Especially at a club like Manchester United, this time of year- the climax to the season, is invariably a time when the waters, as far as transfer activity is concerned, are at their muddiest. United are linked with every Arturo, Mats and Nathaniel under the sun on a daily basis as the collective infatuation with the gossip columns reaches unhealthy, obsessive levels.
The upcoming window promises to draw undoubtedly frenzied parallels with bygone summers, with Louis Van Gaal widely anticipated to splash more cash in his quest to rehabilitate United to their previous standing as a tour de force on both domestic and continental fronts. Establishing concrete names on Van Gaal’s wish-list is as complex as decoding a whodunit in Midsomer, however what was more straightforward on Sunday was detecting that two Spaniards could go on to experience contrasting fortunes in due course.
In an attempt to minimise the melancholy, we’ll deal with David De Gea first. The body language yesterday was one of someone who looked like he was bidding farewell and no longer wanted to be here. Murmurings of conspiracy theories that he was substituted to take the acclaim of the fans were doing the rounds last night. The tribute to the fans for our, in his words, ‘unbelievable support’ were interpreted as him taking his final bow rather than nailing his name to the badge and indicating a desire to stay.
There is more than a sense of foreboding when you rationally consider the reality of De Gea’s situation. His girlfriend is in Spain, he is a Madrid boy, and his family are also located in his homeland. That is just the human side. If that is not enough to sway him, Real Madrid, once they identity their target, pounce on them with a nonchalance that perhaps only they and Barcelona can boast. Their immunity from the arduous toil of transfer negotiations customarily means they always get their man- it is a cherry-picked strategy that is alien and absurd to the rest of the football universe, but they get away with it time after time.
What a time it would be to buck that trend. More than ever, you would just hope we would dig our heels in and stand up to the ease at which they pick and get their targets. Unfortunately, with just 13 months to go and no discernible evidence that De Gea wants to stay, we are not in a position to dictate terms.
We stuck by De Gea when he was at his nadir, now he looks destined to leave us when his transformation has not even reached its optimum. Goalkeepers, like a fine wine, get better with age- De Gea is THAT good at a mere 24 years of age, the end product is scary to even contemplate. In unblemished Utopia, De Gea would recognise the loyalty and unconditional support by committing his future and go to Spain when he will probably hit his peak around 29-30. Everyone correctly doubts whether De Gea will get the same love and affection in Madrid, but is that even coming into his decision making process?
Unquestionably, were United to have more of a durational insurance policy on De Gea’s contract, they would be raking in the record fee for a keeper. You just hope Woodward does not leave United short changed when the negotiations take place, that would be criminal. De Gea would also etch himself indelibly into United’s goalkeeping pantheon containing the grandiose names of Stepney, Gregg, Schmeichel and Van Der Sar. Whether he would even if he goes to the Bernabeu is subjective, many will see him as a quality keeper who left prematurely, which is hard to refute.
You often hear a manager, when it gets towards silly season, speak of their desire to retain the services of their player. Sometimes they are genuine intentions; sometimes they merely adopt platitudes in their parlance with the aim to take the prospective buyer for all they have. Van Gaal was optimistic in January regarding De Gea and the club were said to be ‘relaxed’ about the situation. You could not get a starker tone today: Seldom, if ever, have you heard Van Gaal talk with such pessimism. The bullishness has been replaced by a resignation that paints a distinctly sombre picture for everyone concerned at United.
I have exhausted the De Gea talk longer than I had hoped in this piece, but I’d like to make one last point on it all- if he is to leave this summer, so much for Jorge Mendes’ intention to have United’s best interests at heart and pacify the situation.
Enough of that, I want to talk about someone who is warming everybody’s hearts. When all is said and done, Ander Herrera will kick back with a sangria and reflect on a sterling first campaign in England. You can see why United were desperate to get his signature across the dotted line. How David Moyes’ United needed what he brings to the table. I know in this day and age that it is easy to over-eulogise, but Herrera has shown that he has been one of the missing ingredients to the recipe that Van Gaal is trying to concoct.
It may sound a bare minimum expectancy when you wear the red shirt but he does the basics, namely ball retention and adheres to the pass and move ideology in a forward-thinking manner. Not to mention the eight goals he has scored, which have been a somewhat unexpected surprise: Not since the Ginger prince have we had a midfielder capable of threatening double figures. Herrera is by no means the next Scholes yet, and it is nonessential to compare the two directly, but isn’t it great to see a player play with such dynamism and creativity in the engine room? Stylistically in keeping with the technicians that seem to persistently fly off the conveyor belt in Spain, Herrera really has injected our midfield with invention and craft that it has been craving for years.
How unfathomable does that mid-season jettisoning look now? Trepidation was creeping into many a fan’s psyche that Van Gaal was not overly convinced by Herrera’s qualities as he continually warmed the bench. Thank goodness the manager restored him to the side- his ice veined partnership with Michael Carrick was the catalyst for an upturn in form and played a huge part in United reaching the Champions League. With the likelihood that United will target another top class midfielder, it is nothing short of exciting to see Herrera in action next season and build on the progress he has made this campaign.
Radamel Falcao and Robin Van Persie looked pale imitations of their former glories and their futures at United appear remote to say the least. That is a nigh-on inevitability with the former, who left the stage in a whimper, and the Dutchman cannot be bulletproof from a potential exit. That would represent a recuperation of nearly half a million pounds a wage in wages for players who are unavoidably on the decline. Van Gaal will surely be targeting a renowned striker to spearhead a title push next season.
Only one game remains now until all the transfer fun and games begin. We will be playing a lead role in the relegation dogfight as we head for Hull at the weekend, which is somewhat unfortunate. With Champions League football assured, it would have been nice to blood some of the youngsters who would benefit from the experience of first-team football. The likes of Wilson, Januzaj, Pereira, McNair and Blackett will all likely have to play peripheral roles, if any, out of respect to Sunderland and Newcastle and uphold the integrity of the league.
You could easily argue, what respect do Sunderland deserve after the Poznan-ing in 2012, but it is important to remain professional and end our season on a high. It is always vital to end the season in style to go on holiday with a spring in our step and breed confidence for the upcoming campaign.
Overall, as Louis Van Gaal relaxes in his Vale do Lobo residence, he will look back on 2015 as a matter of job done- the platform for bigger and greater things.