With Manchester United seemingly on the verge of clinching their first big signing of the summer in the form of Ander Herrera, right about now is a pretty good time to be a fan of the club.
Much like the way a goal drought can pave the way for a prolific run once a striker eventually finds the net, it’s safe to assume that new arrivals will come thick and fast once the Spaniard is officially confirmed as having signed on at Old Trafford, and if they do it will mean Louis van Gaal will have enjoyed a far more prosperous first transfer window than his predecessor did.
At the same time however the veteran Dutch coach is going to have be careful with how he divides his time and attention, as there are a series of critical matters that have already reared their heads within the current setup. Paramount to these is the matter of opting whether or not to forage into the transfer market to find a suitable replacement for the Inter Milan-bound Nemanja Vidic.
There are a number of potential candidates Van Gaal could use to plug the hole left by the influential Serbian, and whilst some of them are yet to be acquired - existing only on United’s transfer wish list - there are those currently at the club vying to try their hand. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans are all waiting in the wings for their chance to become first-team regulars now that the previously unbreakable duopoly of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand has seen its end come to pass.
Indeed it would appear that Smalling is so desperate to force his way into Van Gaal’s plans that he’s gone public with his intentions, confirming to the media that he is heading into preseason with the aim of lining up at the heart of Van Gaal’s defence come Swansea at home on the opening day of the 2014/14 Premier League season on August 16. The 24-year-old has now spent four campaigns with the Red Devils, but has found opportunities hard to come by. Having been signed by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2010 he’s so far managed to establish himself as a useful backup, but his ambitions may just be getting ahead of him if he believes that’s about to change.
Having never really sparkled at the highest level, questions have been asked over Smalling’s capabilities when it comes to being anything other than a reserve option. Though the player himself has never lacked confidence, it remains to be seen whether or not Van Gaal will acknowledge his plea with any real consideration.
Van Gaal’s choice
Given Van Gaal’s wealth of experience, and the contacts he has forged over his years of management, it makes sense to assume that Smalling’s first-team football demands will fall on deaf ears. Though aerially dominant, and versatile enough to be competent at right-back as well, the United man is unconvincing when tasked with keeping top draw frontmen at bay, and a partnership with either Evans and Jones would likely only result in nervous performances.
The need for an experienced head
It’s cliched, mentioned far too often and the idea isn’t half as exciting as other potential avenues, but the only true replacement for experience is… experience. Vidic and Ferdinand had both reached their expiry dates at Old Trafford, yet their knowledge of the game and understanding of how to keep things under control was unparalleled.
The only way Van Gaal can hope to adequately replace them is by bringing in another defender who has had similar exposure on the biggest stage of the game. Hummels would be the perfect acquisition, though he’s unlikely to abandon Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund.
The truth is that the majority of players need to build their skills in surroundings with far less pressure than that which United promises, before making a big move when they’re good and ready. It takes a special type of player to make an early move to a European superpower and then thrive moving forward.
Unfortunately for Smalling, he doesn’t fall into that category.