The pressure on David Moyes to open the Manchester United chequebook will doubtless intensify following three consecutive defeats. There was already angst from many sections of United’s support following the Scotsman’s comments prior to Sunday’s match with Swansea City, in which he revealed it is unlikely that he will play a hugely active part in this month’s transfer frenzy. However, Moyes is right not to panic and rush into overpriced deals, in a desperate attempt to turn results around. The former Everton manager has not said that his United side does not require surgery in the form of new arrivals, as some have suggested. Rather, he has claimed that the players who are good enough to make a real difference to his side’s fortunes are unlikely to be available in the mid-season window. He is absolutely correct.
Manchester United are crying out for rejuvenation in three areas. Firstly, Moyes needs a deep-lying play-maker, to play alongside Michael Carrick, of the calibre of Borussia Dortmund’s ?lkay Gündo?an or Roma’s Kevin Strootman. However, like all of Europe’s big-hitters, neither Roma or Dortmund will come to the table to do business this month; they don’t need to.
Dortmund sit third in the Bundesliga, with a winable Champions League last 16 clash with Zenit to come in February, while Roma have been Serie A’s surprise package this season, sitting second. In any case, with both players trying to play their way into their national squads for this summer’s World Cup, neither would want to unsettle themselves, risking their first team place in a successful team in order to try and adapt to a new culture, language and league, all whilst being burdened with saving United’s season. The same issues would apply to any speculative attempts to lure either Joao Moutinho or Wesley Sneijder away from their lucrative deals with AS Monaco and Galatasaray respectively.
If United were to set their sights a tad lower, they may find themselves similarly frustrated. After putting on a dominant Old Trafford performance for the second season in succession, Mousa Dembélé would be entitled to be sceptical regarding switching the Lillywhites for the Red Devils.
Following the pair’s New Year’s Day encounter, Tottenham sit three points and a place above United, with the elegant Belgian playing a starring role in Tim Sherwood’s new-look side. There is always the chance that Dembélé shares this writer’s view that Sherwood’s rudimentary approach isn’t sustainable, and would be open to offers. However, being another player playing for his World Cup place, a January move is unlikely be worth his while. Another player recently linked with the Reds is Yohan Cabaye, his winning goal in the Magpies’ 1-0 Old Trafford victory only serving to fuel the rumours.
In the December clash, the Frenchman was the sharpest player on the pitch, finding space in advanced areas at will, as well as harranging United’s centre backs into mistakes on the ball, underlining the qualities he could bring to Old Trafford. However, while United are doubtless a more prestigious club than their North-East namesakes, presumably with the capacity to swell Cabaye’s pay-packet, they would have to make a huge offer for Mike Ashley to cash in at this stage, with European football an achievable goal for the Barcodes.
Moyes has rightly drawn criticism for wasting too much of his summer with his protracted and doomed attempt to lure Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona, with his failure to focus on more achievable targets leading to the last-minute, over-the-odds purchase of Marouane Fellaini. However, the Scotsman is clearly keen not to make the same mistake again, for which he should be praised, not lamented.
Moving to the left-back area, Moyes may be able to reignite his loan interest in Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao, but otherwise, his January options are limited. Roberto Martinez has already declared that long-term target Leighton Baines will not be leaving his fifth-placed Everton side this month, while bidding for Southampton starlet Luke Shaw appears to start at £20million; very steep for a full back. Even a move for Coentrao is likely to be dependent on a chain of transfers being completed; a rarity in January. Los Golacticos are unlikely to let their Portuguese star leave without having suitable cover lined up, and have been heavily linked with a cut-price move for Ashley Cole, currently out of favour at Chelsea. However, Jose Mourinho is unlikely to be in a hurry to sell his reliable England man, until he has completed a deal for Shaw, whom the Saints do not need nor want to sell.
Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno has been linked with a move to United, but Moyes would face competition from Manchester City and Liverpool for his signature, as well as having to pay the customary January premium. Despite the Frenchman’s woeful form this season, Moyes would be foolish to sell Patriice Evra this month and scramble around for a replacement. Paris St Germain and Monaco will still be interested and oil-rich in the summer, when Moyes will have had more time to scout a suitable incumbent of the number 3 shirt.
The final area in which United must improve is on the flanks. Moyes is not short on options in this department; Adnan Janujaz, Antonio Valencia, Nani, Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa and Wilfried Zaha have occupied wide positions this term, while Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs can all deputise, but too many of these players have underperformed this term. In an attempt to examine his entire squad, Moyes has never settled on his first choice wide-men. He has experimented with the use of inverted wingers, even frequently stationing Kagawa very narrowly on the left, while also choosing Valencia’s touchline-hugging approach on numerous occasions. He has shown a surprising loyalty to crossing from wide areas, which, given the the lacklustre showings from the flanks, should be tempered in the second half of the season. Settling on the attacking approach he feels is most effective should be the Scot’s first objective when looking to improve the contribution of his wide players. From there, he can decide who is worth their place at the club, and identify his summer targets. Any January purchases in this department would be futile, while Moyes still appears unsure of exactly what he wants his wide-men to produce.
Moyes knows he must use the transfer market to improve the fortunes of his United side; he has said as much as himself. However, he is experienced and realistic enough to realise the players he needs are unlikely to be available in January, and his comments this weekend were purely aimed at managing United fans’ expectations for the forthcoming month.
Moyes’ declaration that a proactive summer could be ahead has been largely dismissed, but there is evidence to suggest that these words represent more than an empty promise. Moyes’ £35million pound bid for Cesc Fabregas shows that United have the financial clout they will need to do big business in a World Cup summer, while Coentrao would currently be a Red Devil if the required paperwork had been submitted in time, on September 2nd. Also, Gundogan’s contract talks at Dortmund are stalling, while Strootman’s agent has expressed his belief that Old Trafford is his client’s eventual home. However, failure to finish in the Champions League positions would undoubtedly make Moyes’ recruitment drive much more problematic, so he is wise not to embroil himself in January’s madness; using the month to improve the performances of his current players, while continuing to scout new ones for the summer ahead is a much more productive use of the Scot’s time.