Following new Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino's admission that all bids for midfielder Cesc Fabregas will be rejected, David Moyes may be forced to look elsewhere as he aims to boost his midfield options ahead. Ryan Parrish looks at five potential alternatives
By Ryan Parrish - @RyanParrish1919
Last Updated: 26/07/13 4:58pm
Since swapping White Hart Lane for Madrid last summer, Croatia international Luka Modric established himself as a key part of Jose Mourinho's plans. However, Mourinho's failure to retain the Primera Liga title, or indeed bring Spain's most prestigious club any silverware last season, has resulted in a bit of a reshuffle at the Bernabeu, leaving a question mark over just where the 27-year old fits in next season. While new manager Carlo Ancelotti made few attempts to hide his admiration of Modric during his time in charge of Chelsea, the arrival of Spanish prospects Isco and Asier Illarramendi this summer mean that Real's already impressive options in midfield has increased, with the purchases of the duo suggesting a more youthful outlook.
Modric excelled in his four years with Spurs but in the early stages of his Primera Liga career he struggled to settle, often finding himself watching from the bench. When Modric did eventually claim his place in the first team, he impressed, but not to the level that earned him the adoration of the Spurs faithful. Incidentally, his key contribution during his first season in Spain arguably came at Old Trafford. With United leading 1-0, Modric came off the bench to put in an inspired cameo performance, equalising from 25 yards before helping his side to victory. Having moved for somewhere in the region of £33million last summer, it is likely to require a similar fee to prise him away, but with their £30million already on the table for Fabregas, United have shown that they are prepared to pay top money to get their man. Whether Ancelotti is prepared to let him go is another matter, but bringing Modric back to the Premier League would surely be the coup of the summer for Manchester United.
Newcastle United fans can be forgiven for panicking a little when midfield lynchpin Yohan Cabaye talked up the possibility of a move Old Trafford on French television channel Canal+ earlier this year. Fortunately for the Toon Army, things seemed to have quietened down on that front, but that could all be about to change if the Premier League champions decide to swallow their pride and avert their attentions from Fabregas. The Frenchman's performances in a black and white shirt have hardly been befitting of a side that flirted with relegation last season, and at 27-years old, you would expect him to jump at the chance of playing Champions League football and aiding United's pursuit of retaining the Premier League crown.
Cabaye has established himself as a regular fixture in Didier Deschamps' recent France squads, but with the ever-increasing competition for places in midfield and the World Cup just around the corner, Cabaye will surely be seeking assurances that he will still be a key part of the set-up in Brazil next summer. The midfielder has been linked a move back to his homeland, with PSG and big-spending Monaco both believed to be sniffing around, but a move to Old Trafford could prove to be too appealing for him to turn down. Cabaye is still under contract for another three years at St James' Park so it would take a substantial bid to tempt Mike Ashley into parting with his star man, but there is no doubting that he would be a welcome addition to any midfield in England.
One of the stars of this summer's Under 21 European Championship with Italy, Marco Verratti seems to get better and better with every game he plays. The PSG midfielder only turned 20 last November and if his rapid development continues, he is well on course to mature into one of the finest centre-midfielders in the world. Verratti has been linked with a move to Old Trafford on numerous occasions already this summer but his displays in Israel have done United no favours as his profile and market value continues to soar. But with PSG believed to be interested in want away striker Wayne Rooney, who knows whether a deal could be arranged which would involve Verratti going the other way. Although there is no doubt he would be a welcome addition to David Moyes' squad, some United fans may question whether he is quite the type of midfielder that they require as Michael Carrick has made the holding role, the position which Verratti seems to operate most effectively in, his own.
Similarly to Carrick, Verratti's reading of the game gives him an advantage over his opponents and used together, they could form a formidable partnership at the heart of midfield. Last season's Champions League finalists, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, both enjoyed great success using a system which incorporated two deep-lying midfielders; with Ilkay Gundogan and Sven Bender occupying the roles for Dortmund and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez doing a similar job for Bayern respectively.
For those two, it proved to be the key to unlocking the seemingly irrepressible Spaniards, just as it was for Brazil in the Confederations Cup final with Paulinho and Gustavo patrolling in front of the back-four. The chances of United landing Verratti are likely to depend on Rooney going in the opposite direction, but with age and ability on his side, the Italian could be the natural successor to Paul Scholes if David Moyes is allowed to open the chequebook.
A slightly more attack-minded option to Verratti, Marouane Fellaini has been the subject of strong speculation linking him to the champions in recent years, something which stepped up a gear when Moyes took the job in May. The Belgian has become one of the stars of Everton's often over-achieving team in recent years, with United struggling to find a way of containing him, a fate they suffered in their opening game of last season when he netted the only goal in a 1-0 win for Everton at Goodison Park. Fellaini's stature and strength makes him a handful for any Premier League defence, but he would still have to step up his game if he was to reunite with Moyes at Old Trafford.
At 25 years old, Fellaini is very much a player who will continue to improve and the intensity of being involved in a title race could be just what is needed of him to take his game to the next level, especially with him having one eye on the World Cup with Belgium next summer. Fellaini would come at a cut-price compared to some of the other players mentioned in this article, but his often erratic nature can make him a liability with suspensions.
Even more of a gamble for Moyes would be delving into the talent pool outside of the Premier League. In Will Hughes' first full season at Derby County he has shown that he has what it takes to play at the very top. It is not often that players outside of England's top-flight catch the eye of Barcelona, but for Hughes, being watched by Europe's elite is something which he has been forced to become accustomed to over the course of the last two years. At 17, Hughes broke into Stuart Pearce's England under-21s set-up and he is now regarded as one of the hottest properties in English football on the back of his performances last season.
Always full of energy, the 18-year old has proved himself to be capable of occupying a number of midfield roles in the Championship - he can work as a box-to-box midfielder at the heart of every attack or he can operate just as effectively in a deeper role, controlling the pace of the game and picking out passes to start counter-attacks. He offers versatility and a balance between attack and defence; qualities which helped endear Paul Scholes so much to the United fans. Despite all of the promise, the step-up to the Premier League and European football at such an early age would be a huge jump for him, something which summer signing Wilfried Zaha will come under close scrutiny for in the coming weeks. Pinning their midfield hopes on Hughes would be an enormous risk for United, but signing him alongside the likes of Verratti or Modric could prove to be a masterstroke from Moyes and something which his side could reap the rewards of for years to come.