Edinson Cavani could have been an excellent signing for Manchester United this summer, instead his arrival looks like pure panic.
Cavani was available for nothing this summer, and with finances tight due to the coronavirus, few would have begrudged any European side taking on the 33-year-old veteran for a year or two to build out a squad.
For United, their forward line is in need of a traditional centre-forward. Anthony Martial flits between the inside-left channel, through the middle and the wing, and while he has improved a great deal in terms of his consistency, he is not yet ready to lead the line.
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Marcus Rashford, too, shows flashes of excellence and remains one of the most promising young players in the game, but at 22 he has nobody to look up to. Mason Greenwood’s exceptionally confident finishing suggests that he is the brightest prospect of the three, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has decried his lack of heading ability, and he could become a more rugged presence in the next few years.
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Odion Ighalo, a handy arrival when United fluffed their lines over the transfer of Erling Braut Haaland, did a reasonable job in an emergency after he arrived from China, but it seems that United have seen sense. He can give these three players a break when they might need it, but he will not offer them anything to learn from.
Cavani meanwhile, in his time at Paris Saint-Germain, held his own as he played with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. He stood up to the Brazilian as the two clashed, but ultimately he dovetailed with each of the club’s more famous players, and offered something through the middle and on the left of a three. He was tactically versatile and a physical presence. He may be 33 but he is not noticeably lacking pace. Nevertheless, there are valid concerns that his career has now caught up with him and he can't be relied upon to be fit throughout a season.
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As a free transfer, he represents acceptable value. His arrival, had it come in August or September, would have been a pragmatic choice as the club look to improve elsewhere.
The overarching problem at United, though, is that they haven’t improved. They obsessed and briefed about Jadon Sancho and failed to make any progress. Only at the last minute have they managed to get serious about shifting the deadwood out of the club, something that Solskjaer and Woodward had been pretty effective about until this window.
That lack of ruthlessness has cost United potential transfer funds, which might explain the minimal progress made in the market. So far the only official signing is Donny Van de Beek, in an area that United are perhaps strongest. A central midfielder for a side that needs full-backs, central defenders and wingers as a priority. He might be a good player, but he’s a waste of effort against this backdrop.
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Reports suggest that Facundo Pellistri is going to arrive for around £15 million from Penarol. The 18-year-old winger seems technically adept, squat, and quick. He seems a perfectly reasonable punt for the long term, but whether he will offer much more than Daniel James or Jesse Lingard in his first season is open to serious question. When Sancho was earmarked for that role, it is indisputably a huge step down.
That seems to be the end of United’s transfer ambitions for the summer, with Porto’s Alex Telles, already affordable at a knockdown price, cheaper on a pre-contract in January. That’s fine for a club that can afford to wait, but it’s not for a club with Luke Shaw as their first choice.
Any player who arrives now has arrived a month too late. But with just a couple of days of a transfer window remaining, United need to identify two defenders who can be brought in on what now seems to be a severely restricted budget. They need to find, in those two hypothetical signings, players who can improve the defence markedly or it will cost United in this season’s Champions League and prevent them from qualifying for the next.
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