Sancho Would Be Upgrade For United But Priorities Lie Elsewhere
March 28, 2019
After four goals in four matches at Euro 2004, it was clear England had a very special player on their hands. Indeed, Wayne Rooney was a once in a generation sort of talent and so it was unsurprising that Manchester United, at that time English football’s predominant force, gave everything they had to sign the teenager, paying a world record fee for a player under 20 years old.
Jadon Sancho might not have reached such heights, with just a handful of England caps to his name, but not since Rooney’s breakthrough has there been such excitement, such hype over a homegrown prospect. And just like 15 years ago, Man Utd are, reportedly, determined not to miss out on such a talent.
Depending on who you believe, the Old Trafford club are prepared to splurge somewhere between £70 million and £100 million on English football’s latest wonder kid. Philippe Coutinho, who is out of favour at Barcelona, has also been linked with a move to United, but Sancho, apparently, has risen to the top of the list as the club’s number one summer target.
This, naturally, has prompted much discussion. Man Utd fans are entitled to be excited by such reports. Sancho, who left Manchester City to see first-team football at Borussia Dortmund just two years ago, is one of the brightest young talents in Europe right now. He is destined to become a superstar if he isn’t at that level already.
But Man Utd have other issues to address in their squad before they can go spending such sums on someone like Sancho. This summer will be crucial for them as they attempt to shake off the conservatism of the Jose Mourinho era and the muddled decision-making of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson age. Sancho mustn’t be a priority.
It’s true that United need a right-winger. While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has revitalised the Old Trafford outfit’s attack since taking over from Mourinho just before Christmas, he has done so with something of a lopsided frontline. On the left side, the Norwegian is awash with options – from Anthony Martial to Marcus Rashford to Alexis Sanchez, United are arguably at their strongest on the left wing. It’s a different story on the right, though.
Jesse Lingard has done well there, but while he has become integral to the way Man Utd like to play on the quick counter-attack under Solskjaer, he is not a right-winger. Juan Mata is another option, but the Spaniard, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is too ponderous on the ball to be a true fit for United’s attacking game plan.
But it’s at the back where the Old Trafford outfit must focus their transfer market attentions this summer. They need at least one central defender, with Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and World Cup winner Raphael Varane two names mentioned as potential targets. Victor Lindelof has made himself a first team pick, finally liberated to bring the ball out from the back under Solskjaer, but the Swede needs a partner alongside him.
United also require a new right back, especially if Antonio Valencia is to leave the club at the end of the season. Diogo Dalot has shown promise in his first season since joining from Porto last summer, but Solskjaer will surely need a more proven performer on the right side of his defence. Full backs have never been more important to the structure of a football team as they are now in the modern game and Man Utd mustn’t scrimp in this area.
Some may even argue that finding a new central midfielder to replace Nemanja Matic should be a greater priority that signing Sancho. The Serbian has picked up his form since the departure of Mourinho, but he remains something of a stylistic misfit in an otherwise dynamic side. His shortcomings are masked by Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba, but imagine how good that midfield trio could be with a deep-lying anchor more suited to United’s game.
Man Utd have the money to spend big on all of the aforementioned positions, as well as a right winger, but recent transfer market history suggests they won’t. Most likely, one blockbuster signing will be sanctioned along with a couple other lower grade additions. United have, in recent years, been distracted by shiny, attacking stars when they should have focused on more pragmatic targets. They can’t allow this trend to continue with Sancho, no matter how shiny he is.
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Author: Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven is a football writer and broadcaster based in Glasgow, Scotland. He was written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Eurosport, Bleacher Report, Four Four Two, The Scotsman and others. He is also a football shirt aficionado and still maintains to this day that Dennis Bergkamp didn’t mean it