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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Opinion: Compared to Scholes and leaving Mkhitaryan ‘speechless’… why £70m ace is what Man United need

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When you consider what Sir Jim Ratcliffe said this week about Manchester United’s summer plans, all the while factoring in the claims made by some of the more reliable media outlets since Ineos’ co-ownership was confirmed, you can probably expect the Premier League giants to prioritise young, up-and-coming talent this summer rather than established big-names.

And if those young, up-and-coming talents arrive with a proven track record in the Premier League, then even better.

Hence why Michael Olise of Crystal Palace and Everton’s Jarrad Branthwaite – aged 22 and 21 respectively – appear to be emerging as leading targets for the right-wing and centre-half roles.

“I’d rather find the next (Kylian) Mbappe than spend a fortune trying to buy success,” Manchester United‘s new co-owner tells The Geraint Thomas Cycling Club podcast. “It’s not that clever, is it, buying Mbappe, in a way?

“Anyone could figure that one out. Much more challenging is to find the next Mbappe or Jude Bellingham, or the next Roy Keane.”

Ratcliffe’s comments, then, cast serious doubt on the reports suggesting that Man United may look into a potential £68 million deal for Inter Milan midfielder Nicolo Barella. But if United are to make an exception with regards to their youth-driven transfer policy under Ineos, then the former Cagliari maestro may be worth bending the rules for.

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Serie A TIM

Photo by sportinfoto/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Nicolo Barella may be perfect for manchester United

The Italy international, at 27, is no youngster. But nor is he a grizzled veteran, on the over side of the hill and heading down from the summit. He should still have years left at the top level and arguably still hasn’t reached his peak.

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What’s more, Barella would bring with him experience of winning trophies at the top level. His Inter side are currently cruising to a second Serie A title in three years.

One of the biggest issues facing Man United this season, meanwhile, has been the lack of legs in the middle of the park. Even against Liverpool on Sunday – one of United’s greatest wins of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era – the visitors could and maybe should have punished the hosts while frolicking in the wide open spaces given to them in midfield.

Erik ten Hag has been open about making Man United the ‘best transition team’ in the game, perhaps taking inspiration from the ‘heavy-metal football’ Jurgen Klopp brought to Anfield all those years ago.

In order to do just that, then, he needs fewer Casemiros and Christain Eriksens, and more Nicoloa Barellas. A player with the seemingly endless energy reserves required to go box-to-box in the Premier League, but also one who combines the tenacity of a Casemiro with the running power so obviously lacking from United’s squad.

‘Reminds me of Paul Scholes’

It speaks volumes about the remarkable flexibility of Barella’s game that he has been likened to Paul Scholes, Jorginho, Steven Gerrard and N’Golo Kante; four brilliant yet completely contrasting midfield players boasting a wide variety of skills.

“A leader even without being a captain can show you the way,” former Man United forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan tells the Frog Talks podcast of his Inter team-mate, an inspirational presence even as Lautaro Martinez wears the armband.

“I think of Barella who doesn’t have the armband but does things that leave you speechless.”

Interestingly, Man United’s seemingly-incoming technical director Dan Ashworth was at the helm of Newcastle United when The Magpies made a move for Barella in 2023, eventually settling on Milan’s Sandro Tonali (Fabrizio Romano).

“In terms of how he plays,,” former Inter president Massimo Moratti said during Inter’s previous Scudetto-winning campaign under Antonio Conte. “Barella reminds me of former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes, who was a really great player.”

‘A great player’, and one much missed. Ratcliffe himself indicated in midweek that Man United were crying out for a midfield player in the Scholes-mould. Could they yet find one, by dusting off Ashworth’s contact book and testing Inter’s well-publicised financial issues?

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