Will a World Cup star be heading to Manchester United this summer?

Will Manchester United sign a top performer from the World Cup in Brazil?

Ah yes, it is that time again. The time to get put up that heavily branded ASDA World Cup wall chart, to reel off some of the best footballing cliques down the pub – including trying to fit in “dark horses”, “group of death” and “goalkeepers moaning about the new ball” into once sentence – and of course, the hype surround a good performance from an unlikely player. Toto Schillaci came from nowhere, whilst lanky Kennet Andersson helped Sweden to five goals en route to the semi-finals and of course, Liverpool bought that loveable character El Hadji Diouf based upon his performance in 2002.

So, how likely are Manchester United to purchase a player following the World Cup? Which players have already been linked to an Old Trafford move and where do United need to strengthen?

Past spending in a World Cup season

There is no doubt that if Manchester United want to compete for the league title or even to get back into contention for a Champions League spot, Louis van Gaal must be given funds to strengthen this summer. With Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs not present for 2014/15 – additional players with European experience must be brought into fill the void. Ferdinand and Vidic formed one of the greatest ever central defensive partnerships and were at their peak together when Manchester United picked up the double in 2007/08. But will the powers that be at Old Trafford put their faith in Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and rookie Michael Keane – rather than looking to strength at the back?

In terms of previous spending during a World Cup season, here is a graph showing Manchester United’s spend over the past six tournaments:

Chart showing Manchester United's spend during the World Cup Finals

Here are the key players bought during those seasons:

1990: Denis Irwin
1994: David May
1998: Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke, Jesper Blomqvist
2002: Rio Ferdinand
2006: Michael Carrick
2010: Javier Hernandez

It is quite clear, based upon the dates these transfers were announced, that the majority of those players weren’t signed based upon their performance at a World Cup finals and the deals were wrapped up prior to the finals (excluding Denis Irwin, David May, Jesper Blomqvist and Dwight Yorke who didn’t feature at those World Cup Finals). Jaap Stam proved to be a great signing and a bargain at just over £10 million, whilst Rio Ferdinand is most probably the only player that signed for United post World Cup finals with an over inflated price, but even then you couldn’t argue that the £30 million investment over the course of twelve seasons paid off.

Javier Hernandez, despite not reaching the levels of his debut season, was an excellent signing in 2010 – on the eve of the finals in South Africa. The Mexican scored 19 goals in his debut season in all competitions, but of course – with the introduction of Robin van Persie and now Juan Mata, his chances for a starting berth alongside Wayne Rooney have been limited over the past two season and he never appeared happy under the management of David Moyes.

So by past tournaments, by looking at the spending during a World Cup season – United are highly unlikely to purchase a player based upon a performance. You could argue that Karel Poborsky (From Euro 96) and to an extent Wayne Rooney (From Euro 2004) were signed for over inflated prices based upon exceptional performances at a tournament, but if we review the World Cup in isolation – it is quite clearly not a trend.

Luke Shaw – the young left back would be an exceptional signing
The Southampton youngster has had a superb season, which has seen him break into the England squad for the finals this summer, displacing veteran Chelsea left back Ashley Cole, who has since retired from International football. Shaw made his debut against Denmark earlier this season for the national team and his lung bursting runs, athleticism and composure was all on show. It was an impressive performance for a rookie, who doesn’t appeared to be phased by the attention he is getting regarding his potential transfer to Manchester United or indeed the fact that he has broken into the England squad.

Patrice Evra has been given a one year extension on his contract, which is one of the reasons why many newspapers have reported that the deal has stalled. Chelsea have emerged as a serious rival for his signature, but the youngster will surely want to be guaranteed a first team start to continue his development. With Ashley Cole set to leave, Shaw is an obvious replacement (as with the national team), although Jose Mourinho has favoured César Azpilicueta at left back this season. With David Luiz leaving for PSG, this could mean a reshuffle of the Chelsea back line, which of course could open up the left sided berth for Shaw.

At 18 years old Luke Shaw would be an exceptional signing for Manchester United and should be seen as a great investment, even at £30 million. Patrice Evra has been an exceptional servant to the club, but with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic leaving, the European Cup winning back line of 2008 (with Wes Brown obviously departing some time ago) will surely be completely broken up in the near future. Evra is also preparing for a summer in Brazil in what will surely be his final tournament, with the emergence of Lucas Digne at PSG. Evra along with Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema offer Les Blues some valuable experience in what is a much weaker team to that of past eras (1998 to 2000 for example). However, the French will be confident to reach the last 16 in a group featuring Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras.

Alexander Buttner, despite showing some glimpses of class further up the pitch, isn’t good enough as an understudy and although Evra will not want to play second fiddle to anybody, the time for transition is now.

Arjen Robben commits to Bayern – but United need to strengthen in wide areas

Arjen Robben was on that famous list that Sir Alex Ferguson and Peter Kenyon had in 2003. Kenyon left for London and Chelsea and worked in brining the Dutchman to Stamford Bridge for £12 million – a snip considering the talent he would eventually become. Robben may not have brought as much success to Chelsea as his dribbling talents deserved, but his performance in a Bayern Munich shirt have showed what he is truly capable of. An absolutely unbelievable goal against United in 2010 helped to eliminate the English Champions on goal difference, whilst his winning goal against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley last May demonstrated that he can deliver on the big stage.

He was, quite surprisingly, linked in a move to Manchester United following the announcement that United had appointed Louis van Gaal as the new manager. Robben had played under van Gaal at Bayern, but was quick to dismiss any potential move to Old Trafford. For all his talents and all his gifts, it would surely be an extremely eyebrow raising move for both a player, who is celebrating another domestic double in Germany, and for a club who is looking to the future.

The link with Robben is no doubt due to the fact that he performed so well under the guidance of United’s new boss – but it should also highlight United’s need for a world class wide man who can run at defenders, pull opponents out and of course provide assists for the frontmen. United have always played with wide men. Some of United’s favourite sons have been wingers or wide forwards. From Gordon Hill and Steve Coppell to Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis and of course Cristiano Ronaldo and George Best.

The current crop of wingers, with the exceptional of Adnan Januzaj, are failing to meet the grade in comparison to those players mentioned previously. Januzaj has had a good season, despite it fizzling out towards the end of an extremely disappointing one for the club as a whole, and will no doubt be starting more league games next term, which of course will be bolstered by a good performance in Brazil with Belgium. But Ashley Young, Antonion Valencia and Nani will surely be wondering what the future holds for them at Old Trafford.

If we take a look at the number of assists between them for 2013/14, all three (combined) notched up four assists (Nani not contributing a single assist) – which from wide men is an extremely poor stat to have. Januzaj added another three and Welbeck and Kagawa, who when playing out wide aren’t playing in their preferred position through the centre, have also chipped in, but surely van Gaal will be looking to try and strengthen. Samir Nasri and Philippe Coutinho notched up seven assists in the league a piece for Manchester City and Liverpool respectively and United fans except this level of return from wide men.

United have been linked with Yevhen Konoplyanka in recent days, who of course isn’t going to the World Cup with Ukraine. Thomas Muller, who can play across the front line, has been a suggestion – but like Robben, it seems extremely unlikely he would leave Bavaria for M16.

Centre midfielder remains a mystery as Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas distance themselves

To the position that always has many Manchester United fans scratching their heads in disbelief – the centre midfield berth. Gone are the days of Roy Keane stamping on every blade of grass, urging the team forward and gone are the days of the elegant swivel and inch perfect cross field pass from Paul Scholes from one side of the pitch to the other. United fans benchmark has been set pretty high over the years and the majority feel that those standards have never quite been met since. Scholes recently heavily criticised chief executive Edward Woodward for his failure to deliver on player signings last term. United’s former number 18 never holds back in an opinion, nor a tackle, as we’ve experienced over the years.

His comments were around how United botched a number of transfers last summer, including the failed bids for Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona and Anders Herrera from Bilbao. United ended up with a panic last day purchase of Marouane Fellaini for a hefty £27 million transfer fee. The Belgian has looked extremely uncomfortable on the ball this season and appears in awe of his move to Old Trafford. Scholes was also full of praise for Toni Kroos in the week stating that “he’d be the first person to bring in”. Since then, Kroos has dismissed reports linking him away from Bayern – but the fact still remains that United are crying out for two top class centre midfielders – both in the form of a creative outlet and a player who can read the game and sit in the midfielder (someone in the mould of Fernandinho who has had an exceptional season for Manchester City).

Looking at United’s current midfield trio of Fellaini, Tom Cleverley and Michael Carrick – the stats are even more concerning that those of the wingers in the section before. Marouane Fellaini failed to score in his debut season, whilst Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley notched up a goal a piece (Carrick against Fulham in the 2-2 draw and Cleverley in the 3-0 victory over Aston Villa). The most disturbing stat falls under assist – over the course of the season, between the three of them, they mustered up a single assist, which was provided by Fellaini in the 3-1 victory over Hull City in the last home game of the season. That simply is not good enough for a team who should have title aspirations.

There are many things that go on behind closed doors that fans will never be aware of. Who knows what plans Louis van Gaal has for his summer targets. Dutch football expert Peter McVitie told us that Jordy Clasie is an exceptional centre midfield talent at Feyenoord and the 22 year old could be exactly what United need in the middle of the park. If past transfer activity is anything to go by, United’s targets have already been identified – independent of the World Cup – and will surely be unveiled before the tournament begins.

Having said that, under David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson, United keep a tight ship regarding transfer – under Edward Woodward and David Moyes, United appeared at times to plough straight into an iceberg.

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