Manchester United are currently locked in a three-way battle with Arsenal and Chelsea for Real Madrid’s holding midfielder Sami Khedira, the player who Sir Alex Ferguson should have brought to Old Trafford four years ago.
At that point, United were involved in a different three-way battle for the tough-tackling defensive midfield star, along with Chelsea and Real Madrid.
That was back in 2010, towards the end of the World Cup finals in South Africa, where Khedira - a VfB Stuttgart player at the time - played a key role in helping Germany reach the semi-finals of the showpiece international tournament.
Real Madrid won the first battle
In the end, perhaps unsurprisingly, it was Real Madrid who won the race for the player’s signature. Los Blancos stumped up a reported £8 million - and that, bizarrely, was enough to seal the deal.
Of course, at the time it represented something of a gamble. After all, many clubs - including Europe’s elite - have had their fingers burnt after spending big money on players off the back of decent showings at major international tournaments.
But Khedira had shown at Stuttgart that he was anything but a flash in the pan. Aged 23 at the time he left the Bundesliga for the bright lights of the Bernabeu, he was already considered amongst the most promising holding midfielders in European football.
United desperately needed a Khedira-esque player
United were crying out for a player like Khedira at the time - discounting the fact that a young Paul Pogba was progressing nicely in the club’s youth team. The former French starlet eventually joined Juventus two years later after Ferguson, to the club’s eternal regret, failed to offer him enough playing time.
Ferguson opted to put his faith in an injury-prone Owen Hargreaves, the ageing Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, the below-par Darron Gibson, plus Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick. Oh, and the class clown Anderson, who was inexplicably awarded a new four-and-a-half-year contract in December 2010 - hence why United still can’t shift him off their wage bill.
The revered English giants were fighting for every major trophy at the time and needed a high-quality defensive midfielder not just for the 2010/11 campaign - but for the next five to ten years.
Ferguson neglected United's central midfield
Central midfield, though, was an area of the pitch often neglected by Ferguson during the final years of his glittering 26-year tenure.
This was one of the reasons why David Moyes faired so badly during his ill-fated ten month spell at Old Trafford.
The former Everton boss inherited an ageing squad that was already in serious decline, with a lack of quality central midfielders and central defenders a significant contributory factor behind his eventual failure.
Anderson wasn’t good enough and neither was Tom Cleverley; Giggs was now approaching his 40th birthday; Carrick wasn’t getting any younger either, while Fletcher had made 11 Premier League appearances over the previous two seasons because of illness.
United’s version of Khedira, meanwhile, was nowhere to be seen. Because of a series of cock-ups - not all of them committed by Moyes, by the way - the Red Devils ended up shelling out £27 million on Everton’s Marouane Fellaini.
While the Belgium international is a fine Premier League player when played to his strengths, he was never the player United needed most last summer.
Moyes, because Ed Woodward failed to provide him with sufficient help in the summer of 2013, resorted to making an overpriced bid for the targetman on the final day of the transfer window simply to bring in another body.
Van Gaal rectifying United's problems
But that’s now in the past and Louis van Gaal went some way to rectifying United’s midfield problems in the summer by signing Angel di Maria, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind.
Yet United are still lacking a proper holding midfielder. Blind has been deployed in that role by Van Gaal at the start of this season, but he lacks presence. Sure, he can pass the ball and his decision making tends to be spot on, but he’s not the all-action midfielder that United are still - all these years later - crying out for.
It’s little wonder, then, that rumours are rife that United will make another move for Juventus’s Arturo Vidal, AS Roma’s Kevin Strootman or Sporting Lisbon’s William Carvalho in the January transfer window.
Khedira the best option for United?
Both players would be fine acquisitions, but Khedira would be the cheapest of the trio, and he possesses the most experience.
This is a player used to performing in the biggest matches, whether that be a Clasico against Barcelona, a Champions League final or a World Cup semi-final.
Tragically, Khedira missed the World Cup final against Argentina this summer because of a calf injury, but he throughly deserved his winners’ medal at the end of the tournament.
The 27-year-old would make a huge difference to United’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League if he arrives in January.
And this time, if the Red Devils miss out on signing him yet again, Van Gaal must ensure he secures the services of an alternative to avoid repeating the same mistake as Ferguson.
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