If Louis van Gaal can take one thing from his predecessor’s ill-fated reign at Old Trafford, it’s that a failure to land targets which will drastically improve his team will not be tolerated - the current squad is simply not good enough.
Though Manchester United fans were tireless in their backing of David Moyes, and exceptionally patient with regards to his failings in the transfer market, the lack of furore at his dismissal after less than a year is solid proof that the majority were not adverse to the idea of someone new coming in. But whilst the task facing Van Gaal is perhaps even harder than the one which Moyes attempted to tackle, it would take a very optimistic fan indeed to assume that the Dutchman would be given the same amount of time.
Having already been publicly refused by William Carvalho, Toni Kroos and Arjen Robben, and with Kevin Strootman said to be more than happy to remain in Roma, things haven’t gotten off to the dream start man anticipated. However for me it’s the race for Serie A defender Mehdi Benatia - coincidentally a team-mate of Strootman - which could potentially have the most telling effect on Van Gaal’s fortunes.
The Moroccan defender, coming off the back of an extremely impressive campaign under Rudi Garcia - in which Roma succeeded in securing a return to the Champions League via a second placed league finish - is exactly the type of player who could inject experience, pedigree and natural quality into Van Gaal’s camp, and by his own admission he’s at the stage in his career where a move to a big club is a now or never situation.
The one thing standing in the way of United making serious headway with regards to his acquisition? You guessed it… arch rivals Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini is also a keen admirer of Benatia’s talents, and his need for the 28-year-old is almost as pressing as his United counterpart’s. With Vincent Kompany the only ever-reliable figure at the heart of his defence, the City boss’ desire to land Benatia is in direct conflict with Van Gaal’s plans to fill the void left by the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Make no mistake; if this is a battle of the two coaches, it’s one that Van Gaal must win. The list of so dubbed ‘dream-transfers’ may be rapidly declining, but if the new United manager focuses his intentions on landing the right targets then his debut transfer window for the former Premier League champions could be very healthy indeed.
The chance to land Benatia is one that the 62-year-old should jump at, and one that Pellegrini must not be allowed to take advantage of. With the £200million said to be at his disposal Van Gaal will surely look to prioritise the signing of a solid centre-back, and the aforementioned Roma star should be considered a leading candidate.
His age gives him not only the experience necessary to cope with the pressure which being a United player always entails, but also means that he is at the ideal age to be a first-team player at Old Trafford for a good many years yet. Better put, he’s in his peak period as a player.
Van Gaal won’t be gotten rid of if City manage to get their hands on Benatia first, but the situation would offer Pellegrini both a mental and physical upper hand for the season ahead.