Manchester United desperately need a striker - and Alexandre Pato could be the answer
It was a bad weekend for Louis Van Gaal. The Manchester United manager will not admit that but a goalless draw as his team failed to break down Newcastle United followed 24 hours later by Pedro’s man-of-the-match performance on his victorious Chelsea debut away to West Bromwich Albion did not look good for him.
United insist they pulled the plug on the Pedro deal which is fair enough – provided they then get things right. Lacking a cutting edge against Newcastle reinforced existing concerns about the strength of United’s attack; Pedro scoring and creating against Albion had to raise further questions.
Having been at Old Trafford and then the Hawthorns it is stating the obvious to say it really did not look like a sound decision by Van Gaal not to sign Pedro, even if we are just two games into the season.
But United had their reasons, chief of which was uncertainty in Van Gaal himself. The manager was presumably unsure as to whether the player could contribute enough to play for United, and wondered whether someone such as Sadio Mane represented better value, given the Southampton striker is five years younger and is already Premier League battle-hardened.
United’s interest in Mane is real but they need to get on with it if they are going to sign the 23-year-old before the transfer window closes next week - if they can persuade Southampton to sell. That looks like a very big 'if' right now.
But they probably need more. United would like Gareth Bale, they would like Thomas Muller, they would like Neymar. Van Gaal admires Robert Lewandowski. They may get one of those four players or another ‘big’ name – and have no doubt that the funds are available - but it is really extremely unlikely during this transfer window. It would be a huge, huge shock if they can persuade Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Barcelona to sell.
But they have to buy a striker; and a good one with the right presence. Van Gaal says it is not necessary and reels off the names he has available: Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, James Wilson, Adnan Januzaj… and Marouane Fellaini. But that does not back up his argument. Frankly it does not sound like a particularly impressive roster for a club such as United.
“When he is the best striker in the world then, yes, we need him,” Van Gaal says.
That is all well and good but he also has to be practical. Can he envisage a deal for Neymar being completed before September 2?
He sold Danny Welbeck, he sold Robin Van Persie, he sold Angel Di Maria and he moved on Radamel Falcao. Van Gaal has got the structure of the back end of his team looking solid, but at a price. United lack goals and creativity. “I look at our team and I just don’t see the same goal threat. I don’t see goals from anywhere,” said the former United midfielder Paul Scholes. He is spot on.
It is extraordinary that given the expenditure in the last three transfer windows – approaching £250million by Van Gaal alone – United are short up front. Rooney, with no goals in 10 matches, needs support, which is why signing someone such as Alexandre Pato could make sense.
Bringing in Pato could even be a masterstroke for Van Gaal in the closing days of this transfer window. Talks have taken place, Chelsea have also been involved, and there is a growing sense that Pato will end up in the Premier League before this window closes.
It is understood that he is available for £10.9million. A deal can be done. It will not be at Sunderland or Stoke City – two clubs that have been linked to Pato, who is currently back in Brazil playing his club football for Sao Paulo having been involved in a two-year swap loan with the midfielder Jadson.
There will be surprise that United are considering Pato given his problems with injuries and having left AC Milan but that does not present anywhere near the full picture.
Coaches such as Carlo Ancelotti have placed Pato alongside the likes of Romario and Ronaldo and his goals return has remained impressive since he burst on the scene aged 16, even though he has had injury problems. Significantly, he now seems clear of those.
Pato is a seasoned Champions League player – scoring 63 goals in 150 games for Milan, including 51 in 117 Serie A matches, and he has continued to score: 30 in 74 for Sao Paulo, no less. His career return is 122 goals in 313 matches, a good return. He is also a skilful creator.
And Pato is still surprisingly young - he only turns 26 at the beginning of September. He is quick and agile, right-footed and can play anywhere across the forward line so has a flexibility that Van Gaal will need. He also wants to return to Europe and would love to play in the Premier League and would be motivated to return to the heights at a club like United.
It was only two years ago that Pato was close to moving to Paris Saint-Germain and his return to Brazil was largely through personal reasons.
He has become something of a forgotten man in Europe but he could fit the bill for Van Gaal, who could then let Hernandez join West Ham United, for the club itself and for players such as Rooney.