, but another front-man who encapsulates that style perfectly is Palermo starlet Paulo Dybala.
Not a household name just yet, but many are tipping the 21 year-old to emerge as the next Aguero, should he beef up on his admittedly slender figure over the next few years.
This season, the Argentine has claimed twelve goals and seven assists in 23 league outings, contributing to the second-most goals of any Serie A player – behind Juventus forward Carlos Tevez – and claiming the second-most assists n the division.
Combine that with pace and trickery and the typical South American blend of flair and tenacity, and we could be looking at a future world beater in Dybala.
Resultantly however, the former Instituto prodigy’s apparent valuation is already in excess of the £30million mark, which seems rather risky at this moment in time.