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⏰ Exclusive Interview with talkSPORT’s and the Content’s top transfer reporter Anil Kandola ⏰

In this exclusive interview, myself and Anil discuss the latest transfer news surrounding Manchester United as we head into the final days of, what has been, an up and down transfer window for the club. From striker options to midfield reinforcements and the rest, we cover it all.

Second striker incoming?

“In terms of a new striker for Erik Ten Hag, he outlined many, many months ago that he would like to bring two forwards in and I was being told this before the transfer window even opened, that he wanted to strikers to start the season. Obviously, with the reliability, or lack of shall we say, of Anthony Martial, it was always clear that he (Ten Hag) wanted a couple bodies in through the door. However, very, very quickly it was outlined that Man United weren’t in the price tag remit, shall we call it, for a Harry Kane, Victor Osimhen and co.”

Erik Ten Hag wanted someone like that in alongside Højlund, as Højlund is very young, raw still and has a lot to learn in terms of experience and adapting to the way Ten Hag wants to play. In an ideal world, it would have been a more senior player, a more experienced player like a Kane or someone like that coming through the door but Man United can’t pay the funds needed to get a striker like that in, which has been the most frustrating thing for a club with the stature of Manchester United. Long gone are the days of “Harry Kane, English captain, let’s bring him in and straight away we’re title contenders!”, that’s just not the way Man United roll anymore, unfortunately.”

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“So, in terms of bringing in another striker, it’s going to be very frustrating for Man United fans because, as we all know, United are in a sell to buy clause if you like or situation where they need to get rid of some players and offload them in order to raise funds so that they can bring in new players. As you mentioned at the start, what the first two performances, besides the very disappointing performances, showed was that the big thing to take away is not a striker, but the midfield and how easy they were to play through. Even a player of Casemiro’s calibre looked very exposed.

“So because of the price of what it would cost to bring in another striker, combined with the desperation for midfielders, I think a striker coming in at this stage of the window is very unlikely, unless a miracle happens where they get the midfielders in the door and are able to offload players like McTominay and co through the exit door, to get funds in. However, as we saw with Højlund, the striker market isn’t cheap if you want a player of the ilk of a Kane, Osimhen or even another Højlund. But one thing we need to remember, is that Ten Hag managed to get a third place finish last year with half a season consisting of Weghorst up front who, if I remember, he didn’t score a Premier League goal. To be honest, we were virtually in a situation watching Man United where they didn’t have a striker! (chuckling).

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Although Ten Hag is a very, very good manager, he has come under a bit of scrutiny recently but I do think he’s a top manager and perfect for Man United and, back to the striker scenario, I don’t think Højlund will have a strike partner up front at the end of this summer transfer window.”

(After mentioning if there is any truth to rumours of a move for Santos forward Marcos Leonardo) “Do you know what, it reminds me of a stat I was told, I think it was the back end of last summer, and I might have even mentioned it to you before but in the final 5 days of the transfer window last season Man United were linked with over one hundred and fifty players. I think this massively highlights the unfortunate situation that Man United fans find themselves in, doesn’t it. As you’ve just mentioned there, there’s all sort of players that have been mentioned but I don’t think there a player of any decent standard that hasn’t been linked to the club over the last few weeks and months.

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“Again, this is going to be a difficult situation for United fans to sift through all these players that have been linked and, look, we all know United need another striker whether Højlund goes on to reach the levels of his strike ‘enemy’, shall we say, in Haaland (chuckling) or not as City still have Julian Alverez, who is a World Cup winner, that can come off the bench to either support Haaland or act as a like for like. You need two quality strikers, if you’re going to play one up top and challenge on all 4 fronts but, unfortunately, at this stage for United I don’t think it will happen.”

Midfield reinforcements:

“I don’t want to go too much into what I think of Mason Mount as it’s not as if he’s playing badly, he’s just not playing and can’t get into the game, which made me question the reason why Erik Ten Hag pursued him as the first signing for Manchester United. Why, after looking at a team that finished 3rd place and with a trophy last season, he (Ten Hag) decided he was the guy to take them to the next level is a conversation for another day but. in terms of the midfield, Mount has suffered an injury so Ten Hag’s new signing, new number 7 is going to be out for 4 – 6 weeks.”

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“So, again, this amplifies the desperation for another midfielder. Even if Mount wasn’t injured, I still think they are in desperate need of midfield bodies through the door and if you look at it; Mason Mount has come in but Fred has been sold. This shows that, just from a numbers perspective, United haven’t improved the midfield as they still have the same amount of bodies available to them and Scott McTominay, if United do get the right price and the deal fits all parties, will be gone as well.”

“Looking at the situation, United had to get rid of Fred and McTominay, which United fans will agree is the right decision and it is time to move on from the ‘McFred’ era but you have to replace them and, going into the names, Verratti has been linked but this fits the category, massively, of a big European name which will excite Man United fans. However, I don’t think there is much substance at all, if at all, to the Marco Verratti stuff but the two names that you mentioned in Ryan Gravenberch and Sofyan Amrabaat we can discuss.”

“We’ll start with Amrabaat, this is a long term interest from Man United. I’ve spoke on talkSPORT many times, even when we did our last interview, I mentioned Sofyan Amrabaat as he’s a player that can really, really change things for United and the outlook of their season. A couple fellow Man United fans say to me “With all due respect, what’s so special about Sofyan Amrabaat?” and the example that I give goes to 2006, as Jose Mourinho had won the league and beat Man United to it by 8 points.”

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“Man United signed a few players that summer and the only one that, I think and can remember, went straight into the first team was a certain Michael Carrick and, at the time, everyone questioned it as United got battered to the league by Chelsea and Mourinho had the bit between his teeth but United signed a midfielder, who wasn’t a star at the time in Michael Carrick. The situation, as we all know, completely changed as United went on to win 3 league titles in a row and won the league the following season by 8 points, so it was a sixteen point swing from virtually signing Michael Carrick alone.”

“This example just highlights, massively, how much one player can make the difference and it doesn’t have to be a massive name, just a player that comes in and knows his job whilst allowing all the other players the platform to elevate their performances, which he would do with Casemiro. Amrabaat is absolutely desperate for this move to happen to Manchester United and, if the money was there, he’d of already played a game for the club or, had he been brought in earlier, played both games and the performances would have been very different if he were in that midfield.”

“Casemiro is great, but he’s not God, he can’t consistently fill in multiple positions. I like to think of him as a one and a half player, he can do the roles of one and a half players but not 3 players. Also, if he did come in, then that allows 2 holding midfielders to be deployed, which is so vital for the big games away as we saw in the Spurs game with Maddison and Bissouma looking incredible but, let’s face it United made it easy for them to play through the midfield. IF United were to raise some funds, I think Sofyan Amrabaat will be the very first option they will go to, he’s not training with the current side at Fiorentina and the manager has said he won’t be available for the next game.”

“So, clearly, no matter what happens with his future, Amrabaat is being respectful of the situation and allowed Manchester United the next few days to get this deal over the line. The deal is finally moving in the right direction with even a loan deal for the midfielder being a real possibility. Not ideal as United fans would like him on a permanent of course, but as long as he’s through the door, that’s the main thing. I’d be shocked if this deal doesn’t happen before 11pm Friday.”

“Gravenberch is another name, and this is quite an interesting one to me because this situation reminds me of the January transfer window, which was shocking in terms of what the club did to Erik Ten Hag by bringing in two loan players and neither of them are at the club anymore. So, in terms of the loan strategy, I hate to keep having to say it, United are on a sell to buy basis and if they’re in a situation where they only raise £25 million from now until the end of the window, and they spend it all on Amrabaat, then they still need another player in.”

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“He (Gravenberch) will be available on a loan deal potentially, with the obligation to buy the following season, and United would like to think this is the final season with the Glazers , who knows what’s going to happen there, but this is a situation where I do genuinely believe that if it’s going to happen, it will happen quickly. The speed of a deal like this could see it happen on a deadline day and would mean Man United won’t have to front up any cash now in order to get him in quickly, which would result in United’s transfer window looking different, shall we say,, if Amrabaat and Gravenberch both come into that midfield and bring a bit of steel into it. Scott McTominay’s future remains unclear. Bayern are in fact heavily interested in the acquisition of the Scotsman but appear to be around £15m off United desired fee. Make of that what you will…”

Defensive issues – Incomings and Maguire to West Ham fallout:

“United emergency search for a left back, after Luke Shaw’s been sidelined with an injury, seems to have found its conclusion. Marc Cucurella is the emerging winner out of the several candidates United had the green light to pursue. He’s a player who had a superb career at Brighton and was lauded as one of the best in the country when it came to the left-back position. If he finds the form he found at Brighton, not the Chelsea form, this could work out to be a shrewd bit of business.”

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“It’s really, really difficult for Man United fans with the Harry Maguire situation and we all know that Man United won’t be signing another centre-back unless Maguire goes. It’s a strange situation because look at the back end of last season when Luke Shaw, who is nothing but a left-back and has played that position the whole of his career, was even playing ahead of Maguire in the centre-half position for Manchester United. If that doesn’t which speaks volumes from day one, then I don’t know what will.”

“It’s really, really difficult for Man United fans with the Harry Maguire situation and we all know that Man United won’t be signing another centre-back unless Maguire goes. It’s a strange situation because look at the back end of last season when Luke Shaw, who is nothing but a left-back and has played that position the whole of his career, was even playing ahead of Maguire in the centre-half position for Manchester United. If that doesn’t which speaks volumes from day one, then I don’t know what will.”

“However, in terms of the Maguire situation, West Ham were heavily interested and there were a few rumours going around that David Moyes (West Ham manager) even got this deal so advanced that he was promising Harry Maguire was going to be the captain at the club. So, there was a lot going for Maguire if he went to West Ham, in terms of going into a team, playing every week, being a real focal point in the backline and the £30 million deal was agreed between the two clubs, everything was set and Maguire…declined.”

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“There was a situation where Man United were very willing and open to giving him £6 million, in terms of a payout, to buy him out of his contract but he was assuming it would be a lot more and the figures I was hearing were a lot closer to £12 million, double the price United were willing to pay. Again, it’s a situation where United fans are left confused because a player who’s surplus to requirements, no matter what you think of Maguire’s ability, looks set to be staying. At the end of the day, he is not in Erik Ten Hag’s plans, that’s been made very clear for quite some time, even before Ten Hag was discussing the situation regarding Maguire you just had to look at the starting eleven every week as Maguire was not getting a sniff. Last season, he was only getting the last 10 – 15 minutes in games and when he was starting Man United weren’t at their best, let’s put it that way.”

“I think frustration is the word I would use to summarise Man United’s transfer window; started off well in the beginning, in terms of getting in the players they wanted early, very early considering it’s Manchester United but now, in the space of 10 days, it’s gone back to normal service. The club’s star signing in Mason Mount is out injured for 4 – 6 weeks, players like Maguire and McTominay (who are not in the manager’s plans) are effectively dragging their heels and don’t want to go, and now Luke Shaw is out injured with an emergency left back having to be brought in.”

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“I don’t want to go too much into Maguire at Manchester United, but it is a situation where Man United want to move on and they want to start their new era under Erik Ten Hag properly. The thing that really, really frustrates me is when opposing fans or pundits throw the budget at Man United and Erik Ten Hag as a stick to beat him with as they say; Well, you’ve spent £250 million in this summer window and this summer window.”, but then you look at £250 million nowadays will buy you a Jack Grealish, a Moises Caicedo and maybe a couple of Amrabaats. So, what’s that, 4 players through the door at £250 million? What sounds more dramatic – he’s spent £250 million or that he’s brought in 4 players?

“Forget the fee, 4 players is not backing the manager. This doesn’t make sense at all and the price tag is different but I’m talking about the amount of bodies coming in through the door. Erik Ten Hag has been backed, but he hasn’t been backed in the way that he should be or that is appropriate to get the team to where he wants to get to.”

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Back to Maguire, look, I wouldn’t shut the door completely on him moving this summer. At the end of the day, if Man United do come out and say to Maguire, quite publicly, that he’s not going to play (which we’ve seen happen before at other clubs as well as United) then it could get messy. At the end of the day, if Erik Ten Hag feels so strongly about Maguire leaving so that someone else can come through the door, then it may have to take something along these lines to make it happen.”

Erik Ten Hag under pressure?

“At the end of the day, it’s quite funny when people talk about Erik Ten Hag spending more than Chelsea, which is absolutely incredible really considering they’ve the whole of Man United’s budget and then some on two midfielders in the last two years. Again, it’s something people potentially enjoy when it’s Man United but I always like to revert a lot of United fans who say; “This is awful! Look at the performances!”, “This is what he’s done with a whole other preseason” and remind them of the state of affairs when Erik Ten Hag lost his first two games this time, last season.”

“If you remember, people were referring to Erik Ten Hag as ‘Erik Ten Games, which then highlights exactly what he went through in the last summer window plus the Ronaldo debacle and everything else that happened afterwards, and for him to sterr the ship with practically one arm tied behind his back is nothing short of a miracle, I think.”

“So, the situation isn’t great at the moment but I think United fans need to have faith in Ten Hag because he’s earnt enough credit, as you said, through the cup finals and through the top four finish and, of course, getting that five year trophy drought off his back. I like to be more optimistic than most Man United, which is quite difficult considering how awful the transfer window is shaping up to be going into the final few days, but he (Ten Hag) is a brilliant manager and I can’t stress it enough; if Man United fans were backing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for whatever reason then Erik Ten Hag deserves another eighteen months, at the very minimum.”

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