Saturday 17 March 2018

Griezmann tops Manchester United wish-list in £180m spree

Man United boss Mourinho is chasing Antoine Griezmann
Man United boss Mourinho is chasing Antoine Griezmann
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho Picture: PA

James Ducker

Jose Mourinho has set his sights on signing Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann, Benfica defenders Victor Lindelof and Nelson Semedo and Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko next year as his Old Trafford revolution gathers pace.

The Manchester United manager has identified that quartet as leading targets for the next two transfer windows as he prepares to take his gross spending in his first year in charge soaring past the £300m mark.

Griezmann, Bakayoko and Semedo are all summer targets but Lindelof could be first through the door next month should United formalise their interest. United are not in a rush to tie up a deal for the young Sweden centre-half, who is valued at up to £38m, but they have had talks with Benfica and the player's agent, Jorge Mendes.

United would have to meet the €100m (£84m) release clause in Griezmann's contract, increased from €80m when the forward signed a new deal in June that ties him to Atletico until 2021.

But they hope a potential transfer could be smoothed by the likely departure of Atletico coach Diego Simeone, who will be a free agent next summer after taking the extraordinary step this year of shortening his deal with the Spanish club by two years.

Simeone could move to Italy, with Inter Milan among the interested parties, and that may weaken Atletico's hopes of retaining some of their best players. Griezmann (25), who was the leading scorer at the European Championships last summer with six goals for host nation France, is also best friends with United midfielder Paul Pogba, and United are likely to take full advantage of the pair's relationship in an effort to secure Mourinho's top summer target.

Pogba's arrival in August for a world-record £89m fee from Juventus followed the signings of defender Eric Bailly, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and took Mourinho's gross spending to £145.7m.

That figure could swell to as much as £325m if United pull off moves for the quartet, who could cost as much as £180m.

Xabi Alonso scores for Bayern Munich in their 3-0 victory over Red Bull Leipzig which extended their lead at the top of the Bundesliga Picture: Reuters
Xabi Alonso scores for Bayern Munich in their 3-0 victory over Red Bull Leipzig which extended their lead at the top of the Bundesliga Picture: Reuters

United face competition from Chelsea for Bakayoko, a £35m-rated powerful defensive midfielder who could provide a long-term alternative to Michael Carrick, and Bayern Munich for Semedo, a pacy right-back valued at £25m.

United would not be opposed to waiting until the summer for Lindelof, when a €30m (£25.2m) release clause in the player's contract activates. But with others interested in the 22-year-old, the picture could change.

Benfica coach Rui Vitoria has refused to rule out the player moving to Old Trafford. "If there are exits, we will find solutions," he said.

Mourinho would not be averse to more cover at centre-half given that he could be without Bailly for up to six weeks from early next month owing to his involvement in the African Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast, but the manager was reticent when asked about Lindelof yesterday.


"Every player in Portugal now is coming to Manchester United," Mourinho said. "A few seasons ago every player from Portugal was going to Chelsea and Real Madrid.

"It's normal (given) the connection with me but I keep saying the same thing: I like my squad, I want to keep my squad, I believe more in the summer market than in the winter transfer window - there's more stability, more time, more choice, I think it's better.

"If we buy a player (in January) we are not buying two, three or four. If we open the door for somebody to leave it's not because we push him, it's because someone really wants to leave.

"But, for me, I will be more than happy to keep the squad as it is (in January)."

Strong, fast, good in the air and an intelligent reader of the game, Lindelof has enjoyed a dramatic rise to prominence this year after injuries to first-team regulars Luisao, Lisandro Lopez and Jardel opened the door to him.

He won his first senior call-up for Sweden soon after, and United's Swedish striker Ibrahimovic described Lindelof last month as a player "doing great things".

Semedo could provide strong competition for Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian is 31 and with full-back Matteo Darmian likely to depart next year, Mourinho wants to bring in a new right-back, but United must see off Bayern.

Semedo has an €80m release clause in his contract, which expires in June 2021, but he would cost a fraction of that sum. Like Lindelof, Semedo is represented by Mendes, who is also Mourinho's agent.

Despite barely using Carrick at the start of the season, Mourinho has come to depend on the veteran midfielder, who will be 36 in July, and has intimated that he could offer him a 12-month contract extension.

But Mourinho wants to sign a long-term replacement in advance and his eye has been drawn regularly to Bakayoko, the France U-21 midfielder who has been scouted extensively and has played a key role in Monaco's impressive start to the season.

Bakayoko (22) impressed in Monaco's two victories over Tottenham in the Champions League group stage and will face more English opposition in the round of 16 after the French club were drawn against Manchester City. He is good on the ball and strong physically and mentally.

Monaco hope to create an auction for the player as Chelsea are also in the running. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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