Sunday 18 February 2018

Louis Van Gaal has two summer hopes, Pogba and de Gea

Landing Juventus midfielder can help club challenge for trophies once again

Louis van Gaal has up to £150m available to strengthen his squad this summer
Louis van Gaal has up to £150m available to strengthen his squad this summer
David de Gea
Matts Hummels
Harry Kane
Ikay Gundogan
Paul Pogba
Gareth Bale

Jamie Jackson

Louis van Gaal's mission this close season for Manchester United could be termed as "get Pogba, keep De Gea".

Acquiring a dynamic midfielder of the quality of Juventus' Paul Pogba and retaining one of the world's best goalkeepers in David de Gea, who is yet to sign a new contract, are key to United becoming serious contenders next year.

With up to £150m available, which would take the manager's spending to £300m in 12 months, the Dutchman has the finance to meet Juve's €100m (£71.5m) valuation of Pogba, hand De Gea a lucrative fresh deal north of £150,000-a-week and bolster other areas of the squad.

Despite the £50m loss of revenue from not being in the Champions League, the world record £750m, 10-year kit deal with adidas starts on August 1, so money will not be hard to come by.

Van Gaal also wishes to strengthen by adding a central defender - Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels is first choice - and a striker, with Harry Kane of Tottenham potentially on the radar. But given United already have the centre-backs Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling, plus Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, James Wilson and Radamel Falcao in attack, Van Gaal's prime concerns are to find an elite operator to run the midfield and to answer the question of who is to be the United No 1.

Van Gaal and his philosophy have had a year to bed in, the players are deep into the manager's strategy of "retraining their brains" and familiar with his penchant for formation tinkering. High-octane victories over Spurs and Liverpool in consecutive weeks in March provide the blueprint of how the Van Gaal United should play. On-field matters are largely in place. What is required to return the club to the highest level is correct recruitment.

The Dutchman's preferred tactical shape is 4-3-3 and if Pogba can be landed, he would go straight into the midfield trident. The value of a high-class midfielder to United is illustrated in how results dip when Michael Carrick is unavailable. This year, he has featured in 18 Premier League matches and missed 18. With Carrick in the side, United have won 13 times. Without Carrick, there have been seven victories. Carrick turns 34 in July and age is beginning to affect him, a factor Van Gaal recognised recently by hinting the 2015-16 campaign may be his last.

Pogba is available and it's understood has learned Van Gaal is free to pursue his purchase despite Alex Ferguson allowing the 22-year-old to leave for free in the summer of 2012. Arturo Vidal, Pogba's team-mate, is another option who remains on Van Gaal's radar from last summer, the Chilean impressing in Juve's Champions League semi-final second leg 1-1 draw at Real Madrid that took them to the final in Berlin. Van Gaal may also consider Borussia Dortmund's Ilkay Gundogan.

In De Gea, Van Gaal has a goalkeeper who would grace any continental aristocrat and whose stellar rise continues. The Spaniard was the sole United player to be voted into the PFA Team of the Year, the reward for a near-perfect campaign during which he has claimed invaluable points for his club.

Given De Gea's deal expires next summer and he has still not signed a fresh one, it would be surprising if he was still United's keeper next season, especially as Real Madrid lurk. Van Gaal has said that the question of De Gea's future is dragging, and the club is seeking a replacement.

Victor Valdes, signed in January on a free transfer, is yet to make his debut and given the particular challenge of being United's No 1, represents a gamble should the Spaniard get the job. As Ed Woodward, the United executive vice-chairman, has indicated, the next campaign is not one for gambles. The requirement of Van Gaal was laid out publicly on Thursday when Woodward stated that United "expect to be challenging for trophies on all fronts". Tottenham's Hugo Lloris is a candidate to replace De Gea should he leave, though United have yet to make an official enquiry about the Frenchman.

This summer should be the club's serenest since 2012. The trauma caused by Ferguson's retirement the following May and David Moyes' disastrous campaign is finally subsiding under Van Gaal. The Dutchman's prime task has been to ensure a return to the Champions League and barring a mathematical miracle, he has achieved it with two matches remaining. United welcome Arsenal today, buoyed by the prospect of again performing under the midweek continental lights.

What Woodward desires is a return to the gilded Ferguson years when the club never went more than a season without a trophy after claiming his first, the 1990 FA Cup. When the 2015-16 season starts, on August 8, it will be three years since Ferguson claimed United's last honour, their 20th championship.

While Woodward states United should mount a four-pronged challenge to land the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup, he would settle for a serious title challenge and claiming a domestic trophy.

This will be Woodward's third summer in the transfer market and after the trials of the corresponding window two years ago under Moyes, when only Marouane Fellaini arrived, he now possesses the experience to operate slickly.

Having the Van Gaal name to help entice targets is a boon, too. The fleetness of the Memphis Depay deal was possible due to the Dutchman's direct intervention to head off Paris Saint-German, Van Gaal having mentored the winger into the Holland squad for the World Cup in Brazil.

Depay's impending arrival suggests United will hardly care should the Gareth Bale will-he, won't-he-stay saga result in the Welshman remaining in Spain. Bale has no wish to leave Real, though given the ongoing circus, United will monitor his situation.

But if Pogba is bought and De Gea stays then expect Van Gaal to be quietly ecstatic, even if the Welshman does not arrive.


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