In the last couple of weeks, Manchester United will have learned plenty about the coming season. José Mourinho’s team know their fixture schedule for the imminent campaign and that Victor Lindelöf, who officially signed from Benfica last week, will be available to play in those first games of the season, too.
This week, though, we’re looking at who might join the Swede as a new arrival at Old Trafford as well as those who might be on their way out of the club, with intense transfer speculation surrounding the Red Devils’ squad with regards to both arrivals and departures. So, what have United’s VAVEL writers made of some of the most prominent recent rumours?
There's only one man to start with; Cristiano Ronaldo. He's certainly one of the very best players in the world but at 32, would you have any reservations about bringing him back to Old Trafford?
Craig Millar: It's silly season again, isn't It? The media love the constant Cristiano Ronaldo flirtation with United. It won't happen, but reservations? Yes. From a football side no, from a financial side, yes. Football has long gone away from being a working man's sport but the money needed to bring him back is too much. Kylian Mbappé is possibly going to be sold for equally incredible sums but it makes some sort of business sense – signing Ronaldo wouldn't. United could recoup some money from sponsorship and the likes, but it is too much in my mind. It would be brilliant to see him in a United shirt again, though.
Neil Leverett: With Ronaldo, age is largely irrelevant. Many have suggested his powers are waning, but his showing versus Juventus in the Champions League final firmly negated such views. United lack a clinical finisher like Ronaldo, who is the one of the finest. The only sticking block is the argument he would hold others back. But frankly, with Paul Pogba’s distribution from midfield, the reservations are few.
Matthew Brown: Most fans will accept that Ronaldo returning is unlikely, and if the club share that viewpoint, they should instead concentrate on concluding deals for other targets. His age and price tag, however, shouldn’t put United off if a transfer is somehow viable. Ideally, you wouldn’t want to spend so much on a 32-year-old, but he is no ordinary player. A 35-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimović shone in the Premier League last term and it’s not unrealistic to expect Ronaldo to be playing just as well, or perhaps better, when he’s that age. A possible downside to this unlikely deal is how it affects Marcus Rashford and for lesser players, I’d see this kind of signing as a deterrent for him. But as good as Rashford is, it’s unlikely he’ll ever reach Ronaldo’s level and United shouldn’t pass up on signing the Portuguese if the opportunity arises.
Jordan Farren: There's no doubt I'd love Ronaldo back at United. He's the best in the world right now and even though he's 32, it doesn't bother me. He did more than enough to help Real Madrid win their 12th Champions League crown, and will be on the way to his fifth Balon d'Or. Ibrahimović came in last year at 34 and did his bit throughout what was, in the end, a successful campaign. Most United fans dream of having Ronaldo coming back and it would be great to see.
Another big name linked to Old Trafford in the last couple of days has been Robert Lewandowski. A departure has since been rubbished by his club, Bayern Munich, but should United be targeting more of these proven, top-level talents?
Craig: This is a tough one. He fits the Mourinho profile. Proven, world class. He wouldn't come cheap though, so similar thoughts to Ronaldo. United need better quality and it doesn't come cheap. Yet it doesn't guarantee success, either. Robert Lewandowski would be perfect for United, although I doubt that would happen. United should be in for the best talent, but if you are going to break the bank then Pogba is how to do it – a 24-year-old with the best years ahead of him.
Neil: More? The aforementioned Ronaldo is surely the top of all the cream of football right now, as were Zlatan and Pogba last season. As for Lewandowski, who may be regarded as one of the most lethal strikers in the business, could Mourinho legitimately lure the big Pole to Old Trafford?
Matthew: Lewandowski is a fantastic striker and it would be a dream to see him starting as our number nine, but that’s all it is – a fantasy. But being linked with Lewandowski and Ronaldo does highlight the difference in quality between them and United’s more realistic targets. Álvaro Morata could be a fine addition but there is some risk in the deal, given he’s yet to play a full season as a side’s first choice striker. Ivan Perišić would be a good fit, but again, there’s scope to sign someone of a higher standard. I’d be happy if Morata and Perišić do sign, but a Lewandowski-type addition on top of them could be the difference between winning the title and falling just short.
Jordan: There's no doubt United should be targeting the top players every summer. Lewandowski for one is a name you'd want in your squad. Easily one of the best strikers in the world, the Pole would be a great buy. It's an unlikely signing and the news of the talks came out of the blue really, but I see Morata as the main man to come in this summer in that position. I don't like the idea of signing a Perišić or Nemanja Matić; there are bigger and better players out there in the same positions. And a club like United, with the money available, should definitely be going for the best.
Matteo Darmian is reportedly the subject of interest from Serie A champions, Juventus. His time at United has been mixed to say the least, but he was frequently called upon by José Mourinho last term. Do you see a role for him in the squad next season?
Craig: If he stays, of course. He started his United career well and then lost his way. Matteo Darmian finished last season strongly, though. He is a player that Mourinho probably likes, despite the fact he may sanction his sale. He is a defender first and foremost and when he performs, he is a good platform for the left midfielder, allowing them a little more freedom. It would be a surprise to see him sold, but there is plenty of cover in both full-back positions.
Neil: There would be few things that Louis van Gaal and José agree with. One such example, however, would be Darmian. The former Torino man become a regular fixture for the Dutchman but it had been expected that Darmian would move on under Mourinho. Indeed, the Italian played little part in the opening months of last season. From January onwards, however, Darmian came on to deputise for Luke Shaw and at times Antonio Valencia – and with aplomb. He has a place in the squad for sure, but if the likes of Fabinho come in after all, his place may come under consideration. But Darmian remains in José's reckoning.
Matthew: Darmian started so well under Van Gaal and it’s been a real shame that’s he failed to hit those heights since. He’s a solid enough defender but not good enough going forward, and with their aspirations, United need a left-back who’s just as good in both halves of the pitch. Darmian did show his worth last term, though, and seemed to earn Mourinho’s trust as he came to rely on him quite regularly. I feel he’s now someone that the manager will always turn to in certain situations. He’s similar to Marouane Fellaini, in that his key skill set shouldn’t warrant a regular starting spot, but Mourinho will pick him in games which allow him to play to his strengths. There’s definitely a role for Darmian but I’d be surprised if he accepted being sporadically involved with a World Cup looming next summer.
Jordan: When Darmian first joined he looked the real deal, he had a few great performances and then just seemed to be rattled when it came to that 3-0 defeat at The Emirates Stadium against Arsenal. However, he did have a turnaround towards the end of last season. I think the manager has gained a lot of trust in him and became a real Mourinho full back. He did his job and I feel like he definitely deserves a chance to stay, but obviously, the call to play at Juventus in his home country would be tempting for the player himself. I think if he was to go we'd need a replacement, but if Shaw is to become the first choice and hopefully keep fit, as well as Valencia keeping up his great form then there might not be much of a chance for Darmian.
Departures have also been mooted for academy products Adnan Januzaj and Sam Johnstone. Quite a few young players have done well for themselves after leaving United in recent years - could the club be making another mistake by selling either of these two?
Craig: No. Firstly, Adnan Januzaj. He basically had a wonder start against Sunderland and the hype took over. He did well in other games, but had he not been 17 and breaking through, he wouldn't have been spoken about in glowing terms. He is talented, but a lack of pace went against him. His attitude has also been questioned. If United sell him, like with Memphis Depay, expect a buy back clause. Sam Johnstone looks like a good ‘keeper, no doubt. But good doesn't get you the number one jersey. Joel Pereira is touted for big things so Johnstone has to move on in the same way Tom Heaton did. Heaton has proved himself to be excellent in time, but United can't wait five or six years for Johnstone to reach that level.
Neil: For every Heaton, there has quite simply been a Tyler Blackett. Heaton has been sensational for Burnley now for a few seasons, but could anyone realistically expect him to a) stay and flourish at United or b) to be the roaring success since leaving? With respect to Johnstone, Aston Villa are not the force they were. With Januzaj, you feel there is more to come, but as others have pointed out it could merely be hype.
Matthew: Unfortunately, both players’ time at Old Trafford is up. Johnstone is unfortunate in that he has to compete with another fine young ‘keeper in Pereira, who is four years his junior – never mind David de Gea and Sergio Romero. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s playing regularly in the Premier League in a few years’ time, quite possibly with Villa, his prospective employers, but there’s no pathway for him to do that with United. As for Januzaj, United have a similar conundrum in that there are so many players ahead of him in the pecking order. Barring an unprecedented injury crisis, he is simply not going to get his chance, but I don’t think Januzaj’s sale will prove to be an error. He was sensational in that David Moyes season and the hype was warranted, but he has failed to kick on since then; leaving United might finally allow him to do that. It’s the right move for both parties.
Jordan: I don't think selling Johnstone would be a mistake, he's a good 'keeper, however with De Gea and Romero he doesn't have a chance. He's getting to that age now where he should leave for the better of his career. Januzaj looked a real prospect when he burst on the scene, it was a good first year under Moyes and it seemed he would even have a chance under Van Gaal at the start of the 2015/16 campaign when he began in the no.10 role, but it didn't stick and it all went south. He couldn't perform for Sunderland in the League and maybe he's shown that he really isn't good enough to play for us. Mourinho seemed to have had his mind made up on Adnan for quite a while now.
Finally, there's been plenty of talk about prospective midfield signings for the Red Devils. Eric Dier, Nemanja Matić and Fabinho have been most prominently linked, with the latter seemingly favoured by most United fans, but who'd be your pick out of the three? Is there someone else Mourinho should be looking at?
Craig: That is a tricky one. Matić is again in the Mourinho mould. Experienced and proven. He would be the best pick to hit the ground running. Eric Dier has developed into a decent player at Tottenham Hotspur, but £50m? With his age, it is manageable, but he is not worth it. Yet he would be a good acquisition. So Fabinho probably would be the better choice out of the three. He may command a high price but he is young and impressive. He is more of a United player. In the end, Matić is possibly most likely. Spurs are highly unlikely to want to part with Dier. AS Monaco are facing a fire sale, so they would also be reticent to do a deal, but that does have possibilities if United offer enough. Fabinho, Matić, Dier in that order for me.
Neil: I think with Dier, Mauricio Pochettino was extremely shrewd in bringing the England international in from Sporting Lisbon – a favourite stomping ground of United's scouts – but his effectiveness has been questioned this past term. In a different side it could be a similar story. Particularly in a rugged looking midfield that is less fluid than Spurs. With Matic, United have almost a like for like replacement for Michael Carrick, but it would be hard to tell how Mourinho would deploy him. With Fabinho, the Brazilian would give José more flexibility and speed centrally, and in turn could push Pogba into a more offensive role
Matthew: With Mourinho in charge, it’s important to let him do things his way because it brings success, and that has often come by playing a midfield ‘destroyer’, a role well suited to Dier or Matić. Either could play it well for Mourinho’s United, but that’s the issue – how long will it be Mourinho’s United? Considering his past, there will probably only be another three Mourinho-managed seasons at best before things start to turn sour. Matić is 28 and will be in decline and of little resale value when that time comes. Dier is a slightly more attractive option given he’s only 23 and can also play at centre-back, but Fabinho, also 23, is a more versatile defensive midfielder, capable of being the ‘destroyer’ or playing a role more akin to Carrick’s. I’d support the signing of any of the three but I believe Fabinho is the most likely to make a long-term impact at the club.
Jordan: I think Fabinho is a no brainer. A €40-45m asking price has been put out there according to sources so I think United must go for that. Dier has done his bit with Spurs but I don't see him as a United player, despite the comparisons to Carrick. Nemanja Matić has done well with Chelsea since his return there but in the last two seasons hasn't had as much of an impact. Mourinho knows him so maybe that's where the interest is, but he knows Fabinho from his time at Real Madrid also. A midfield trio of Herrera, Pogba and Fabinho would be great to see.