Manchester United’s prolonged quest for £100 million Paul Pogba is an incredible one, but now there seem to be shades of doubt on the edges. Multiple reports have claimed that Pogba loves life in Turin and would consider signing a new contract there. Jose Mourinho identified four main positions in which he wants to sign a new player, and with the last one seemingly at the heart of midfield, any dwindling chance will be taken for Pogba. If the chance slips away, however, Mourinho needs a backup plan.
The list of midfielders who would fit the criteria of things Pogba would add to United is not large at the world class level, but there are many midfielders who could develop into the world class player they need to be to reach Pogba’s level. United has Morgan Schneiderlin as a staple in holding midfield, and Ander Herrera is the template player to play in front of the midfield two. Beyond those two are Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daley Blind and Michael Carrick, all of which can assert a calming influence on United this season. United needs a player who will play the role of the bursting midfielder, or the player who will allow Schneiderlin to play the box-to-box role.
How Pogba Would Improve United
The only thing that makes Pogba’s hefty transfer fee even remotely worth it on the football pitch is the fact he addressed every single weakness United has. Pogba possesses the ability to sit back and dictate play or set others free, which makes him the tactically perfect player alongside Schneiderlin. Players who could fill Pogba’s potential role at United would have to tick as many of the following boxes.
- Can score and create goals from midfield
- Adds significantly to United’s aerial ability
- Is versatile
- Dribbles the ball effectively
- Has the potential to improve significantly
Now, we’ll move to five realistic pursuits United can make for a midfielder who could be an alternative to Pogba. Realistic means we won’t see the likes of Toni Kroos, who just won the Champions League with Real Madrid (and offers something completely different; he’d be a good player for United but not an alternative to Pogba), or Koke, who is the most well-rounded midfielder on the planet for Real’s “noisy neighbours” Atletico. Transfer targets will be compared in three categories. The first is the quality of the player out of 10, the second is based on how likely United would be able to approach the player out of 10, and the third is 1 for each of the boxes ticked from the aforementioned list.
- Blaise Matuidi, PSG
Estimated Cost: £30 million
Blaise Matuidi has forever developed the reputation of being PSG’s eleventh and twelfth men on the pitch. Such is the energy and work rate he provides; he never stops running and has an evergreen influence on his team-mates; an incredible player to have when your team is down to 10 men. Matuidi has been linked to United alongside Pogba, and he’s a player who genuinely excites United fans, albeit not as much as Pogba.
Matuidi’s four goals and six assists were reputable for PSG this season, but the midfielder often struggles to impose himself on the most technical of football matches. He often finds himself on the edge of the penalty box and unable to do anything with the ball, which makes him a poor solution to any potential Pogba woes. Matuidi does almost nothing in the air compared to Pogba, which is the nail in the coffin here. Matuidi is a great ball winner and distributor of the ball, and if his transfer was for half the price it will likely be for, it would be an incredible deal. He does fit the bill to play alongside Schneiderlin, but any deal could prove to be far too expensive for a player who turns 30 next year.
- Radja Nainggolan, AS Roma
Estimated Cost: £30 million
Kevin Strootman’s ACL tear early in 2014 caused a major problem for AS Roma, replacing a midfielder of that quality is a problem. Somehow, Radja Nainggolan managed to fill his shoes and add his own spark to Roma’s midfield. Completing 85% of his passes and averaging more than a key pass per game, Nainggolan is able to supplement his undying energy with an impressive passing range. His eye for goal is blatantly obvious to anyone who’s watched him- just notice his two swashbuckling strikes for Belgium at the Euros, and his six strikes in Serie A are only two less than Pogba.
However, Pogba’s 12 assists in Serie A are nowhere near matched by Nainggolan, who just grabbed 1 over the entire season. Nainggolan is already 28 years old and would cost more than any other player on the list. Having been linked with Chelsea, United would face stiff competition in the hunt for Nainggolan, who doesn’t offer dribbling, aerial ability or the versatility Pogba does. Nainggolan would undoubtedly improve United, though he isn’t the very best alternative to Pogba.
- Geoffrey Kondogbia, Internazionale
Estimated Cost: £30 million
Geoffrey Kondogbia played the game of his life as Monaco played Arsenal off the pitch in the 2015 Champions League Round of 16. Just like that, he had hit the big time, and light began to shine on his quietly excellent performances for Monaco. The summer arrived, and the result was predictable, a £25 million move to Internazionale. If Mourinho can make a Premier League-winning midfield without any new players, Kondogbia becomes a midfield option to replace the likes of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata.
Kondogbia has all the traits of a traditional central midfielder, along with incredible dribbling and ball retention. He also has a monstrous defensive impetus to allow Schneiderlin the freedom to roam forward, and the potential to improve significantly. Kondogbia is incredibly versatile; he can play in the centre of defence or at left-back (there have been a lot of comments about Mourinho and specialists, he is a specialist with outstanding abilities). The only downside of Kondogbia’s game is the fact he doesn’t score goals, but surely he and Schneiderlin could share the load. If, and this is a big if, Mourinho can build the midfield he desires out of his current crop, Kondogbia would be an unbelievable addition, who would be near the top of this list if he was less expensive.
- Johannes Geis, Schalke
Estimated Cost: £20 million
He’s relatively unheard of outside the Bundesliga, but Johannes Geis has quietly been a gem for a long time and is still incredibly young. Geis’ ball-winning masterclasses for Mainz earned him a move to Schalke, where he continues to thrive at the heart of midfield. Geis has the aerial presence, the ability to dribble the ball and the continuous progression of the ball from midfield. Looking comfortable in the centre of midfield and in holding midfield, Geis was able to pick up two goals and five assists from deep in the midfield due to his most interesting asset-set-piece delivery.
Geis’ set-pieces have been compared to David Beckham, and he possesses the ability to create havoc with his risky passing and gifted set-piece ability (though it sometimes goes poorly). Geis also has an eye for goal from long-range, and at 22, he seems likely to be one of many German midfielders in the hall of fame by the end of his career. His fee would be relatively low in comparison to the rest of the players, and he should be ready to make the step up to United, where Bastian Schweinsteiger would probably offer some pulling power on his own (Schalke isn’t in the Champions League either).
- N’Golo Kante, Leicester City
Estimated Cost: £25 million
It takes a truly special footballer to edge out someone as perfect for United as Geis, and N’Golo Kante is that man. Kante is off an incredible year that cannot possibly be a fluke; he was the best player in the Premier League, regardless of what the PFA Awards say, and Sports Keeda named him the best midfielder in Europe last season. There have been legitimate claims that Kante is the hardest working midfielder of all time.
Though seemingly diminutive in size, Kante is actively involved in the air and is an absolutely incredible dribbler of the ball, Kante’s ability to pick up the ball on the edge of Leicester’s box and dribble all the way to the opposition box on the counter was key to many classic Leicester goals over the course of the season. With a goal and four assists in the Premier League season, Kante still has room to improve, and at 25, he’ll be able to do exactly that.
Mourinho traditionally operates with a defensive anchorman and a box-to-box midfielder, and Kante and Schneiderlin would be able to interchange between roles to take turns causing havoc all season. Barring the versatility, Kante has everything required to be Pogba at United- all doubts of this were crushed with his excellent Euro 2016 performances. He was undoubtedly better than Pogba last season, and could even prove to be a better purchase for a quarter of the price.
If United really is selling Mata and Fellaini, they will need a second midfielder (along with Henrikh Mkhitaryan) to replace them. Adding Kante would give United the midfield selection of Schneiderlin, Herrera, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Kante, Blind and even Timothy Fosu-Mensah, which is a midfield of youth, experience, leadership and learning, passing, dribbling, mobility and goals. There are so many combinations of this set of midfielders with the ability to pull an opposition apart with a variety of different methods. Kante gives United the tactical ability to create many different options in midfield, which could be the key option in a potential title race next year.