Louis van Gaal’s transfer activity during his first window at Manchester United was always going to come under intense scrutiny, such is the importance of his work detail.
Old Trafford chiefs earmarked the Dutchman as the perfect candidate to restore their club to its former glory, essentially righting the wrongs of last term and ensuring that this season's lack of European football was but a blotch of spilt ink amongst the rich tapestry of success witnessed over the last decade. They moved decisively and got their man; since then Van Gaal has been a raving success.
Van Gaal's good start
An unbeaten pre-season, topped off sublimely by an extra-time Marouane Fellaini winner which was oh so Fergie-esque, has birthed optimism amongst United supporters ahead of the big kick-off on Saturday, and even the neutrals would have a hard time arguing that the Red Devils aren’t expected to be competing for Champions League spots at the very least.
Alongside that Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera have arrived, the latter having been identified as a hall-mark for David Moyes’ failings this time last summer. The boy from Bilbao is sure to give the Red Devils an extra element in the middle of the park, and his co-arrival enters the fray with a reputation that very much precedes him.
Yet despite the warm glow engulfing Old Trafford ahead of this weekend’s fixture with Swansea, there remains issues with the first-team squad which at the very least give pessimists fodder for complaint, whilst at the most represent a reason to believe United can’t win the title. The most obvious flaw, and one which Van Gaal is comfortably aware of, lies in the lack of a defensive leader.
Lack of a defensive leader
The absence of both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic may have been somewhat innocuous during the friendlies in the U.S, but to assume that the same will be true in the Premier League is naive. With Van Gaal keen to play with three defenders and two wing-backs - as he did to great effect with the Netherlands - he needs to acquire a top level centre-back who will command the likes of Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling.
That’s predominantly why the talk of the £80 million triple swoop for Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind and Angel di Maria is every bit as bizarre as it is concerning. In a period where Van Gaal must prioritise the capture of a Mats Hummels-like defensive figurehead, the rumours are connoting that he’s turned his attentions to other areas of the pitch.
First and foremost there’s the protracted saga surrounding Di Maria, which in truth United could have done with steering well clear of. Undoubtedly a world-class talent when deployed in the right position, the Argentinian international garnered plenty of attention due to his performances for Real Madrid last term, and his precarious position at the club would infer that he’s available to buy - albeit it for a ludicrous sum.
However with the wealth of attacking options already at Van Gaal’s disposal - think Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and a rejuvenated Ashley Young - there’s little cause for him to rank so highly on the 63-year-old’s transfer short-list.
Next there’s Rojo who, bar a neat showing in Brazil this summer, has offered little evidence that he can be an instant hit in England’s elite division. There’s no questioning the fact that he’s got the raw attributes to excel - incredible pace, good aerial ability, physical strength etc - but is he really a player who’s going to come in and lead Jones and Co.?
No, he’s a versatile option who would improve squad depth and increase competition for places, but once again he’s not what Van Gaal’s side is crying out for.
Then, last but certainly not least, there’s Blind, who sits in perhaps the most enviable position with regards to Van Gaal’s admiration. Having been superb for the United boss whilst he was in charge of the Netherlands it wasn’t long before he was being linked with a switch to Old Trafford, and there’s still those who believe he is knocking on the door of a transfer.
At 24-years-old though he’s hardly an experienced head to slot in and instantly lead, and his natural position is as a full-back rather than a point in a three-pronged defence.
Spending £80 million on three players in question is far from a terrible choice, and it’s certainly not going to do United’s ambitions any harm, but unless a strong, experience centre back is introduced to the fold then there’s undoubtedly going to be problems moving forward.