THE rebuilding work at Manchester United is officially under way with the £15mil (RM79mil) signing of Daniel James from Swansea. The young Welsh winger is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first signing as boss but he’s no Ryan Giggs.
James may turn out to be a sound long-term investment for United but he’s not the sort of signing that’s going to restore the club to competing at the highest levels in the Premier League and Champions League.
In fact, it’s the sort of deal that a club like Everton or Watford might have been expected to make this summer. Juergen Klopp and Pep Guardiola won’t be losing any sleep on holiday about it.
United’s squad need major surgery on it. The question is whether Solskjaer is the right man to be wielding the scalpel. Will he cut deep enough? The success of this transfer window will depend on who the Norwegian gets rid of as well as who he brings in.
First out the door should be Paul Pogba. He has been consistently underwhelming at Old Trafford and has never come close to providing value for money. If he stays, and Solskjaer says he wants him to (at least officially), then the team will have to be built around him. That’s a gamble as big as Pogba’s ego.
It’s starting to look increasingly as though the Frenchman will be leaving. At the weekend he was quoted as saying: “I think for me it could be a good time to have a new challenge.” Real Madrid remain the likeliest destination if Pogba packs his bags.
Zinedine Zidane is on a spending spree and apparently wants Pogba, but I don’t really understand why. There’s every possibility that he’d disrupt the Madrid side on and off the pitch. If I was Solskjaer I’d take the money (ask if there’s any chance of including Gareth Bale as part of the deal) and run.
Pogba is reportedly not a perpetual winner of popularity contests in the Old Trafford dressing room. He’s not a leader that the rest of the team naturally looks to when the going gets tough.
A question was posed on Twitter recently: who will Pogba be playing for next season? Someone answered ‘Paul Pogba’ and I think that rather astutely sums it up.
Ask most Manchester United fans where the rebuilding work needs to start and they’ll point to the foundations. The defence has been a liability for several seasons now and is in serious need of reinforcing. Even Mourinho, the master of defensive detail, struggled to sort out the back four.
A player with a commanding presence who can organise those around him should be the first priority. Virgil van Dijk has just spent 18 months proving how transformative such a signing can be. United have been linked with Van Dijk’s Dutch teammate Matthijs de Ligt, currently at Ajax.
It looks as though Solskjaer will miss out on De Ligt though, mostly on account of being unable to offer Champions League football next season. There will surely be other targets on United’s list that are attracted to the idea of playing at Old Trafford but rather less so in the Europa League.
Whatever the comings and goings at the club this summer, the overriding target for next season is to return to the Champions League.
Solskjaer is going to have to spend big, bigger than the £15mil on Daniel James. Money talks more than ever in football these days but players want to enrich their trophy cabinets as well as their bank accounts. United used to offer both, but for now they’re banking on the money.
Craig Wilkie. Football Writer. Football Coach. Football Fan.