When Louis Van Gaal first took the wheel at Manchester United, we were led to believe that a flood of players from the German Bundesliga would soon be wearing United red. With many expecting Van Gaal to shop at former club Bayern Munich – including the media, who promptly linked United with former Van Gaal charges such as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller. Of course, moves for these players failed to materialise, but that hasn’t stopped the Daily Express touting a move for Bayern’s Swiss midfielder, Xherdan Shaqiri.
The major thing to note about this rumour – as with any – is to consider the reliability of the source; the Daily Express have a history of dodgy dispatches, especially when it comes to transfer ‘news’. And while this rumour has also been reported in the Daily Star, the two papers are hardly a paragon of reliability and attribute the news to ‘reports’ (although there is little else linking the 23-year-old with United). This summer the Express claimed Manchester United had agreed to sign Juan Cuadrado, Mats Hummels and the perennial Transfer News Darling Arturo Vidal, so taking anything by them seriously is problematic.
Shaqiri has struggled for game time at Bayern, sitting behind the likes of Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Mario Gotze in a star-studded pecking order. But he still possesses the quality that earned him a free transfer to the current Bundesliga champions after he eviscerated United’s defence in 2011 – and let’s not forget his hat-trick at the World Cup.
There are several schools of thought which could prove whether Van Gaal and Ed Woodward are indeed planning on moving for the Austrian this January. First is the view of the Guardian’s Jamie Jackson: recently he reported that United and Louis Van Gaal are not looking to sign anyone in the January transfer window and are instead focusing on the summer market, ostensibly putting paid to any move for Shaqiri.
On the other hand, United have also been linked with another winger in January, this time one of their own: Nani, whose scintillating form back in Portugal has led to the prospect of recalling him from his loan in the new year. Manchester Evening News echo the widely believed claim that his return is close to impossible as Nani’s loan back to Sporting was fundamental in the deal for Marcos Rojo.
This suggests that Van Gaal is weighing up whether to add another winger to his squad and so it is this which must be considered before starting to believe the rumour mill.
Louis Van Gaal started the season with a mini-cull in the wide player department, at the time his 3-5-2 system meant that they were simply not needed, and so Nani and Wilfried Zaha were promptly shipped out on loan, while more versatile wide-men were kept and brought in; Angel Di Maria was added to Adnan Januzaj, Ashley Young, and Antonio Valencia — who may be moved permanently to right-back.
A change of formation has mandated that United need two top-class wingers: we know Angel Di Maria is of that ilk but there are doubts over whether Januzaj is good enough to start, while Ashley Young looks set to move on having only found a place in the squad with Van Gaal’s wingback system. This would mean there is room another winger in the squad – possibly two – with Nani eventually coming back.
But if the intent to sign a winger in January is there nonetheless, then a move for Shaqiri looks more likely, especially if he is available – which looks the case.
It seems that Bayern Munich blocked any moves for Shaqiri in the summer after Franck Ribery’s back injuries and Arjen Robben’s post-World-Cup fatigue — the pair have since returned to their imperious best and the 23-year-old has only appeared fleetingly, albeit impressively, scoring goals from the bench against Roma and Eintracht Frankfurt.
It would be wise for Van Gaal to look for another winger although Shaqiri may not be that player; instead, a move for a player well-versed in the Dutchman’s philosophies — Memphis Depay — is more likely and that’s why this rumour may not come to fruition – instead the Express may soon be printing headlines of Shaqiri’s transfer to Liverpool or Arsenal, and not Manchester United, but it won’t stop them in the meantime.