The summer transfer scene; a political game seemingly played out in the media’s full glare. Of course, the reality is that only a proportion of transfer business is known to the press pack, let alone those supporters watching from the sidelines. But whatever the truth in an a myriad of rumours in the mainstream press and on the well-worn grapevine it feels like a pivotal summer for the club. After all, rivals at home and abroad are strengthening during the break.
David Moyes claims confidence that Manchester United will chase down a flurry of unspoken targets, but the club’s losing pursuit of Barcelona youngster Thiago Alcântara highlights the challenges faced in invigorating a squad that succeeded in the Premier League, but came up short in Europe last season.
Indeed, there is no guarantee that United will successfully strengthen this summer, with Moyes facing intense competition in the market, while juggling more than one priority when it comes to improving his resources.
Whatever destination Thiago eventually chooses, with the smart money now on a £15 million move to European champions Bayern Munich, interest in the Spaniard demonstrates some recognition that United’s engine room requires a long-overdue upgrade. It is now more than six years since the club last acquired a central midfielder – Owen Hargreaves and Anderson joining within 48 hours of each other in late May 2007.
It says something that the Englishman is long since retired, while Anderson continues to frustrate with whatever limited minutes he remains fit to play.
By contrast Thiago’s star burns bright and with it interest in a player who might not ordinarily be available, but for a propitious release clause in the 22-year-old’s contract. That Thiago’s mentor Pep Guardiola has publicly expressed an interest in the player this week means United has surely lost out on the man who scored a hat-trick from central midfield in this summer’s Euro Under-21 final.
United may well face similar competition for any leading player this summer, with wealthier rivals in PSG, Chelsea, Manchester City, and the newly enriched Monaco. And then there are those clubs seemingly more en vogue – Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich.
Thiago’s probable move to Bayern follows the Bavarians’ capture of the outstanding youngster Mario Götze. Meanwhile, Real have added twinkle-toed Spanish youngster Isco and under-21 colleague Asier Illarramendi, and Barcelona spent around £50 million on Neymar.
Domestically, City has spent big on Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho and the Spanish winger Jesus Navas, while Chelsea brought in youngsters Marco van Ginkel and André Schürrle.
Still, Moyes remained upbeat over the weekend, expressing confidence that a range of players under consideration will find their way to Carrington before the window closes in August.
“We’re on with targets that we are chasing at this moment in time,” said Moyes, who suffered his first defeat as United manager against a Thai All-Star XI on Saturday.
“At this moment in time, we’re happy with how things are going. We’ll be looking to try to change one or two things around, I just need a bit of time to do that.
“We are always looking at the best players, we are interested in the best players and I definitely am. I am not going to take the focus away from trying to sign good players who are hungry and who are thinking of climbing the ladder.”
Indeed, it is 50 days before the summer transfer window closes and Moyes is still likely to recruit long-term target Eziquiel Garay inside the month. United scouts watched the Argentinian defender, now plying his trade at Benfica, on numerous occasions last season, with the player’s decision to join Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute agency working in favour of a £17 million move.
The former Real Madrid stopper appeared just 25 times for the Bernabeu side before a £5 million transfer to the Portuguese capital in summer 2011, and any future move to Old Trafford will be complicated by an intricate ownership structure. Garay is part-owned by Real, Benfica and the Benfica Stars Fund investment fund.
Mendes has a chequered history with United having brought Nani, Anderson and Bébé to Old Trafford, although he may be forgiven that triumvirate if another client, David de Gea, continues to progress in the coming season.
Another defender, Leighton Baines, will join if United press on with a £12 million bid for the 28-year-old English left-back, although the club is seemingly – sensibly some might add – unwilling to increase that offer.
Elsewhere Moyes may well seek to bring in another winger in addition to that much coveted central midfielder – squad depth being as important as quality, says Moyes. Nani is likely to leave the club this summer, while Ashley Young rarely fit and Bébé an embarrassing failure most in the Old Trafford hierarchy would rather forget.
“We’d like to add one or two players to make the squad stronger as well,” he says. “Sometimes the jigsaw puzzle of piecing it all together doesn’t always come exactly the way you want it but I’ve got a picture in my mind of what I’d like and I’m hoping to work towards that
In all this the Wayne Rooney farce is no nearer to being resolved, with a tetchy Moyes berating the travelling media on Friday for asking another slew of questions about the 28-year-old striker. That neither manager nor player have been able to confirm the Scouser’s commitment to United’s cause remains the headline story this summer.
Moyes will at least take heart from the positive contributions of both Wilfried Zaha and youngster Adnan Januzaj in United’s defeat on Saturday. Not that the youngsters are likely to bridge the gap to the very best in Europe if that is indeed United’s ambition this summer.
“Wilfried did well,” said Moyes. “He gave us a little bit of something different.
“We have brought him here to give him a chance. It is the first time I have worked with him and had a chance to see him up close. He will certainly be part of the squad and we will see where we can fit him in as often as we can.
“(Januzaj) was a plus for us. He played well. It is always good when you give a young player a chance and he shows up. He did that tonight. The more he plays like that the more opportunities he is likely to get.”
Yet, the Thai loss will do little to quell a growing thirst to reinforce this summer, although expectations will of course be tempered given the squad has benefited from around a week’s training to date.
The Reds move on to Sydney for the second in a seven fixture pre-season, but supporters will be watching the rumour mill as much as the on-pitch action. After all Thiago’s decision to move elsewhere will be forgotten posthaste once the next bright young thing hits the back pages.
Whether Moyes lands his man is another question.