Jose’s alternatives to Paul Pogba may be cheaper, but no less valuable to his United era


Every summer transfer window brings one major protracted transfer saga. This year it is the turn of Juventus and France midfield star Paul Pogba, who is the subject of a world record bid from Manchester United. The sums are astronomical, with the transfer fee alone in excess of £100m, with wages and agent fees taking the figures to unprecedented levels.

Many journalists across Europe have reported that the deal is tantalisingly close, but as with previous sagas, these deals do not always get over the line. Looking back to last summer is one such example, with the futures of David De Gea and Sergio Ramos appearing to be heading in opposite directions to each other. These deals did not happen and this is one of the reasons why Jose Mourinho has publicly declared that he has other targets, should the Pogba deal fail to materialise.

It is true to say that Pogba is arguably the best central midfielder on the planet at this moment in time. His natural ability, athletic physique, height, guile and confidence ensure that he stands out when playing in Serie A and also for the French national team. The player is elegant and glides across the surface in many ways similar to Yaya Toure in full pomp. His versatility in the middle of the park, which means Pogba can play equally as well as a more defensive midfielder or as one who is more advanced, have all contributed to the price tag afforded to him.

However, for the £100m plus fee, you would expect to be signing not only a player who is the finished article, but a player who is one of the most potent attacking forces in the game. Think Ronaldo, Messi, Bale and Suarez as players who it could be argued could possibly justify such a hefty price tag. It is not unfair to say that Pogba is not yet the finished article, at 23 years of age, and he is certainly not a forward player.

The new Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho, will take this into consideration. He has already signed Eric Bailly and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but does not generally spend sums to break transfer records, especially for midfield players. A prudent operator in the transfer market, Mourinho also has back up options, as he discussed during his press conference in China on United’s pre-season tour.

The likely fall back options would be PSG’s schemer Blaise Matuidi and Portugal’s Euro winner Joao Mario, who impressed during this summers tournament. Both of these players would cost considerably less, and tellingly also provide the legs, energy and tackling ability to the midfield which is a hallmark of all Mourinho teams.

MatuidiJoao Mario

With the Manchester United squad now looking stronger and primed for a bright future, the central midfield area is the last piece of the jigsaw Mourinho will be looking to target. With Jose’s record of having players in this position who sacrifice themselves for the team, it would not be too much of a surprise if either Matuidi or Joao Mario were to take the vacant number 6 shirt at Old Trafford ahead of Pogba.

This would of course be the cheaper option, but it would not represent signing a player of poorer quality, as both of Mourinho’s alternatives are team players who would bring an energy and selfishness to a club which is now starting to look as though they are moving forward following the Ferguson era.




Real Madrid’s plan for Zidane shows Manchester United how they should have handled Ryan Giggs

Giggs Zizou

There has always been an assumption that great players must make great coaches and managers. However, without the exceptions of Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany) and Johan Cruyff (Ajax and Barcelona), those regarded as the games greatest talents have never truly succeeded in the hotseat.

There have of course been success stories at the highest level in management for those who were superb players in their prime. Recent examples can be found at modern day Barcelona, in the form of Holland and AC Milan legend Frank Rijkaard, who coached the brilliant Barcelona team which won the Champions League in 2006. His successor, Pep Guardiola, took the Catalan giants to the next level, achieving unprecedented success following his stellar career for the club and with the Spanish national team.

Again, however, for every Rijkaard and Guardiola, read Glen Hoddle and Ruud Gullit. Both equally as technically talented as the two ex-Barcelona coaches, but who ultimately flattered to deceive in top-level management. Yet, the current expectation is that former club legends will somehow be a success at managing the clubs they graced as players. Both Clarence Seedorf and Filippo Inzaghi have tried and failed at AC Milan and there is a clamour for both Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba to be given coaching roles at Liverpool and Chelsea, with a view to them becoming future bosses.


In the week in which Zinedine Zidane was handed the reins at Real Madrid, It is interesting to compare the plan Madrid put in place for Zizou with the way Ryan Giggs’ coaching career at Manchester United has begun.

Following the sacking of David Moyes in April 2014, Ryan Giggs was placed in caretaker charge of Manchester United for the remaining 4 games of that season. There was every hope, amongst some supporters and commentators, that this would be the beginning of potentially a burgeoning Guardiola-type dynasty at Old Trafford. However, the club record appearance holder was overlooked for the top job and was given a place amongst Louis Van Gaal’s backroom staff.

The role Giggs was given was aimed at allowing him to learn his trade alongside one of Europe’s most successful managers, and in the long run, potentially allow Giggs to be groomed as Van Gaal’s successor. In reality, it is clear that Giggs was somewhat forced upon Van Gaal and instead acts as a secondary assistant alongside the Dutchman’s trusted aides, Marcel Bout and Albert Stuivenberg. This role has looked, from the outside, like Giggs has been isolated and is merely a link between the playing staff and the management.

The contrast between the role Giggs has been carrying out at United with the one Zinedine Zidane was handed at Real Madrid is startling. The French World Cup winner was brought into the Madrid coaching set-up in 2013-14 under the guidance of then-manager Carlo Ancelotti, his coach at Juventus. The legendary attacking midfielder was handed the role of Assistant Manager to the Italian, with some coaching responsibility, with Paul Clement doing the majority of the training ground work.

The closeness Zidane had to Ancelotti and the influence he was allowed to have amongst the first team squad is totally different to the experiences of Giggs in his role as Assistant at Old Trafford. The 2013-14 season concluded with Real Madrid winning their “La Decima” (10th European Cup), beating city rivals Atletico in the final in Lisbon. As a reward, and in a planned move to groom Zidane for the managers job at the Bernabeu, the Frenchman was appointed manager of Real Madrid Castilla at the beginning of the 2014-15 season.

The Castilla side is effectively Real Madrid’s B team or U21 side, to use the Premier League equivalent. In taking on this role, Zidane was allowed to both coach and manage a team day-in-day out and was exposed to making the tough decisions and dealing with individual players as the boss. This experience was invaluable as it was gained whilst in the working environment of the Madrid giants and allowed Zidane to experience all aspects of the club from both Youth level, below, to still having a match-day involvement with the first team, above.

Although results were mixed for Zidane, it was all about the experience. This role certainly helped shaped Zidane the coach, and the plan that was put in place, has allowed Zidane to progress from his role with Castilla to manager of Real Madrid, following Rafa Benitez’s dismissal this week. Even if Zidane does not succeed in the top job, he has certainly had the correct progression and proper grounding to ensure he has all of the experience and skills at his disposal. This pathway is one which I feel has been lost on Ryan Giggs.

If the Manchester United board were serious about considering Ryan Giggs for the managers job at Old Trafford in the future, then a real plan, such as that put in place for Zidane, should have been laid out for him. It would have been prudent for Giggs to assume control of United’s U21 side from Warren Joyce in order to cut his teeth in management at United, albeit in a less pressurised role, in which he would be allowed to make his mistakes and gain his experience.

Just like with Real Madrid, the club could have allowed Giggs to manage and coach the U21s and then be part of the first team set-up on match-days as a part of Louis Van Gaal’s trusted staff, in order to still experience and learn from the Dutchman. This would have been the ideal path for Giggs, and in keeping Nicky Butt as U21 Assistant Manager, he would have had a key friend and ally alongside him who could have helped him along in the role. Both Giggs and Butt could then have progressed upwards to becoming the first team management staff.

The reality, however, is that Giggs was forced upon Van Gaal in the summer of 2014, with the Dutchman being told he had to accept him as part of the backroom team if he wanted the managers job. This has only resulted in Giggs appearing to be solely present at matches and training, but with no real genuine responsibility. As Van Gaal’s stock has fallen this season, and with Ryan Giggs seemingly having no major role, his standing, too, has fallen. If anything, Gary Neville now managing Valencia out in Spain, has overtaken Giggs in the eyes of many when compiling a list of potential successors to Van Gaal.

As for Zidane, there is no guarantee that the experience he has gained at Real Madrid will mean one of the world’s greatest ever players will become a real top class manager. It is true to say though that his path will certainly ensure he has the tools to succeed. It is just a shame that the Manchester United board did not do something similar with English football’s most decorated player, as we may never now know whether Ryan Giggs could have replicated his success as a player in the Old Trafford hotseat.

The signings which would improve Manchester United

As the January transfer window has now opened, here we take a close look at the signings which could turn around the fortunes of Manchester United under Louis Van Gaal.

A miserable December for Red Devils, in which the club accumulated a solitary point at home to Chelsea, cranked up the pressure on the Dutch boss from both supporters and the media alike. Along with the criticism aimed at Van Gaal, there has been suggestions that the playing squad is simply not at the level expected at Old Trafford.

Although the January window is not normally known to provide transfers as big those during the summer, the big clubs do sometimes dip into the market. In the past Manchester United have used this window to sign Louis Saha, Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Henrik Larsson (loan) and Juan Mata.

The below 5 players which would instantly improve United’s playing squad may well be targeted this summer, but with the window now open and United struggling for form, the chequebook may well be opened.

1. John Stones, Everton, £40m


This season Manchester United’s defensive record has significantly improved. This though has been largely down the to tactics employed, with Van Gaal ensuring numerous players are placed behind the ball when the opposition attack and the deployment of two holding players in central midfield. The emergence of Chris Smalling as a leader at the back has been a major positive, but it would be true to say that nobody has nailed down the second centre back position, with Daley Blind, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all failing to fully convince.

A move for Everton and England’s highly rated John Stones would prove to be a masterstroke in this department. The Barnsley born 21 year-old would bring a composure and footballing brain to the heart of the defence, which has been missing since Rio Ferdinand left the club. The fee of £40m seems high for a 21 year-old with only 2 full seasons of Premier League football under his belt, but the longevity he would bring and the fact he would be kept out of the clutches of various other rivals would be a massive plus.

It is well known that Van Gaal would prefer a ball playing centre back next to Smalling and in Stones, a genuine defender would provide a more viable solution than the versatile Daley Blind.

2. Blaise Matuidi, PSG, £25m


The French midfield schemer was scouted by Phil Neville during the 2013/14 season and earmarked for a summer transfer to Old Trafford before David Moyes was sacked. Both energetic and pacey the former Saint-Etienne anchorman would add the legs to the centre of midfield, which Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger do not.

The French international has won numerous honours with PSG and was a key member of the side which reached last seasons Champions League Quarter Finals, eventually being beaten by winners Barcelona. The energetic style of Matuidi has brought glances from all of Europe’s top clubs and the key role he will play for France in this summer’s European Championships will only add to his value.

3. Inaki Williams, Athletic Bilbao, £20m


The 21 year-old Basque born wideman burst onto the scene in La Liga last season with some eye-catching performances for Athletic Bilbao. Played in an attacking right midfield position his pace and creativity has caused problems for numerous defences in both Spain and Europe.

Though still relatively inexperienced, his pace, guile and determination to succeed would ensure he would be a perfect addition to the club. The right side of United’s attacking midfield and forward play has been too imbalanced all season, with Juan Mata operating in that role. Although Mata is a fine player, he always looks to cut inside and find space in his favoured central areas.

The capture of Williams would provide more balance to the attacking threat and his excitement factor would be a huge hit with the Old Trafford faithful. At such a young age, his best years are certainly ahead of him and along with Anthony Martial would give United two potent attacking threats for years to come.

4. Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid, £35m


The Frenchman first came to prominence at Real Sociedad and gave United problems during two encounters with the side from San Sebastien during the 2013/14 Champions League campaign. Since transferring to Diego Simeone’s Atletico, the forward has improved even further and is now regarding as one of Europe’s finest attacking players.

Still relatively young at 24, Griezmann is approaching the peak of his powers and it would be wise for United to snap him up before Chelsea or PSG do. Played primarily in the wide attacking left position, Griezmann would be a ready made starter and ensure that Memphis Depay is kept on his toes and is pushed into fighting to improve his talents.

Griezmann is exactly the type of player that the United faithful love. His all action attacking style, marauding down the flanks, getting crosses in and getting into the middle to unleash fierce efforts on goal would keep supporters on the edge of their seats. Although likely to be more of a summer deal, Ed Woodward would be wise to keep lines of communication with Atletico open now.

5. Harry Kane, Tottenham, £60m


It could cost up-to £60m to land the Tottenham and England hitman. The lethal striker is after all “one of their own”. With Tottenham submitting ambitious plans to build a new stadium, it is clear the club has ambition, bit just like Arsenal once they had moved to the Emirates, the stadium had to be funded.

The chairman, Daniel Levy, is well-known to sell his biggest stars for the right price. The sales of Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov to United show this. With Manchester United having a reported £150m to spend and with only two recognised first team strikers in the first-team squad, it seems inevitable a large chunk of the budget will be splashed on a goalscorer.

With an impressive 42 club goals in the calendar year of 2015, Kane has proved that he is more than just a one-season wonder. Many have compared Kane’s finishing ability to that of Alan Shearer. However, he appears to be more of a Teddy Sheringham type player, who scores plenty of goals but who’s all-round game contributes to the team and brings others into play.

This work-rate and goalscoring prowess would be a perfect fit for Van Gaal’s Manchester United. The fee could well be worth every penny.