As the season comes to a close, the drum roll of transfer speculation will grow. At no club will it be louder than Manchester United, the speculation fanned by demand from the fans of the best-supported club, some of whom are utterly addicted to transfer news. The media only facilitate what those fans want.
United have helped by turning signings into a show, the best example being Paul Pogba’s #Pogback which trended across social media. The club like this, and fans, especially younger fans, love it. I sense that some United fans wouldn’t mind if the team stopped playing football matches and instead concentrated solely on buying and selling players.
New players invoke optimism and hope. We saw a spike one weekend in the summer of 2015 when terms were agreed for Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. The reality was rather more underwhelming as both failed to reach the expected standards at Old Trafford. The same could be said of Matteo Darmian, another Van Gaal signing from 2015.
United’s transfer recruitment post Ferguson has been hit and miss. Buying players is not an exact science, but United will continue to spend heavily in the transfer market this summer as Mourinho continues to improve a side who have been sixth in the league for most of this season. Mourinho has done well in the transfer market so far.
Despite being as close as a manager comes to guaranteeing instant success, he thinks that the Premier League has changed, that the competition is more fierce because other clubs are far wealthier and that it’s fair to judge him properly after three years.
Mourinho let it be known last year that he wanted four players and while Pogba was the fourth, United kept trying for other players, specifically a central defender. An approach for Southampton captain Jose Fonte was rejected by his club, despite the player being desperate to move to play for his compatriot Mourinho.
A further approach was made to Atletico Madrid for central defender Jose Gimenez. The 22 year-old Uruguayan loves the idea of playing in England, where he’ll earn more than anywhere else. United’s interest was knocked back by Atletico boss Diego Simeone who, unsurprisingly, wanted one of the most promising central defenders in the world in his squad. Yet Gimenez has not been a first choice for Atletico this season. Simeone has largely preferred the more experienced central defensive partnership of Diego Godin, 31 and Stefan Savic, 26, with the equally experienced Juanfran, 32, and Felipe Luis, 31, at full back. The Montenegran Savic, who was a flop at Manchester City, cost Atletico £17.5 million from Fiorentina in 2015 and has impressed.
It’s hardly a crime not being able to be a regular in the best defence in the world – and Simeone is convinced that he has the best four central defenders in the world at his club - but it’s also a regression. Gimenez, who has an increased buy out clause of €60 million was the first choice centre half last season, a 20-year-old alongside his compatriot and mentor Godin. That said, while he played 90 minutes in both Champions League semi finals against Bayern Munich, his occasionally suspect temperament saw him pull Javi Martinez down for a penalty, which was saved by Jan Oblak. Gimenez was on the bench in the final as Simeone went with the taller Savic.
United thought they might have a better chance of signing him in January and contacted Atletico again. Once again, Simeone said no. He needs a squad as he attempts to lead Atletico to European Cup victory this season by reaching a third final in four years – and winning it. Atletico’s draw against Leicester City was perceived to be the easiest of the last eight by the Madrid club, not that they worry about better opponents for they knocked Barcelona and Bayern Munich out last season.
Because he’s not playing for his club every week, Gimenez has not been adding to his 30 caps for his country. He was substitute as a weakened Uruguay, who are second in the tough South American group, were defeated 1-4 by Brazil in a huge World Cup qualifying game on Thursday night in Montevideo, yet Gimenez already has a World Cup and two Copa Americas to his name.
Gimenez is tough, composed, strong, good with both feet, fine in the air and quick. He’s a ball playing defender who can handle pressure, a Mourinho-style player who played 90 minutes in both Champions League last 16 games as Atletico eliminated Bayer Leverkusen and he has a bright future. He’s also out of contract in 2018, when he could leave for free. His buy out clause million will only start to decrease with a year of his contract to run.
Fine defenders have left Atletico before, having been unable to get in the side. Toby Alderweireld left for Tottenham, where he’s one of the best defenders in the Premier League.
Aside from Antonio Valencia, United’s defence has not been settled this season. Not one central defender is on the top six of the club’s appearance makers, not one has started more than 14 of United’s 27 Premier League games, with appearances split fairly equally between Marcos Rojo (14 league starts), Eric Bailly (14), Phil Jones (14) and Chris Smalling (10). Mourinho thinks that best sides are built on a solid defence, the rocks at the back which provide the solid base for the team to attack. He’s spending this international break looking at the potential solutions.