Saturday 20 January 2018

Man United 'abandon' Antoine Griezmann transfer to pursue target man to replace Zlatan

Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann
Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann

James Ducker

Manchester United have abandoned attempts to buy France striker Antoine Griezmann this summer in order to prioritise the signing of a target man in the wake of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cruciate knee ligament injury.

In a significant turn of events given the extensive groundwork United put in on Griezmann over the course of the past six months, the club will instead focus their efforts on purchasing a No. 9 to compensate for the loss of Ibrahimovic.

Torino’s Andrea Belotti, Everton striker Romelu Lukaku and Alvaro Morata, of Real Madrid, are among that profile of players with whom United have been linked. Cristiano Ronaldo also continues to be linked with a return to Old Trafford.

Ibrahimovic is not certain to play again this year after rupturing the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee during the Europa League quarter final, second leg against Anderlecht at Old Trafford on Apr. 20.

Manager Jose Mourinho had set his sights on signing Griezmann from Atletico Madrid after identifying the need for a pedigree striker to play off Ibrahimovic but sources close to United have confirmed that their priorities changed over the course of the past four or five weeks following the Swede’s long-term lay-off.

The decision has nothing to do with Atletico losing their appeal on Thursday to have a transfer ban preventing them from signing players this summer lifted.

United were prepared to meet the €100 million (£87 million) release clause in Griezmann’s contract but, having spent months setting up a deal, the club have now been forced to look elsewhere.

Sources said United retained a clear interest in Griezmann and would not rule out a move for the player in the future but there is now no prospect of the club seeking to trigger the Frenchman’s release clause this summer.

Belotti, 23, has risen to prominence in Italy this season with 27 goals in 32 games for Torino while Morata has scored 20 goals in 42 appearances for Real but remains behind the likes of Karim Benzema and Ronaldo in the pecking order at the Bernabeu.

Lukaku offers Premier League experience and scored 26 goals for Everton this season but the Merseyside club are demanding £100 million for the Belgium striker, who has been heavily linked with his former club Chelsea. It was Mourinho who sold Lukaku to Everton for £28 million in 2014 when he was still manager of Chelsea.

Ronaldo, 32, who will compete for Real in the Champions League final against Juventus in Cardiff on Saturday, sparked fresh rumours about a potential return to Old Trafford this week when admitting he missed England and was frustrated at being jeered on occasion by Real fans. “I spent a lot of years at Manchester United and it [home fans booing] never happened to me. Not even once,” Ronaldo told Spanish TV La Sexta. “Maybe England is a case apart, the mentality is different. I’m very happy being in Spain but obviously I also miss England because you can’t just turn off the memories.”

Wales forward Gareth Bale, Ronaldo’s Real team-mate, also continues to be linked with United although he does not fit the specific profile of a No. 9.

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