“I’d like to get one player in during the transfer window,” said Sir Alex Ferguson last week, although the Manchester United manager conceded that navigating the winter transfer market is notoriously difficult due to player availability. Caveats notwithstanding, Sir Alex hasn’t shown this great an interest signings since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.
It is likely that the player coming in, if indeed it happens, is a playmaker. The Scot’s recent tactical experiments have a unifying theme of compensating for the lack of decent attacking central midfielders in United’s squad.
As the recent FA Cup tie against Liverpool suggests, United struggles to string together passes amidst intense opposition pressure. With Wayne Rooney and Anderson ideally suited for roles other than the central playmaker and Paul Scholes struggling to cope with pressing game when fit, a creative midfielder is desperately needed.
There has been a lot of tabloid speculation about a possible loan move for the Brazilian midfielder. Kaká, like Mesut Ozil, is very athletic and plays the classic trequartista role with a punch. But in Kaká’s prolonged injury absence, Ozil has firmly established himself as the main playmaker in the Real Madrid side. With young Sergio Canales as an able understudy to the German, Kaká is in a perilous situation at Bernebeu.
The move appears unlikely, however. Prone to running the channels, the former Milan player will struggle to play in any 4-4-2 based system. Ferguson has always deployed systems that feature wingers or wide midfielders and shied away from central systems such as 4-4-2 diamond and 4-3-1-2.
With many strikers and wide men in United’s squad, Kaká may find first team opportunities just as hard to come by in Manchester as they now are in Madrid. The Real player has just come off a debilitating injury and the repercussions remain to be seen. It is a move that has more than a hint of Michael Owen about it.
Paulo Henrique ‘Ganso’
The young Brazilian is very much an outside candidate for a transfer to United. The 21-year-old has to date only played in the Brazilian league, where tactics are geared for playmakers to excel. With only one senior cap, a UK work visa is also very much an issue. In addition, the midfielder is just coming off a very serious knee injury – although similar injuries haven’t prevented Ferguson from signing Ruud Van Nisterlooy and Owen Hargreaves in the past.
Ganso appears a very talented player, at least compared to the standards of Brazil’s domestic football. Neymar, the striker who almost moved to Chelsea this year, considers Ganso “a left-footed Zidane.”
However, the transition from South American to Europe is notoriously difficult – United fans need not look further than Anderson – and Ganso represents a huge gamble. The player may be young but it is worth noting that Anderson is only a year older than the Santos midfielder. Furthermore, there is a South American playmaker of the same age in Serie A called…
Sir Alex is supposedly very keen on the young playmaker and had a €10 million move turned down in 2009. “I’m very proud that a club like United were interested in me,” said Pastore at the time. “The thing is that at clubs like Manchester United there are a lot of great players, and they are all internationals. I know that if I moved to a club like that, I’d have to wait to get my chance to play.”
Instead, the Argentinean signed for Palermo and has done very well in the Serie A side. Pastore has added goal-scoring to his bow and became a more versatile player tactically. Capable of playing with his back to goal in the mould of classic trequartisti, Pastore is also more than comfortable facing the goal as an attacking midfielder or a little deeper as a central midfielder. The midfielder can play as one of the two central midfielders in 4-4-2 or as a playmaker in 4-2-3-1/4-5-1/4-3-3.
The young playmaker has also added five kilos to his 6’2” frame since his move to Italy, preparing the 21-year-old for the rigours of the Premier League.
However, Palermo want to hold on to the Argentinean as they have a genuine chance at a Champions League spot in Italy. The player’s work visa is also a concern but, unlike Adem Ljajić, Pastore should qualify as an “exceptional talent” considering he made Argentina’s World Cup squad and has six caps. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block is cost but, all things considered, Pastore is the ideal candidate to take over from Scholes.
Perhaps it is too early to hype up the player who played second flight football in Japan before the current season. But the 21-year-old has made a seamless transition to the big leagues and already scored twelve goals for table topping Dortmund.
As with all young playmakers, Kagawa is blessed with quick feet and great control. What distinguishes the Japanese from other ‘prodigies’ is his vision. The Dortmund player instinctively knows the right thing to do in any given situation, rarely loses possession, plays fine through balls and looks use his wingers.
Kagawa’s trademark move is to pick up the ball deep, run at the defense before playing a perfectly weighted dink to the onrushing winger. As his goal count suggests, the Japan international is a genuine goal threat, with good movements about the box, in addition to being able to shoot from distance.
Stereotypically Japanese in his work ethic, the former Cerezo Osaka player doesn’t shirk his defensive duties either. He is slight at 5’8” but Kagawa;s tenacity and mental strength more than makes up for the lack of height.
Dortmund has only recently signed the gifted Japanese player and perhaps the current transfer window is too soon for any approach for the playmaker. On the other hand, with Dortmund leading the table by ten points and already missing Kagawa due to the AFC Asian Cup, the German side might be willing to listen to offers.