This summer is set to be one of massive transition at Manchester United as they continue to search for stability in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.
With Louis van Gaal likely to be on the way out, speculation is rife that ex-Chelsea boss José Mourinho is in line to take his place in the Old Trafford dugout.
Should the two-time Champions League winning manager (or indeed Ryan Giggs, who has also been linked) take over, they will have a decision to make regarding who leads the line up front.
Namely, do they stick with declining continuity, place their trust in youth, or buy from outside?
The good news for a club like Manchester United is that they will always have options, of which a few are presented below.
The captain, the (almost) all-time top scorer, the only striker at the club older than 20 – and the massive elephant in the room. Save for a short burst just before his most recent injury, Rooney’s form has been showing serious signs of decline. Every time he scores, many will try to convince themselves that he is “back” but the truth is Rooney hasn’t looked like the lethal superstar of his youth for some time now.
A return of 63 goals in 146 games (roughly a goal every 2.3 games) in all competitions since August 2012, while not necessarily bad, it pales in comparison to what the top strikers in the league have been notching up in that time.
The outrageously lucrative five-year contract that he signed in 2013 means that he is unlikely to seek a move, but it should not guarantee him starter status either – especially if it is detrimental to the team as a unit.
Still only 30, Rooney might find that his days as a guaranteed first choice at Manchester United may be coming to an end.
This was probably seen initially as Martial’s “bedding-in” season at Old Trafford following a £36million (at least) move from Monaco, but a combination of good form and injuries elsewhere (not to mention van Gaal selling almost every other striker at the club) have propelled the 20 year old to becoming an important part of the first team.
Though he has been utilised out wide for much of the season, and that is a position in which he is happy for the moment, ultimately he appears destined to be an out-and-out striker. Whether that responsibility is given to him next season or if another year on the wing beckons, all will become clearer when the new-look side lines out for the first time in August.
The 18 year old striker has taken to first team football like a duck to water, scoring important goals against FC Midtjylland, Arsenal and Manchester City in the handful of games he has played for the club.
Elevating Rashford to the status of first choice striker would be a massive vindication of the club’s youth policy. Assistant manager Ryan Giggs said over the weekend that youth “will always be part of the club’s philosophy,” and examples like Rashord are what he was alluding to.
That said, it would be a huge risk placing so much trust in such a young player, particularly when they are in the process of rebuilding. Experience may win out but that is not to suggest Rashford will not have an important role to play.
Should Mourinho take over, there is little to no chance that an experienced, top level striker will not be signed – his youth policy is, shall we say, non-existent. Rashford should probably be praying that Giggs is his next manager.
Zlatan Ibrahimović (Paris Saint-Germain)
The 34-year-old has made no secret of his plans to leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season, and the Premier League is an avenue that he is seriously considering. Though he apparently favours a move to London, his previous working relationship with José Mourinho could swing the advantage in Man United’s favour, assuming of course Mourinho gets that job.
The Swedish international’s goal return since signing for PSG has been frightening – averaging a goal every 1.2 games, and while the standard of opposition in Ligue 1 would not be the most competitive, his performances in the Champions League and at international level suggest he is still more than capable of performing at the highest level.
Zlatan’s arrival, while popular, would limit the opportunities afforded to, in particular, Rashford. As a short term option, however, his availability would be almost impossible to ignore.
Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
The Belgian international has been in flying form for the past few seasons in the Premier League. Everton’s poor position in the league might convince Lukaku to move on to pastures new this summer, though the Toffees would be in line to make a significant profit on the £28million they paid Chelsea for his services in 2014.
Having been sold by Mourinho once already, there were doubts that Lukaku would want to work with his old manager again, but he appeared to allay those fears an in interview to Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure in which he opened the door to a José reunion, as well as pretty much outlining his intention to depart Goodison Park in the summer:
“Three years ago I was 20 and I wasn’t ready to be immediately effective in a top team. Several good seasons, including the current one, have changed the situation. I’ll be 23 (in May) and I could leave this summer.”
Lukaku should definitely be an option for the club to consider, but they are likely to face competition from abroad. Whether or not Man United qualify for the Champions League will also have a huge impact on deals like this.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
One gets the feeling that, if this were ten years ago, this transfer would have happened already. Such was Alex Ferguson’s penchant for snapping up the best young English talent, it’s highly probable that he would have found a way to prise Kane from Daniel Levy’s grasp some time ago.
As it is, Kane is at a club that is going places in Tottenham. Still very much in the title race, virtually guaranteed Champions League football next year, under a manager who is working wonders with the team, moving into a new stadium in a few seasons, and they’re set to finish above Man United for the second time in three years. He has no reason to seek a move, nor is he likely to.
This is a deal that, despite Man United’s interest, will never get off the ground.
Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli)
This is a deal, however, that is entirely more possible. Higuaín has been in fantastic form for Napoli this season – scoring 29 goals in 30 Serie A games – as Napoli push champions Juventus hard for the Scudetto.
He would be available in the summer, but at a price. Don Balon have reported that the player’s asking price is somewhere in the region of £58million – far more than the £30million that he arrived for in 2013 – though for a player of Higuaín’s ability, that is a fee that Ed Woodward should be able to stretch to.
Yet another former José Mourinho player, a move for the 28 year old Argentina international could be in the offing this summer if José identifies him as a priority signing. Which he should do.