The Telegraph yesterday published a list of 65 Premier League players available on a free transfer this summer. You can see the full list here. Of course, most of the players featured are not of the required calibre to play for a club the size of Manchester United (see: Kolo Toure, Paul Konchesky, Abou Diaby et al), but among this collection of misfits, soon-to-be-retirees, and players long-since past their best are a few worthy of consideration. So, while United are expected to shop at the top-end of the transfer market again this summer, there is nothing wrong with picking up a bargain or three along the way…
1. Danny Ings
The Daily Mail have heavily reported apparent United interest in the Burnley striker, with Louis van Gaal seemingly an admirer of his obvious talents. With the futures of Robin van Persie and (more so) Radamel Falcao currently up in the air, the signing of at least one forward to come in alongside Wayne Rooney and James Wilson certainly seems prudent.
In a struggling Burnley side, who have scored only twenty-six league goals all season, the striker has scored nine Premier League goals and added a further four assists. To put those statistics into context, only Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie have scored more goals, and only Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria have registered more league assists.
Why should United be interested? Ings is quick, mobile (lack of movement is one of the main criticisms aimed at both van Persie and Falcao this season), and a very direct dribbler of the ball. Being a young (currently 22) English player, he would help fill quotas for home-grown players, as well as holding a decent sell-on value. In short, he’s a low-risk, potentially high-quality signing who could be sold on for a reasonable price should he prove unable to make the obvious step up in both quality and expectation.
Ings has recently been quoted as saying: “One thing I do want next year no matter where I am – and I don’t know where that is going to be – is to work with a manager who is going to coach me and really develop me as a player. That’s all you can ask for, to learn and be the best you can be.” Ings just need look at the recent form of Chris Smalling, the rejuvenation of Ashley Young, the blossoming Marouane Fellaini, or the miraculous World Cup performances of Ron Vlaar to see how Louis van Gaal could help him progress. Which brings us to…
2. Ron Vlaar
While it’s easy to make the link based solely on Ron Vlaar’s World Cup performances under Van Gaal, it’s still an intriguing ‘what if’. What if Van Gaal could help the 30-year-old Dutch centre-back reproduce performances of the level he achieved last summer? A player of that quality would be hard to turn down on a free transfer.
With the futures of Phil Jones and Jonny Evans under increasing scrutiny, and Van Gaal’s desire to sign an experienced defender to compliment what he already has/will have (see: United’s chase of Mats Hummels), bringing Ron Vlaar to the club isn’t as outrageous as it would immediately appear. More so, in fact, should Evans and Jones both leave the club, where even the signing of a single centre-back (again, see: United’s chase of Mats Hummels) would leave Van Gaal with only three at his disposal. United’s horrendous injury record where defenders is concerned, especially centre-backs, would suggest four is the very minimum to have on the books. (Seven or eight would be ideal, if history has taught us anything!)
Why should United be interested? Vlaar has proven himself to be a good (albeit somewhat inconsistent) Premier League performer for Aston Villa. He’s strong, reasonably quick, with a decent reading of the game. If Van Gaal can eke out even a 5% or 10% improvement in the Dutchman’s form, or help him maintain a higher level of performance over a longer period of time (or for however many games he would actually feature in), wouldn’t it be worth it? He could prove to be a useful squad player. Speaking of useful players…
3. James Milner
Ignoring the very obvious fact that he currently plies his trade for neighbours Manchester City, James Milner is a very, very good football player. Versatile and intelligent, hard-working and industrious, Milner has performed at the highest level for the majority of his career. In all competitions this season, Milner has scored six goals and created six for him team mates – a fine return for a player who has been deployed in numerous positions throughout the campaign.
Such versatility, as well as a fantastic footballing attitude, would make Milner an ideal Louis van Gaal signing. He can play either side of a four or five-man midfield, as a wing-back, or centrally. He has even, at times, played as a false nine for Manchester City. Only clever players with a real understanding of the game can play so consistently well in different positions. It’s one of the reasons why Van Gaal brought Daley Blind to the club, and it’s why United should go after James Milner also.
With United looking likely to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season, the club will once again be fighting on four fronts. As the season progresses, with injuries and fatigue beginning to bite, players like James Milner are invaluable. Just imagine if United had been able to deploy James Milner is a central midfield role against Chelsea on the weekend. It’s hypothetical, of course, but an argument can be made that United would not have lost the game.
So, why should United be interested? Simply put, because James Milner is an experienced, high-level football player. English, he would again help fulfil those all-important European home-grown quota commitments. He would compliment what United already have in the midfield area (clever players, smart in their passing), as well as offering much-needed industry and energy. An intelligent player, you can expect Milner to easily adapt to Louis van Gaal’s style of management, where he could prove to be an important cog in next season’s title-chasing machine.
The United connection
Tom Cleverley – Currently on-loan at Aston Villa, the English midfielder’s contract is up at the end of the season. With no sign of United looking to welcome him back, Cleverley will be free to leave in a few months. Would you take him back?
Rio Ferdinand – The experienced defender, currently at Queens Park Rangers, is out-of-contract at the end of the season and looks set to retire. Thanks for the memories, Rio.
Wes Brown – Looks set to leave Sunderland at the end of the season, where he will no doubt quickly find himself another club, despite inconsistent form since leaving Old Trafford. Still a decent player, but no longer United class.