Louis van Gaal isn’t the only man attached to Manchester United celebrating this week. The Dutchman punched the air as his Netherlands side made the last eight of the World Cup, but Ed Woodward might have enjoyed himself in the same way after securing the signings of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw.
Indeed, Woodward should receive some form of praise for completing two admirable signings before the transfer window has even officially opened, splashing almost £60 million on two of the brightest young talents in European football.
It is the capture of Herrera for £28.5 million from Athletic Bilbao—bringing to an end a three-year chase for the player—that is most exciting for United fans. He is the all-around midfielder the club has been desperate for, combining goal threat, defensive resolution and unshakeable self-assurance on the ball.
Yet as impressive a signing as Herrera is, he’s not the sole solution to United’s midfield problems. He will press high up the pitch, hassling and harrying opponents into mistakes, but his effort will be wasted if he’s left isolated by his teammates.
Can you see Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley—or even Marouane Fellaini, for that matter—joining Herrera in his relentless pressing of the opposition? Even Juan Mata, an undoubtedly exceptional player, doesn’t boast much of a defensive game.
All this points to the fact that Van Gaal and United must sign another central midfielder this summer. Otherwise the capture of Herrera will mean nothing. He is good, but he can’t do it all on his own.
The signing of Herrera means that United will surely drop interest in players like Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, who have both been linked with moves to Old Trafford over the past year or so. They’re just not what United are looking for anymore.
Instead, Van Gaal needs a midfield marshal to position in front of his back four (or back three, or back five). Nigel de Jong has been deployed in such a role—up until his injury against Mexico on Sunday—for the Netherlands at the World Cup, and there has been speculation that the former Manchester City player could join his national team boss at United, according to John Richardson of the Daily Express.
De Jong might not be the standard of player Manchester United needs, but he is in the mould of what they should be looking for.
What Van Gaal needs is someone to break up opposition moves and recycle position, playing the ball to guys like Herrera and Mata who can spark United’s own attacks.
So who fits the bill? Two names stand out, both players at the same club and both currently performing well at the World Cup in Brazil: Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal.
Those are the two men at the top of the list, with United reportedly in dialogue with Juventus as far back as January over a move for either player—or maybe even both, according to John Edwards and Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail.
United have tested the water with a £30 million bid for Vidal, according to Chisanga Malata of the Daily Star. Pogba is likely to cost significantly more, with some reports putting the figure at as much as £60 million, per Daniel Taylor of the Guardian.
Of course, a move for Pogba would require a rather straining swallow of pride following United’s decision to let the Frenchman leave the club as a free agent two years ago. But if he is the best man for the job, Van Gaal should care little about what mistakes Sir Alex Ferguson made while at the club.
Another player who could arrive to complete the new-look United midfield is Kevin Strootman. Had it not been for injury, he too would have been a shining light of the World Cup along with Pogba and Vidal.
Van Gaal is a big admirer of the Roma midfielder, with Strootman’s agent revealing that his client is on the radar of the new United manager. “He is of interest to Louis van Gaal,” Chiel Dukker told Jamie Jackson of the Guardian, “but not related to Manchester United at this point. They know each other and like each other.”
Then there’s Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has struggled with a knee injury all through the World Cup. He was even airlifted to hospital for a scan after one Germany training session two weeks ago. When he is fully fit, he is among the best in Europe, but Pep Guardiola is willing to let the German international go for the right price, per Rob Shepherd of the Daily Mail.
But would Schweinsteiger, at 29 years old, bring the kind of unwavering energy and drive United needs through the middle for more than a season or two? And what about his chequered injury record?
Only Van Gaal and Woodward know for sure who tops United’s shortlist of midfield targets, but the next couple weeks could see that order shift depending on who performs and who doesn’t in Brazil.
Manchester United needs another midfielder, and they might just find him at the World Cup.