Friday 30 January 2015 10:23, UK
Manchester United seem set to spend big this summer - but who is on Louis van Gaal's shopping list?
Sky Sports News reporter James Cooper believes there could be some stellar names on their way to Old Trafford. "There are almost limitless resources at the moment when you bear in mind Adidas are coming on board in June with a huge kit sponsorship deal worth more than £700m," he said.
"The summer is going to be spectacular. There is an awful lot of money to spend and there is a list of players."
So, with big funds at his disposal, who might Van Gaal target? Defensive options are clearly a priority but United have been linked with plenty of attacking flair, too. Here are a selection of players who might be on Van Gaal's wish list...
Cristiano Ronaldo – Forward, Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo: one of Old Trafford’s favourite sons. The two-time Ballon d’Or winner, who helped Real Madrid to La Decima last season, declared in 2013 he wanted to retire at the Spanish club. However, the Portuguese’s love for United cannot be underestimated and with Van Gaal set to have huge sums at his disposal, could an audacious bid be on the way? At 29 Ronaldo seems to be getting better and better. Would Real seriously consider selling their prized asset? For United, there is only one way to find out…
Lionel Messi – Forward, Barcelona
It has been said it would be “impossible” for any club to sign Lionel Messi while Barcelona still want him. And who could blame the Catalan club for clinging onto one of the greatest players of all time, who recently scored his 30th hat-trick for the club? However, speculation continues about the four-time Ballon d’Or winners’ future and, earlier this month, the man himself said: "I don’t know where I will be next season". With United’s £750m kit deal with Adidas – Messi’s sponsors - on the horizon, could a mega bid be on the way?
Gareth Bale – Forward, Real Madrid
It’s no secret Manchester United made a substantial bid for Gareth Bale’s services before the Wales star signed a world-record breaking deal with Real Madrid, and there’s no question the former Tottenham man would still be welcomed at Old Trafford. Bale silenced critics who suggested he wouldn’t cut it on the big stage with goals in the Copa del Rey and Champions League finals in his first season with Real and United would now find it very difficult to lure him away from the club he dreamed of playing for as a boy. "We would never listen to any offer, no matter the amount," Real president Florentino Perez said recently. However, it remains to be seen if Real would stand by that statement, should United test their resolve with a significant bid.
Mats Hummels - Defender, Borussia Dortmund
Manchester United have conceded just two more goals than Chelsea’s respected backline in the Premier League this season but, following the exit of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic last summer, it is felt Van Gaal needs to sign quality defenders to supplement his current crop of centre-halves. World Cup-winning Germany defender Hummels is considered to be a major target. The Borussia Dortmund captain has won two Bundesliga titles and picked up a Champions League runners-up medal since a 4m euro move from Bayern Munich in 2009. Dortmund’s struggles this season - they are in the relegation zone - may improve United’s chances of convincing him to head to Old Trafford, but the 26-year-old said recently: "Would I play in Dortmund without the Champions League? I do not think qualification for the Champions League will be the only requirement to be happy."
Kevin Strootman – Midfielder, Roma
Likened to Roy Keane, midfielder Kevin Strootman is a 24-year-old with a fast-growing reputation. A favourite of Van Gaal when the United boss was in charge of Netherlands, the box-to-box Roma man recently returned after eight months out with a cruciate ligament injury which kept him out of the World Cup. However, fit and firing again now, Strootman, who helped Roma to second in Serie A last season, did suggest recently he still had plenty to prove in Italy. "'I’ve signed up for five years but so far I’ve only been playing for six or seven months," he told Sky Italia. “I want to play and help the team. That’s important to me. If I spoke about other clubs that would be disrespectful, and I don’t want to do that.”
Nathaniel Clyne – Defender, Southampton
Attacking full-back Nathaniel Clyne could be an ideal addition to Van Gaal’s squad, should the Dutchman persist with his 3-5-2 formation. The Southampton defender has impressed in the Premier League this season and earned his first England cap in November, while he demonstrated an eye for goal with a stunning long-range winner against Arsenal in the Capital One Cup. With Rafael making just six starts under Van Gaal in the league this season, 23-year-old right-back Clyne could be on his radar. The defender has been offered an extension to his Saints deal, which runs until 2016, but says he will wait until April before deciding on whether to put pen to paper.
Marquinhos – Defender, PSG
Marquinhos made headlines last week when it was reported PSG would only sell him for 112m euros. While it is unlikely United will stump up that sum for the 20-year-old, the club have been linked with a move for the centre-back. The Brazilian has had a meteoric rise to the top of world football. After signing for Roma in 2012 following just six league appearances for boyhood club Corinthians, Marquinhos became the fifth most expensive defender in history when he completed a 31.4m euro switch to PSG a season later. With a Ligue 1 title and French Cup win in his first campaign with the Parisians, Marquinhos’ stock continues to rise.
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Axel Witsel – Midfielder, Zenit St Petersburg
With Angel di Maria and Juan Mata among his attacking midfield options, you may think Van Gaal is well covered in that area, but a bid for talented Belgian Axel Witsel may prove tempting. The 26-year-old has over 50 caps for his country and has won trophies in Belgium and Portugal, while his current club Zenit are on course to win the Russian league. Signed for £32.5m in September 2012, Witsel won’t come cheap, but he has recently expressed his admiration for United. “I want to play in one of the top clubs in Europe one day,” he said recently. “It’s true that I like the Premier League, because it is one of the best leagues in the world. A lot of my colleagues play there, but we will see. I have always liked Manchester United from when I was young.”
Paul Pogba – Midfielder, Juventus
The one that got away. Paul Pogba made just three appearances for United before departing for Juventus when his contract expired in 2012. The Frenchman has since gone on to win two Serie A titles, the 2013 U20 World Cup (where he won the Golden Ball as the best player) and was voted best young player at the 2014 World Cup. Sir Alex Ferguson was less than complimentary when Pogba left Old Trafford - "I don’t think he showed us any respect at all" - but Pogba recently said "I love the club" when asked about United and there were even reports in the Italian press Van Gaal had made a bid. Chelsea are also reportedly interested in bringing him back to the Premier League.
Nicolas Otamendi – Defender, Valencia
Another option at centre-back could be Valencia and Argentina defender Nicolas Otamendi. However, the 26-year-old, who won three league titles with Porto before moving to Spain last February for 12m euros, has a £38m buy-out clause and last week Valencia rejected a £27m offer for him from an unnamed club. Otamendi looks set to stay in La Liga this month but a summer deal could materialise, with United’s Darren Fletcher possibly going the other way. Valencia are said to be interested in adding the experienced Scotsman to their squad.
Paulo Dybala – Striker, Palermo
"We have Paulo Dybala, the new Sergio Aguero," declared the Palermo president upon capturing the Argentine youngster from Instituto in 2012. With 10 goals before the winter break in Serie A this season, 21-year-old Dybala’s reputation continues to grow, although whether he can match the level reached by Manchester City’s main man remains to be seen. However, with uncertainty over whether Van Gaal will move to make Radamel Falcao’s loan a permanent deal at the end of the campaign, Dybala could be a younger alternative.
Spiritually, I still have contact with Van Gaal.
Bruno Martins Indi – Defender, Porto
"Spiritually, I still have contact with Van Gaal. I think about him and I think he also thinks about me," Bruno Martins Indi recently said. The 22-year-old centre-back/left-back played at the World Cup under Van Gaal as Netherlands finished third, and seems keen on the idea of reuniting with his former national team coach at some point. Martins Indi transferred to Porto from Feyenoord in July 2014 but would be a cheaper defensive option than the likes of Hummels or Marquinhos.