Manchester United can overhaul key position without spending any money

The data experts at Twitter should conduct a deep dive and calculate how many times football fans have replied to clubs’ official accounts with a tweet containing the word ‘announce’. It must be into the millions.

In the days leading up to Manchester United’s signing of Bruno Fernandes in January, the phrase ‘announce Bruno’ was all over social media. Similarly, before Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James were confirmed as United players, fans couldn’t contain their excitement in wanting the announcement now. Right now and not a moment earlier.

Such is the way with modern football fandom, though the Twitter statisticians will surely have noted a slowing in the rate of excitable transfer talk in recent months. Coronavirus has changed so much about the world we thought we knew. And that includes tempering the expectations of even the most demanding supporter. United fans who want ‘to shift the deadwood’, or a ‘complete overhaul’ of the squad may be disappointed this summer, which will be unlike January 2020 or July 2019 in so many ways.

Ed Woodward has already warned supporters that transfers won’t be ‘business as usual’ this summer.

For a start, nobody yet knows exactly when the transfer window will fall. It has been suggested it won’t begin until the Premier League’s revised summer fixture schedule (which hasn’t itself been confirmed yet) has finished. Will the ‘summer’ window go on into September? October?

Transfers in football are usually shrouded in uncertainty, but we’re now reaching new levels of confusion. Fans, officials and players are equally in the dark.

In the case of United’s prospective business, priorities have been identified and must be adhered to – or the club will face the financial consequences. It will be a case of ‘need’ rather than ‘want’ and some issues will remain on the back-burner.

Shipping players off the wage bill may, in the world of Covid-19 financial uncertainty, take on greater importance.

United have players currently out on loan who are due to return soon: Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Alexis Sanchez among them. None of the trio would appear to have a place in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team plans, so selling them – or loaning them out again – looks a good bet if United can find suitors.

With Phil Jones another player likely to be considered for an exit, that may well mean three centre-backs leaving the club – in one way or another – in the same summer.

United’s stocks of central defenders have been plentiful this season, so much so that they’ve coped with injuries to Rojo, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe and Victor Lindelof at various stages. But if three leave, you suspect United may be in the market for at least one incoming, notwithstanding the fact that Di’shon Bernard and Teden Mengi are both good prospects coming through the academy.

United have been linked with two young centre-backs currently plying their trade in the Championship, in on-loan Leeds’ star Ben White and Swansea City’s Joe Rodon. It’s easy to see why. A player of that profile could come to United without the expectation of playing too much regular football, but as a future first-teamer and someone to push Lindelof, Bailly and Harry Maguire. Tuanzebe, Bernard and Mengi may also hope to do that too, mind.

It feels like a long time since United had such an array of options at the back.

They have gone through their fair share of mediocre centre-back options since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic both left in 2014. Jonny Evans, Daley Blind, Smalling, Jones and Rojo were not exactly a golden era for the club and Solskjaer appears to be moving towards the next generation, led by his captain Maguire.

A central defensive overhaul, then, may be possible this summer without the spending of ludicrous sums of money, if any at all. United have already spent £80million on the main man – Maguire – so now it’s about fitting in the pieces around him.

Selling Jones, Smalling and Rojo, three players all aged between 28 and 30 would probably be the way to go, despite the merits of each player.

It’s a doable rebuild in the current circumstances.

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