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A Summer of Realism or Papering over cracks at Old Trafford?

The Boot Room

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It has all started rather swimmingly in the transfer market at Old Trafford.

Memphis Depay arrived almost as the season ended and links to top names continue to flood in, with the promise of a side capable of winning the title being ready come August. However, Van Gaal’s transfer record from his first season was underwhelming to say the least and there are still signs that obvious problems are being ignored within the squad.

Obviously still able to attract the top names, Manchester United could become a superpower on the pitch again very quickly but there needs to be some intelligence in the market that we haven’t seen in a long time.

A ruthlessness to players who are sub-standard who not appropriate needs to be shown, not more and more opportunities for Jones (who still hasn’t matured) or Cleverley (who seemed to have been given half a career based on one decent loan spell).

The squad that took fourth place doesn’t sound like one that needs to be dissected, but those at Manchester United who are expecting major trophies year on year will still be worried at the gap from the title. Van Gaal did exceptionally well in the second half of the season to utilise the players at his disposal and secure Champions League football.

Although that will not be enough in the coming campaign and there are still such significant issues within the squad that must be addressed rather than the continued arrogance/ignorance of recent years. Unlike the new-found precision of Chelsea in the market – largely down to the increasing influence of Michael Emenalo – there seems an inability from Old Trafford to think more strategically about what is required and who would be best to target.

With significant investment certain from the sides around them, it is time for United to put right the mistakes of previous windows.

The price to be paid for these failings will be the premium any club will ask when Manchester United are chasing their players and particularly when trying to address their perennial defensive problems.

Nicolas Otamendi is one of the more popular targets currently after a stellar season with Valencia. Even in defence, a pragmatism must be adopted to the transfer policy rather than chasing Hummels or Varane, inspiration should be taken from the respective signings of Gary Cahill and Laurent Koscielny to rival Chelsea and Arsenal.

Central defence is going to need at least one addition and despite some impressive performances, Van Gaal needs to decide whether he has faith during next season to fully trust McNair and Blackett as full squad members.

The right-back slot, other than suggestions of Clyne and Carvajal, seems most likely to be neglected. The versatility of Jones and Smalling has distracted from right-back additions and the bizarre relationship between Van Gaal and Rafael suggests that a new full-back is a necessity.

Again, leaving the signing to being at a point of desperation (Antonio Valencia as a full-back must be the definition of such) is going to reflect in the prices that are demanded. There is a natural shortage of top quality full-backs in world football currently, but this does not provide an adequate excuse for neglected a clear problem area for Van Gaal.

The inevitable troubles of the midfield will continue and a suitable replacement for Carrick seems the easiest of their problems to solve with Gundogan, Strootman and others linked.

Their current predicament is entirely down to their own previous failings. Ferguson may have won a title in his final season but it had been known for years that United were living off of borrowed time both in midfield and defence, demonstrated most clearly by the need to bring an elderly Paul Scholes out of retirement.

The Luke Shaw signing was obviously with long-term aims, but his lack of availability last year caused more problems than it solved and his fitness needs to be watched with such a sharp eye to make sure he can get anywhere near the potential he was showing in his brilliant final season at Southampton.

Shaw’s transfer is one that is hard to criticise yet, but when you couple this with their lack of natural right-back they are looking weak in the wide defensive channels largely down to a lack of planning in succeeding Patrice Evra.

Meanwhile, Rafael’s unpopularity with Van Gaal was not possible to predict, but the signing of Buttner was another shocking piece of business that put a huge amount of pressure for someone (happening to be an inexperienced Shaw) to immediately step up and fill in for the vastly experienced Evra.

Whilst signings were made to gradually replace Vidic and Ferdinand, Evans has rarely established himself as the quality to be a long-term first choice solution whilst Jones and Smalling’s inconsistencies are hard to put down to inexperience for much longer.

The centre-back positions are always to integral to a team’s stability there have been significant errors in not bringing in a more reliable central defender at an earlier stage or to have brought someone of more experience in as cover before Ferdinand and Vidic left.

Marcos Rojo has now arrived and looked, in general, assured and many fans will be hoping he or Smalling (who found form that it was hard to believe he had) can form a partnership with whoever the new central defender is to arrive at Old Trafford.

Fortunately, the anticipation of a shortcoming in the goalkeeping position was far better than the forward planning of defence or midfield. Victor Valdes’ shrewd recruitment at least allows some slack in the replacement of David De Gea, this needs to be a sign of the future approach to Manchester United transfer planning.

A goalkeeper of such talent could command a considerable transfer fee and this provides a further chance for a more pragmatic approach to transfers than was seen in the last summer window.

Trying to build a squad up from the dark days of Moyes so quickly is risky and a challenge, but if any side in the Premier League can do it then Manchester United have the financial clout and pull to do so. However, the signings of last summer had a feeling of slight panic.

Angel Di Maria is a wonderful player who should not be turned down if available, but then following signing of Falcao and failure to address defensive issues left a window that had won them headlines but left glaring areas of weakness in the squad.

Similarly, with the additions of Depay, Mata and Di Maria recently the pressure on Januzaj has risen questions about his future at the club and must be addressed before another player with enormous potential fades into the shadows.

Alex Ferguson masterfully papered over cracks in his final few seasons and signings, particularly Van Persie, were focused on a selfish desire for his own last title victory. The difference now comes in the form of the opposition, with three rivals who will be investing significantly and start from a stronger position there must be sensible approach that is as ruthless as Chelsea were last summer.

Massive investment is needed for Van Gaal to challenge for the title, although unless this is coupled with an improved approach to transfers and a realistic approach to the abilities of the current squad it could be another season of 1-0 victories thanks to Fellaini down the inside left channel (which isn’t necessarily bad, but that’s a topic for another day…).

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Stoke City

Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?

The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.

Martyn Cooke

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Bojan
Photo: Getty Images

As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.

The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.

Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.

There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.

But what about Bojan Krkic?

The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.

He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.

Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.

(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.

He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.

Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.

For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.

Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.

However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.

Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.

So where did it all go wrong for him?

He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.

The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.

(Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.

However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.

Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.

Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.

Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.

There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.

If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.

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West Ham United

Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer

The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.

Jamie Watts

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Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?

The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.

Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).

Photo: Getty Images

However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.

Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.

Photo: Getty Images

The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.

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Leicester City

Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray

The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.

Jamie Watts

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Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.

Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.

Photo: Getty Images

Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.

Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.

If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.

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