IF there is a staple of the gossip column, the relentless stream of transfer speculation and conjecture, it is the mention of Manchester United. If there’s a player out there worth in excess of £30 million, chances are the Old Trafford club have been linked with them at one point or another.
Of course, whether there is any grounding behind such speculation is another thing, but no club is linked with as many players as Man Utd are. Take the past week, for instance. The January window has only just opened yet United have been linked with Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, Roma centre back Kostas Manolas, Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco, Spurs playmaker Christian Eriksen, Sampdoria youngster Joachim Andersen, Cagliari midfielder Nicola Barella and even former Liverpool attacker Philippe Coutinho, who is still struggling to settle at Barcelona.
Some of these stories will be based on nothing more than agent talk, with United now the preferred pawn in boardroom negotiations (see previous rumours linking them with Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo), but some of the speculation carries weight. Koulibaly, for example, has long been considered a target for the Red Devils.
The temptation to add to a squad struggling to stay in touch with the top four in the Premier League this season is understandable, but United must resist it. Signing players before they have a permanent manager, and more pertinently before they have appointed a Director of Football, would show they have learned nothing.
Sacking Jose Mourinho was only the start of a process Man Utd must go through if they are to return to the top of the game. This is a club that, in contrast to rivals like Liverpool and Manchester City, have no real identity and no coherent strategy. The purest manifestation of this has come in their transfer dealings in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, where United have been most wasteful.
From Angel Di Maria to Radamel Falcao, Memphis Depay to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Man Utd have been guilty of throwing money at players without any real idea of how they will fit into their team. It’s not quite certain who is in charge of transfers at Old Trafford, but whoever is they have made a mess of things of late.
There has at least been some recognition within the corridors of power at Man Utd that the current set-up isn’t working. It has been briefed that the club will appoint a figure to oversee footballing operations, whether that is an outright Director of Football or a technical director to work alongside the manager. That is a step in the right direction.
However, the new manager, whoever that may be, and Director of Football, whatever their title is, must be allowed to impose a new identity on United with freedom. It won’t work if Ed Woodward and the likes continue to interfere in matters they are not qualified for.
To give their next manager, and new Director of Football, the best possible chance of success, of moulding the club and imposing a new identity on a directionless group of players, United must refrain from signing players this month, from adding more to a mess that will already be difficult to untangle.
It’s true that Man Utd are, as a club, in a state of flux right now. They are, essentially, treading water until the end of the season when they can make more definitive moves in setting a course for the future. But even in this no man’s land, United must have a clarity and recognise how they got into this situation in the first place.
United continued to sign players Mourinho couldn’t work with. Someone like Koulibaly might, on the face of things, appear to be what they need, but what if the new manager wants something different from his centre backs? Man Utd would then be left with an expensive misfit. Sound familiar?