Manchester United have already issued a double statement of intent during the summer transfer window.
Sancho is set to be followed through the Old Trafford door by Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.
With less than a month to go until the window closes, United remain in the market for further signings amid interest in Kieran Trippier, among others.
Discussing that pursuit, and more, our chief United writer Samuel Luckhurst (SL) and the MEN‘s content editor Dominic Booth (DB) sat down for the latest Facebook Live on Wednesday afternoon.
Here is how the conversation between the pair went:
DB: It’s really getting up to speed now in terms of pre-season for United, isn’t it? The season is dangerously close, even though we still seem to be mid-summer with the Olympics and everything going on. But the Premier League comes back and United are currently away on a training camp in Scotland. A few people have returned to training this week. There’s no sign of one or two notable players, I suppose – but what’s the latest from the camp in Scotland and how’s the squad faring up fitness wise ahead of that opener against Leeds?
SL: I think the squad is a dosage of reality. When you look at it, there are no new signings there, which isn’t a big surprise. Raphael Varane, as far as I was last told, has still not got his visa. Jadon Sancho was never really likely to be there, because he was entitled to a minimum three-week holiday – he was at Carrington three weeks yesterday.
When you see Phil Jones, Andreas Pereira and even Jesse Lingard – and you don’t see some of the younger players – who really should be at least pushing to stay in the squad until January, depending on their circumstances, not a lot has really changed from last season.
It does jeopardise the mood and it doesn’t take a lot to jeopardise the mood with the online faction of supporters, but even matchgoers, one of them messaged me not too long ago, wondering what the hell was going on with United’s preparations, because of the inconsistent return times.
That’s a valid question, a valid point. It’s something we intend to ask Solskjaer, certainly. There’s not been any consistency there. Daniel James, for example, went out at the last-16 stage with Wales, I think two days before Paul Pogba. He (James) was there for the last training camp and Pogba arrived in Scotland to link-up with his teammates yesterday. He’s effectively had five weeks off.
Edinson Cavani has had nearly five weeks off. Victor Lindelof had over a month off, Bruno Fernandes had a month off on the dot. It is a bit of a minefield, because quarantine does come into it, but from what I understand with Pogba, he got back last Thursday and then he’s in Scotland with his teammates on the Tuesday. That’s a five-day gap, two-day (Covid-19) test, for those of you who have been unfortunate to have had to go through that ordeal. That was the earliest that he was likely to link-up with United.
But should he have had that extra week off? That would have been planned, I’ve got no doubt about that.
Different players are in different conditions, as well. It was a tight turnaround last year and some players need a bit more time off than others. I suppose with Pogba, he suffered Covid at the start of last season. It certainly seemed to contribute to his performances in the first half of last season.
Cavani’s conditioning was an issue in February and March – and he’s going to have to be handled very, very carefully this season since he’s someone who is capable of only playing one game a week, or starting one game a week. United need to tread carefully there, particularly because the back-up is quite underwhelming if you’re going off Anthony Martial’s form over the last year.
I’m pretty much giving United the script for them at the moment, in terms of how to bat away questions as to why this player is back or why this player has taken so long to get back. It’s obviously topical and I can understand fans having that interest in it, but there is an awful lot of mitigation behind it.
The bigger picture is, that squad in the state that it is at the moment, it’s not in the state you’d want it to be given the season starts next week. And United are going to come up against a very, very intense and improving Leeds United side.
DB: That was going to be my next question. Does if affect United, the fact that these players haven’t reported for duty yet, or have only just got back, does that affect Solskjaer’s thinking? He’s already probably got a team in mind for that Leeds game. There are a few players who, if they haven’t trained and haven’t had enough pre-season under their belts, they might not be in that team.
SL: Exactly. Sancho will, at the very most, have had eight days of pre-season, which is not enough. Raphael Varane, you are looking at 10 days at the most. It’s not even going to be that because, when he does get a visa and travels over here, he’s going to have to quarantine. I think the best-case scenario for Varane is shaping up to be like five days of pre-season training, which is also not enough.
If you go back to 2018, when the World Cup was playing havoc with pre-season plans and United had a surplus of senior players available, Pogba came back on the Monday and he started that Leicester game, which I think was on the Friday night. That was a really, really short amount of time. It was no pre-season really.
In fairness to Pogba, he was probably man of the match in that game. He scored the first goal, United won, it lifted the clouds temporarily. This isn’t just an issue exclusive to United, you only have to look at Manchester City’s front four the other night. The only player that most would probably recognise was Riyad Mahrez. It’s something affecting pretty much every club, because there have been two international tournaments this summer.
That’s problematic in itself and United’s has been compounded a little bit more by the Olympics, with Bailly and Amad being unavailable. In the circumstances, Phil Jones might wonder if Bailly isn’t around and he is injury-prone – albeit not as injury-prone as Phil Jones – then he could be the fourth-choice centre-back for the foreseeable. It’s crazy, really.
Tuanzebe is going to go out on loan, because he wants to play. I think if Jones had any self-respect, he would be taking a salary cut and dropping down a division if need be – if he wants to play football on a regular basis. But some bright spark at United gave him a four-year contract in early 2019 and this is why he is difficult to shift. It’s why Andreas Pereira is difficult to shift. He’s got two years left on his contract.
The situation with Lingard is a lot more nuanced, I think, because he is much more of an asset than those players. I think there are certain players in the squad that some fans would like to see Lingard playing ahead of, just going on their form and fitness, with the various mitigation in the attack.
Ultimately, with almost every decision Solskjaer has made over the last 18 months, it has marginalised Lingard. He turns 29 in December. He’s out of contract in under a year. His only starts for United last season were against Championship clubs. I think there is an awful lot of indecision around him from United’s part when it’s really a straightforward decision.
He’s got to be sold, but clearly there’s not been an acceptable offer that’s come in yet. United can’t just give him away, because they’ve been short-changed in the past and, from a business perspective, that makes no sense whatsoever – particularly as the windfall from outgoings is almost certainly going to part-finance any incomings that are signed this month.’
DB: Lingard is one of those with a decent value, whereas others in the squad, maybe less so. The full-back situation is one that interests me and we know that United are interested in Kieran Trippier. There is also the possibility for Diogo Dalot to leave on a permanent deal, but again – like every other position, at the moment, with United – other than those two big incomings – there doesn’t seem to be any movement. Are they waiting to see what happens in the market and acting later on with this one? Is that fair to say?
SL: Yes. If Trippier happens, that will be towards the end of the window. There’s an emphasis on outgoings. They’ve got a lot of full-backs as it is. I think they’ve got five overall at the moment.
I know Telles is injured and he will be out until September. Williams still wants to go on loan. Dalot could go on loan or he could go permanently. There is an uncertainty, to say the least, about two or three of the full-backs we have just mentioned there.
United do want Trippier. They don’t just see him as a squad player, but a probable upgrade on Wan-Bissaka. He would be a key addition if he does come in, but it’s quiet on Trippier and it has been for upwards of a month I would say – probably longer than that. From me doing that story in early June, I think it was about United reviving their interest, not a lot has changed.
There have been little bits of detail, but they are the smallest of details and the smallest of details still command stories in the transfer window! Because that’s how fast-moving it is. That’s not something that anyone is expecting to get done any time soon.
United’s emphasis is on outgoings, at the moment, but I always suspected this week would be a very quiet one for United. It’s been about training in Scotland, it’s been about players coming back. It’s really gearing towards that Leeds game next week.
From the first round of matches next week, there has to be some kind of movement and there might be a transfer that happens which creates a domino effect. But that transfer has yet to take place.
Yet come next week, clubs are going to get a reality check on that first weekend if they get bad result or there’s a gaping hole in their squad which has been exposed. They might think they need to address that as soon as possible and we can’t really beat about the bush anymore – which is what most clubs have been doing so far because of the international tournaments or because of the pandemic.
As I’ve said before, unfortunately for us who work in this industry, it is going to be manic final two or three weeks of the window!
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DB: When is it not, Samuel? Maybe this deadline day will be a bit quieter for United. They seem to leave business until deadline day, ever since I started covering the club, but there we go. I guess the main question that people are asking now, the elephant in the room, is about Paul Pogba. You talk about deals that could happen and a domino effect. He is potentially one of those if United do decide they want to cash-in on him. There is interest from PSG but, again, this one has seemed oddly quiet to me throughout the summer. It seems like United are waiting to see in the case of Paul Pogba, as they are with other transfer cases.
SL: I agree. I have an element of sympathy with United. It’s easy just to say ‘sell him’ because the circumstances are inauspicious, given that his contract is expiring next year and he’s wanted out for the last three years or three and a half years, at various stages.
He’s made that publicly known at times. His agent has made that publicly know, as well. He was never going to get sold in 2018, that was just a no-go. Nobody was going to be able to afford him – and the circumstances were not right, as well. At that time, it was pretty clear that Pogba and Mourinho was a matrimony that was not going to last much longer.
He was easy to price out of a move in 2019 and there was no one coughing up the kind of money United wanted for him at that point, and he was only halfway through his contract. He wasn’t going to go last year, because of the pandemic; nobody had the kind of money that would have teased United into selling Pogba.
Again, this summer, very few clubs have that money to throw around, even though Pogba’s value has dropped considerably, because of his contract and because of the pandemic – also just the noises that he has made about potentially leaving United in the past.
They could be in an uncomfortable position of getting into January and Pogba potentially having a brilliant four months or so, but then getting an offer coming in and deciding they have to accept it.
I think that was documented quite interestingly in the Tottenham documentary with Christian Eriksen. He was a player Tottenham were looking to sell in the summer. They didn’t sell him and they had to sell him, reluctantly, in January because there was an offer that came in which they deemed acceptable. It came to the point where they just had to cut their losses, otherwise they weren’t going to be able to obtain a fee for him.
With the way that the Glazers operate, if they are in that position with Pogba, I would be surprised if they allowed him to run down his contract.
Is it a risk? Is it a risk worth taking? Has he given enough hints to United that he would be open to signing an extension? There’s a lot of PR noise coming out of a particular corner of the ether… I’m trying to be vague, here! That ‘signings have made Pogba reconsider his future, but he might not sign this summer’. It’s a non-update update!
Ultimately, he wants to leave, but he’s professional and he’s certainly not been anything like Harry Kane has been. Pogba’s professionalism has been lauded by people at the club over the last couple of years when there has been much more noise about his future. He’s never gone AWOL, either.
You look at Kane and the way he has conducted himself, it has been very unedifying. It’s inexcusable and it will be interesting to see how he is perceived by outlets that have been extremely sympathetic, in borderline cheerleading mode, with him for a long, long time now.
I think back to when some ‘intern’ at the FA decided to do that tweet about Chris Smalling pocketing Harry Kane and the outcry over that in some sections. It was all ‘England saviour Harry Kane being wronged by the FA’. It was bizarre, really, but that is the esteem which Kane is held in here in this country. Pogba, obviously, isn’t held in that same esteem. But Pogba has been far more professional about wanting out from his club than Kane has.
DB: I saw Rio Ferdinand made that point the other day on social media, too, as the Kane saga rumbles on. Okay, so we will wrap up by looking ahead to this weekend’s game against Everton. It was billed a few weeks ago as a dress rehearsal for United’s opener against Leeds, but because of these late returns to training, who know what is is now; that’s my question really. What sort of a team is it going to be? I guess everyone needs minutes, but not all of them will be available to get them. Whether Varane is officially unveiled and if his visa issue is sorted by then… we don’t quite know and Sancho should be back in training. Will he be ready to play a game? There’s a lot of questions that are unanswered as we go into this game, which was supposed to be the one before the season started.
SL: I’d be amazed if Varane is involved (against Everton). I think it’s technically impossible with the quarantine rules or everything he would have to go through. That’s probably without factoring in the probability that he wouldn’t be able to get in a training session with United.
Unfortunately for Solskjaer, ideally, four or five weeks ago he would have looked at the game and thought; ‘If I can get my team in shape, it could remotely resemble the team I want to play on the opening day of the season’. That no longer seems to be the case and it is getting to the point now where you look at the players who have had a full pre-season and you look at the others who haven’t, you really wouldn’t be surprised if Lindelof and Matic are starting against Leeds.
Now, we’ve said it before, Lindelof and Maguire is not a title-winning defence partnership and that is not going to be United’s partnership this season.
It is Solskjaer who said it – and he’s right in saying it – you can lose the league in the first seven games with form. It has certainly happened with United. It did last season. They had a really bad start. They’ve had poor starts in recent seasons and they need to address that this season. They really need to aim to win those first five games, five or six games, to really keep pace with the other teams.
It reflects well on United that they’ve done very good deals already in the summer. They’ve eschewed the striker’s market, which looks a more sensible decision by the day – when you see that Chelsea and City are scrambling for a number 9 ahead of the new season, which starts next week.
As I go back to it, you look at the state of the squad at St Andrews, it’s not where United would have wanted it to be. Even taking into account international tournaments, the quarantining, you would have expected it to look a bit fresher than that and, frankly, with Phil Jones and Andreas Pereira, they are a waste of plane tickets. There’s no point in trying to keep their resale value up, there’s very little resale value there already.
In Pereira’s case, he’s had a lot of minutes in pre-season already. He is bed-blocking youngsters who have got a potential future at United. Mejbri and Shoretire haven’t had as much exposure as most would have expected in pre-season – given the surplus of senior players. What good is it doing playing Periera as often as they are?
I don’t think he’s an eight-figure player and there is talk of United wanting €25million for him, which is just crazy. Okay, fair play if they get that for him, but I suspect they won’t.
If the mood is to change – and you’re already looking to that Swansea game in the van Gaal era, you had a back three with Tyler Blackett in there, Jesse Lingard at wing-back on what was his debut I think. Nani playing up front with Wayne Rooney. They just did not look like themselves or what United fans hoped they would look like. There is a danger of that being the case next week.
But at least Sancho will have week’s worth of training and you would hope Varane would, at the very least, be available for selection for the Leeds game.
DB: Absolutely. We will finish on a positive note there anyway, Samuel. Let’s hope that United fans can see Sancho and Varane in action and let’s see what happens in that Everton game this weekend. Thank you very much, Samuel, for your appearances and we will be back again soon for another one of these. Thank you for watching and join us again soon on the MEN Man United Facebook page.
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