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English Premier League

Striking A Balance: Conflicting Interests at Manchester United

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For every club that shops in the luxury aisle of the transfer supermarket, a fundamental problem persists. They have far more cash to spend than the supermarket has desired goods to sell. This can either lead to long periods of inactivity before the shelves are replenished with some fresh stock, or for those clubs who are desperately hungry, an acceptance that they will have to make do with what is available to them. The big clubs then, must balance their desire to buy with the danger of filling the trolley with those who are sub-standard.

This situation is especially precarious at Manchester United. Their transfer activity, or lack thereof, has received more scrutiny than any other club’s so far this summer. Firstly, this is down to the size of the club, but secondly because there is widespread recognition that United’s need for players is greater than that of their rivals.

Chelsea, as defending champions, are in the comfortable position of cherry picking a few acquisitions to make themselves even stronger and improve on their Champions League performance. Like United, Manchester City and Arsenal have got much work to do to overhaul Chelsea, but their squads are far more complete. In shorthand, those two clubs are looking for upgrades in their starting XI rather than numbers in the squad; Petr Cech for David Ospina, Paul Pogba for Yaya Toure etc. United are looking for numbers but they’ve also got to be good enough to push them from 4th to 1st. It’s a very different task.

Should David De Gea depart to Real Madrid they will need a replacement; even if they promote Victor Valdes they would need a No.2. United are in search of a right back, having coped with Antonio Valencia there for most of last season and though he performed admirably, Louis Van Gaal will want a specialist. Chris Smalling was much improved in the second half of last season, but there is still a desire among fans and pundits for a polished centre back to join Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcus Rojo. Van Gaal was explicit in his comments that United required another ‘no. 6’, meaning competition for Michael Carrick at the base of midfield.

United supporters will hope that the signing of Memphis Depay and a rejuvenated Angel Di Maria will serve them well in wide areas, along with Ashley Young. There are adequate levels of creativity in the team by virtue of Ander Herrera and Juan Mata. However, an addition looks needed in the centre forward position following the departure of Danny Welbeck and the club’s decision not to keep Radamel Falcao. The pedigree of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie is self-evident, but watching United last season many concluded that they would benefit from a striker with more pace who could run in behind defences. It seems premature to ask James Wilson to perform this task.

Netherland’s international Memphis Depay is the club’s sole arrival, to date.

So that amounts to five new players; and that assessment only included the positions which appear in obvious need of strengthening. Clubs know that United are looking for this volume of arrivals and they also know that United’s revenue gives them vast amounts of money to spend in an effort to buy them. It places United in a weak bargaining position, but that’s the reality of the situation they face and they will have to swallow it.

If I were a Manchester United fan, I’d have been a little concerned a few weeks ago about the profile of player that the club seemed to be targeting. Sergio Ramos and Bastian Schweinsteiger are two good examples. Both have been top class footballers, winning World Cups and Champions Leagues. But if you were to plot the trajectory of both players’ careers as a parabola, then they would both, at best, be plateauing at their peak with a descent shortly around the corner.

This is a very different strategy from the one pursued during the successful years of late Ferguson. It will be impossible to recreate that era, and fans and pundits will have to cease trotting out tired old lines about what things were like under Ferguson in their analysis. The club has changed, the game has changed and Manchester United have to cope with their status as being like many other big clubs rather than being the law unto themselves that they frequently were under Fergie.

That being said, United were always very successful at buying players whose peak was still ahead of them. Ruud Van Nistelrooy was singed at 25, Rio Ferdinand at 23, Michael Carrick at 25, Wayne Rooney at 18, Cristiano Ronaldo at 18, Nemanja Vidic at 24 and Patrice Evra at the same age during the same transfer window.

That is why the reported interest in Seamus Coleman and Morgan Schneiderlin represents something close to the recruitment philosophy that you would associate with United. It would be hasty to compare either to names listed above but they are players who have scope for improvement.

There is however, an elephant in the room when it comes to recruitment and that is the fact that Louis Van Gaal appears unlikely to stay beyond the two years remaining on his contract. He has already stated that he intends this job to be his last in football. Such circumstances are not conducive to a recruitment policy focused on the medium to long term. It will be no consolation to Van Gaal if his successor inherits a great squad and wins the title. He will want the Premier League title at the foot of his trophy laden CV.

So Van Gaal and Manchester United are faced with a delicate balancing act that will require all of his experience and all of the board’s nous to negotiate. It is a squad in need of padding out with bodies, especially with Champions League football next year, but they all have to be of a certain calibre to improve what is already there. It is in the fabric of the club’s recent history to try and catch the best young players on the market, yet Louis Van Gaal will be impatient to secure a league title within his two remaining seasons at the club. Somehow these conflicting motivations have to intersect and result in a successful outcome. As we speak, it is unclear who will emerge the victor out of quantity and quality or youth and experience.

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University of Nottingham History graduate. Freelance sportswriter specialising in Football, Cricket and Golf. Interested in the politics of sport.

English Premier League

Shani Tarashaj is back in action for Everton, but does he have future at club?

The Swiss international has struggled with injury and illness at Everton.

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Friday evening saw Everton play their final under-23 game of the season. The side battled to a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, with Matty Foulds and Luke Garbutt the unlikely goalscorers. The fixture also saw the appearance from the bench of a forgotten Everton player – Shani Tarashaj.

Back in January 2016, the then Everton boss Roberto Martinez signed Swiss international Shani Tarashaj from Grasshoppers Zurich. The fee involved, according to the Liverpool Echo, was around £3 million for a player that Martinez had high hopes for.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The young attacker had come through the ranks at Grasshoppers and was immediately loaned back to them until the end of the season. He continued his fine form, which saw him earn a first Swiss cap and make the national squad for Euro 2016.

All the signs pointed to a future Everton star, but that has not been the case. Instead, Tarashaj has flopped at Everton and it would be no surprise if he was sold by the club this summer.

So what went wrong?

Firstly, the change of manager. It was Martinez who brought Tarashaj to the club in the same window he had signed Oumar Niasse. Once the Spaniard left, getting into Ronald Koeman ’s plans was always going to be a more difficult task.

Tarashaj then spent 2016-17 on loan at German side Eintracht Frankfurt. He struggled to make an impact in Germany and to compound his misery, injury and illness have struck.

(during the International Friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Switzerland at Aviva Stadium on March 25, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.

Benign angina and severe tonsillitis have disrupted the sickly Swiss’ career on Merseyside before he suffered knee ligament damage last summer, which required surgery.

This season, the attacking midfielder has managed just two appearances for Everton’s under-23s and his career as a Toffee has, so far, been one to forget.

There is still hope for the Swiss international. He still has two years left on his contract at Everton and perhaps there is still a chance he can make it at Goodison Park. But two-and-a-half years after first signing for the club, Tarashaj is still waiting to make his Everton debut.

The Manchester United tie may very well prove to be his last as an Everton player.

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Manchester United

Tottenham’s decision to rush back Harry Kane cost them in the FA Cup

The England international has only recently come back from injury.

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Harry Kane
Photo: Getty Images

Harry Kane was a shadow of his former self against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final Saturday afternoon, contributing little as Tottenham Hotspur fell to a 2-1 defeat.

The English international struggled to influence the match and was clearly off the pace. It is glaringly clear that Mauricio Pochettino rushed Kane back from his ankle injury far too soon; a decision that may well have cost Spurs their best recent chance at silverware.

Back in March, the striker crumpled under an awkward challenge from Bournemouth‘s Asmir Begovic and left the match on crutches. Spurs fans held their breath in fear and were crushed when it was later revealed Kane had suffered ligament damage.

It was a blow that was widely expected to keep Kane on the sidelines for the next couple months, but remarkably the striker returned just three weeks later in a 3-1 away win against Chelsea.

However, in the following run of matches leading up to the season-defining encounter against Manchester United, Kane had largely looked unfit and missing his classic verve and intensity that has come to define his game.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

This lethargy was notably on show in the midweek fixture against Brighton. Although the 24-year-old scored a goal, he appeared tired and unwilling to make his characteristic attacking runs behind the defence.

On the biggest stage of them all, Tottenham’s star striker was well off his prolific best. It was a shame that Kane could not rise to the Wembley occasion and send Spurs to the FA Cup final.

However, it is through no fault of the Englishman, as the blame must be placed on the over-eager Tottenham backroom staff. There was no need to rush Kane back for the league matches before the massive semifinal, and the striker should have been saved for the United match.

As a result of Pochettino’s poor decision, Spurs are trophy-less and Kane is damaged – a tragic turn of events for the north London club.

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Championship

Conor Coady shows Liverpool what they’re missing in masterful Wolves campaign

The Wolves captain was tipped for big things at Liverpool but never made the grade.

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Back in 2011, Liverpool had one of their young starlets being tipped to become the ‘next Steven Gerrard.’ It was a tag being occasionally branded around the club about young talent Conor Coady. With good reason as well. The teenager was looking like the most natural successor to Gerrard yet.

The summer previous, he had helped England win the UEFA under-17 Championships, which is where the hype all began. Liverpool had unearthed a gem who immediately found himself tipped to become a future Kop captain.

But it never happened for the young man.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Instead, he headed to Sheffield United on loan – where he excelled. After getting a taste for regular football, the idea of returning to the reserve life with Liverpool clearly did not appeal to the utility man. Therefore, he left Liverpool in 2014, joining Huddersfield Town.

Liverpool fans soon forgot about him. Just another hyped up youngster who could not match the expectations laid at their door?

Well, this season Coady has finally looked like the real deal.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

The Melwood talent did not stick with Huddersfield for long. In 2015 he joined Wolverhampton Wanderers and he is now looking like the talent Liverpool thought they had at Molineux.

One issue with Coady has always been his position. Often moved around the park, this season he has played as a settled central defender. The results have been exceptional. Coady has been one of the best players in the Championship this campaign. That was highlighted by his inclusion in the Championship team of the season. The 25-year-old is now looking like a future Premier League star and will be playing in the big time next season after captaining Wolves to the Championship summit.

When Liverpool sold Coady to Huddersfield, they did so for a fee reported to be just £500,000 by the Liverpool Echo. The Reds obviously felt he would not live up to those once lofty expectations.

Based on his form this season, Liverpool could be rueing this mistake in the not so distant future.

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