It’s coming up to nine years since Roy Keane sent shockwaves rippling through English football by quitting Manchester United - sorry to make you all feel that little bit older - but the Red Devils have never managed to replace the fiery Irishman who captained the club with such great distinction between 1997 and the day he walked out of Old Trafford in November 2005.
That could all change this summer, though. New United boss Louis van Gaal is looking for a midfield leader. The veteran Dutch coach has already secured the services of a neat and tidy passer - Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao - but now he wants a warrior.
According to widespread reports, Van Gaal’s number one midfield target - and the man top of United’s summer transfer wish-list - is the world-class Juventus star Arturo Vidal. However, the odds of the Chile international ending up at Old Trafford next season are looking increasingly slim.
Juventus will only allow one of Vidal or Paul Pogba to leave Turin this summer, and Chelsea are right at the front of the queue for the latter, who was even spotted in west London on Thursday.
United would also need to smash their transfer record to sign Vidal who, at the age of 27, has several good years ahead of him but is certainly no spring chicken. Pogba would cost around £15 million more than his teammate, but would be better value for money because of his relatively young age.
An even better value-for-money deal, though, could involve a player Manchester United supporters are very familiar with. Needless to say, they didn’t think too highly of him when he played for fierce rivals Liverpool, but Javier Mascherano would be a quite brilliant signing for the Red Devils.
Mascherano: Born leader
Without Mascherano on the pitch, Argentina would not have qualified for their first World Cup final since 1990 on Wednesday evening. The Barcelona star produced an imperious display, despite having been knocked out cold in the first half.
Minutes after his blow to the head, the world-class holding midfielder raced out onto the pitch and immediately started taking charge - demanding possession, ordering his teammates about and bellowing instructions. Many were stunned. How could Argentina’s medical staff allow him to play on? It’s simple: there was never any chance of reasoning with the fearless Mascherano that he was to come off the pitch during the first half of a World Cup semi-final.
It was an exemplary performance, capped by a match-saving slide tackle on Netherlands winger Arjen Robben, which allowed Argentina to take their opponents to a penalty shoot-out. That tackle was equally as important - or, if not, even more so - than Lionel Messi’s wonder goals in the group stages.
Watch Mascherano in action for Barcelona
United need an inspirational captain
With Nemanja Vidic having left Old Trafford for Inter Milan, Manchester United need a new inspirational captain. While there a couple of candidates for the position at Old Trafford - namely Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney - neither have the same on-field presence as Mascherano.
The tenacious midfielder may only stand 5ft 8in tall, but he possesses the heart of a giant. And that’s exactly what Manchester United were severely lacking in last season: heart and desire to fight for the red shirt.
But Mascherano is much more than a destroyer. Sure, he doesn’t score as many goals as Vidal - he never scores, in fact - but his ability to pick a pass or play a simple yet effective ball is exceptional.
United have the players to cause damage in the final third. But they desperately require a dogged leader who can protect the back four, mop up in midfield and find his teammates with incisive passes.
And, as he has proved at Barcelona, he can also double up as an extremely effective centre-back. Put him anywhere on the pitch and he will be more than happy to sacrifice himself if it benefits the team.
Mascherano is like a Gary Neville - a divisive player rival fans love to hate. But if you asked them quietly whether they’d like them in their team - there’s only ever one answer.
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