Manchester United’s endless links with players seem to be a hopeless cause, but at the end of the day, certain players will end up at the club this summer and United fans will be rightly excited. One of the best leagues for emerging talent this season has been the Italian Serie A, where many players have risen beyond expectations despite being very young.
A league that has been crying out for talent for the better part of the last decade, it is nice to see some talent returning to Serie A. It would be even nicer, though, if United could prize away some of the talent and put said players towards a Premier League title challenge next season. Of the many players who could’ve qualified for this list, here are the top five.
5: Kalidou Koulibaly, Centre-Back, Napoli
In the article of this series that featured Premier League targets for Manchester United, I said that Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk would be the best possible defensive target for Manchester United. While his Premier League experience puts him over the edge, the closest defender to him would be Kalidou Koulibaly, who is unbelievable with the ball at his feet and has played plenty of Champions League football.
Koulibaly is a physical, quick defender with physical and technical attributes to admire. Not only is he proficient at winning the ball back, but he completes an unreal 90% of his 70 passes per game. Those numbers would be expected of a midfielder, not a defender, but Koulibaly hits them without trying.
However, he is very well known around world football, and if made available, he will likely be courted by clubs such as Barcelona and Manchester City, who love a ball-playing centre-back. He’s also incredibly expensive, and not versatile, for which reason United may be better off with the next target on this list.
Estimated Value: £40 million
4: Stefan De Vrij, Centre-Back, Lazio
To this day, I still cannot understand why Louis van Gaal allowed Stefan De Vrij to go to Lazio for just £7m after his World Cup campaign in 2014, especially considering the ridiculous sum paid for Marcos Rojo at the time. De Vrij is a versatile defender who can play at centre-back in a back four, a back three, and even provide cover at right-back.
Steady at playing the ball out of the back, he would be a great partner for Eric Bailly, but with 6’3 stature, he could also partner Marcos Rojo, who played in the side that knocked De Vrij, van Gaal, and the Netherlands out of the World Cup. His transfer would redeem the errors made by van Gaal in 2014, and De Vrij is still young, having only turned 25 in February.
Estimated Value: £20 million
3: Andrea Belotti, Striker, Torino
Jose Mourinho’s comments about Javier Hernandez implied that Manchester United would be in the market for a poacher this summer, but a much better alternative to Hernandez would be Torino’s Andrea Belotti, a young player who can’t stop scoring goals.
Belotti has a great record of scoring goals inside the box this season, with proficiency in the air and with both feet. With 25 goals in Serie A this season, he’s the top scorer in Italy and has more goals than any player in the Premier League right now. Belotti’s addition would release the goal burden on Marcus Rashford and, as Mourinho implied, help United massively on the bench, even if for a hefty fee.
Estimated Value: £45 million
2: Mauro Icardi, Striker, Internazionale
However, if Manchester United is to target a big-money striker from Serie A, the undisputed man should be Mauro Icardi, a player who has come close to Belotti’s numbers of one season in the past few years in Italy, despite being the same age. Icardi has displayed the potential to be Argentina’s next great striker, and at 24 years of age, his goal record is ridiculous.
With 59 goals and 15 assists in 99 appearances across the last 3 Serie A seasons, Icardi’s instinct in front of goal is clearly superb, and his more clinical nature would be suitable for a foil to Marcus Rashford’s pace, energy, and creativity. If United qualifies for the Champions League next season and Zlatan Ibrahimovic chooses not to renew his contract, or if he does and Mourinho sees the need for more striking talent, Icardi would represent the best alternative to Romelu Lukaku.
Estimated Value: £55 million
1: Felipe Anderson, Winger, Lazio
United has some excellent creative players in the side, but the lack of a true natural winger has been a massive problem over the past few seasons. Enter Felipe Anderson, a player whose physical capabilities and superb technical skill see him rated as the third best player in Serie A on WhoScored and one of the brightest talents in a plethora of Brazilian gems heading into the next generation.
Anderson, who was linked with United shortly after the failed signing of Memphis, has three goals and nine assists this season, but he would join the club to provide natural width on either wing. Naturally ambidextrous, Anderson is known for his distance shooting, but more importantly, crossing. His average of 3.5 dribbles and 2.2 key passes per 90 minutes would be a refreshing sight for United fans, and Mourinho would love his tendency to work hard and win tackles in his own half.
He’s almost a luxurious, high-potential replacement for Ashley Young, who seems to lack the ability required to be a top, top player in the final third. Anderson’s ability to play on both wings as a natural wide threat would release the burden on Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Juan Mata to stay wide when they play in those areas, as Mourinho prefers to play one winger wide and one inside. He would also make United more unpredictable before matches, as fullbacks won’t know what to prepare for. The perfect target to bring the best out of United’s current options, Anderson’s excellent season in Serie A should force Jose Mourinho into the market to splash the cash on him.
Estimated Value: £35 million