Manchester United’s transfer window is leaning towards an ominous climax. Their aborted pursuit of Marko Arnautovic opened the door for agents to flood the club with proposals for players previously deemed problematic.
If Arnautovic was deemed fit, albeit briefly, what about Alvaro Morata, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Mauro Icardi?
All those center forwards present issues to consider beyond pure football prowess, but once an offer is made for someone like Arnautovic, a 33-year-old whose history includes two years in China and a ban on a nationalist outburst, the door is open for a change of mentality.
It’s worth remembering that United’s interest in Arnautovic was based on Erik ten Hag’s experience working with the Austrian.
An important recruiting meeting was held in Carrington this week to review the latest options as the deadline approaches. Football director John Murtough was in attendance and continued to speak with staff at United’s training base on Thursday before flying to Turin to discuss personal terms for Adrien Rabiot on Friday. Sources say Murtough left without reaching an agreement with Rabiot’s mother and agent Veronique.
Ten Hag had wanted to have new players, so that he could apply tactics and build up his fitness, but there is a hectic atmosphere in United’s business. It is in stark contrast to the calm at Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal.
At United, the emphasis on a new striker grew when Anthony Martial was injured. Ten Hag was left with one senior striker in Cristiano Ronaldo, who had told the club he wanted to leave. Ronaldo now looks set to stay, but the situation is precarious.
It is in that context that United tries to add in advance to Ten Hag’s options and the athletic understands that Morata is a real possibility. Sources say United have been in talks about the Atletico Madrid striker, who is reportedly available for €35m (£29.6m, $36m).
Morata has been loaned to Juventus for the past two seasons, scoring 32 goals in 92 appearances. He had two seasons with Chelsea, scoring 16 Premier League goals in 47 games, but was told by manager Maurizio Sarri that his mentality was “a bit fragile”.
Atlético can accept a loan but the Spanish international, 29, would command a substantial wage.
Sources have downplayed the moves for Aubameyang and Icardi, two more players with impressive records but excessive baggage.
Mikel Arteta stripped Aubameyang of the Arsenal captaincy for disciplinary offenses before being allowed to transfer him to Barcelona on a free transfer in February. It’s not clear whether Barcelona want Aubameyang to leave after scoring 11 La Liga goals in 17 games, but removing the 33-year-old from the wage bill would help the club register their signings. Chelsea have a stake in Aubameyang, who worked well with Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund.
Icardi, meanwhile, has had an eventful career, most recently taking P . missedaris Saint-Germain’s Champions League game against RB Leipzig last October due to “personal reasons”. His wife and agent Wanda had posted on Instagram: “Another family you ruined for a bitch.”
However, this is the market United is now shopping in. Icardi has scored 173 goals in 344 appearances for Sampdoria, Inter Milan and PSG, so the suggestion is not imaginative given the mounting pressure on Old Trafford.
Memphis Depay is another player that United have been made aware of by one of the players’ representatives. Depay’s brief United career was perhaps best remembered as he turned up against advice for a reserve game in his £250,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Depay has scored seven goals in 53 appearances at United, but has built his career again at Lyon and Barcelona, and at 28 he is one of Europe’s most sought-after attackers. He is expected to go to Juventus for two years.
For United, the names just keep coming. Technical director Darren Fletcher was with The Hawthorns on Monday when Ismaila Sarr scored for Watf from his own halforder. United made a rental offer for Sarr late in the summer of 2020 when negotiations over Jadon Sancho stalled.
The talks with Benjamin Sesko went nowhere. The Red Bull Salzburg striker agreed to move to RB Leipzig in 2023. United always suspected a transfer between the Red Bull teams would take place, but the 19-year-old’s decision was still a blow. According to sources, it partly reflected the clear plan Leipzig was able to present for his career.
PSV Eindhoven wants to keep Cody Gakpo, but cannot decline a €50 million offer. The 23-year-old wide attacker, who does his best job on the left, is highly regarded by many clubs in the Premier League, although he underperformed the scouts this week in his team’s Champions League qualifier against Monaco.
The matter is complicated because PSV advances to the last play-off round, where they face Rangers. Playing in the group stage of the Champions League would appeal to Gakpo. Nottingham Forest is also in the running for his signature.
There have been reports of approaches by United for Timo Werner, who has since come to Leipzig, and so has Hakim Ziyech. Others say Stuttgart striker Sasa Kalajdzic has expressed his wish for a transfer to Old Trafford.
There is little common thread between all these different players in terms of style and profile, pointing to the indefinable thinking currently pulsing through United.
However, the club is united on one subject. Ten Hag insisted Marcus Rashford will stay amid news of PSG interest. The French champions do want a player with Rashford’s characteristics and one of his representatives recently met club officials in Paris.
Rashford’s contract expires in 2023, but the club has an option for an additional year. Talks are expected.
United need more attacking players, not less.
(Other contributor: James Horncastle)
(Top Photos: Getty Images)