With a squeamish demeanour beset on our faces, cushions concealing said faces and a hazy memory that it even happened, we need to delve back into a pretty forgettable archive- the 38 nipple cuts delivered by the 2013-14 campaign- for a familiar tale:
April 14th 2014. Bedevilled United manager David Moyes is exactly a week away from the noose around his neck being unrepentantly tightened to the point of no return. On a much more buoyant South coast, Southampton are gaining plaudits and turning heads, emphatically dispelling the relegation certainties hypotheses.
Meanwhile, one of their full-backs is drawing the gazes of the league’s elite, performing with distinction and on the precipice of international recognition and a lucrative move.
With Ashley Cole’s distinguished service to Chelsea coming to a sour, anticlimactic end Luke Shaw, as a boyhood Chelsea fan, was seen as the natural successor as Cole’s move to the Italian capital was being finalised.
One of beleaguered Moyes’ more commendable and final moves in charge at Old Trafford was to identify the teenager as Patrice Evra’s heir apparent. The faddish Frenchman had reached his shelf life and, like Cole, was heading to ‘The Boot’ to ply his trade with ‘The Old Lady’.
So will the 2014 Luke Shaw be the 2015 Nathaniel Clyne?
There is a familiar parallelism, a nauseating sense of deja vu for Southampton supporters. A club striving for stability and progression after a turbulent yet meteoric rise to rub shoulders with the Premier League bigwigs. Yet their club suffers the pitfalls of success- their best fruits plucked from the tree, leading to countless rebuilds.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Clyne head a list of likely departures to bigger ventures in what promises to be another testing summer for the Southampton suits. Particularly, it is the vibes accompanying Clyne’s name on the column inches that are deeply concerning for Southampton: A reported shunning of contract talks was followed by quotes from the player himself saying he strives to win titles and play in the Champions League.
The fire was fuelled further last night with David McDonnell, the infamous team-leaking mole barred by Moyes, boldly claiming on MUTV that Clyne to Manchester United was a ‘done deal’.
The Twitter frenzy that ensued gave credence to the belief that Clyne would be a signing that, while not whetting the appetites like other likely targets, would prove to be a very welcome addition.
The right-back position has been an Achilles heel since Gary Neville hung up his boots. Big boots to fill they have proved: Rafael threatened to fill the void with outstanding performances in Ferguson’s swansong yet, with his popularity still very much intact among supporters, he has struggled to kick on under the differing tutelages of Moyes and Van Gaal. His exile from the starting XI and banishment to the development squad has left many assuming heavy-heartedly that his days are numbered.
The unassuming Antonio Valencia has performed relatively admirably but the last rites for the real tour de force Valencia once was were written long back. He can still do a job in the role even if it is of the makeshift variety, but there needs to be permanency in that position that the Ecuadorian simply can no longer guarantee.
Here, in all its glory, is why Clyne fits the bill.
He is desirable from a contractual perspective. Southampton will not be able to drive as hard a bargain as they managed for Luke Shaw because Clyne’s existing deal has a mere 14 months to run. Reportedly, contract talks were shelved, despite their best efforts, meaning the writing is seemingly on the wall.
He is now a fully fledged member of the national team. Despite a chastening performance against Italy, Matteo Darmian running him ragged, Clyne has made an overall encouraging start under Roy Hodgson- with the inference that the position is now Clyne’s to lose. Arriving on the international scene will take his game to another level, testing his credentials against better class of players.
Clyne has developed year in year out at Southampton. He has turned into one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League, a quarter of a reliable defence that has kept the most clean sheets this season. Despite failing to register an assist this season, Clyne’s attacking menace has not gone unnoticed- his pace gets him into dangerous attacking areas and he combines that with an ever-improving defensive game- winning half his duels. He is becoming a reliable defender with time to develop further at just 24.
This is by no means a slight on Clyne, but there are no realistically attainable players of his kind with similar criteria- young, home-grown, pacey and Premier League experience. The nearest is Everton’s Seamus Coleman- two years Clyne’s senior. However, the likelihood of getting a fair deal out of Bill Kenwright, given our history with dealing with them, is marginal at best. Kenwright excels at getting maximum returns for their assets, meaning we would be looking at coughing up nearly double what we are likely to fork out for Clyne.
Dani Alves is another whose name gets branded about, a little too much for my liking. Someone will be getting a very good free agent, but it does not make much sense long-term to sign a waning 31 year old who will clog up the wage bill, that will doubtless be needed to entice other targets. Alves would be useful for a couple of years tops before being back to square one.
The wiser path to go down would be to sign Clyne now, allow him time to adjust (which is why Antonio Valencia will stick around) and mould him into a full-back that makes the position his own for up to a decade, like we envisaged with Luke Shaw.
As idealistic as it sounds, the potential to field an all English back four on occasion- in Clyne, Smalling, Jones and Shaw is one that will allow us to comfortably abide by the home-grown remit and prove we can still be the caveat to the growing trend of resorting to foreign purchases.
Clyne’s game would only go in one direction at Manchester United, who would be getting a potential bargain long term.