The Ralf Rangnick Era: Five players who could flourish and five who could leave

Manchester United started off the Ralf Rangnick era with a top performance against Crystal Palace last weekend, running out 1-0 winners in a game where United could have scored five. The instant impact of Rangnick’s arrival was evident from the first whistle, with United pressing high up the pitch and recovering the ball quickly. This type of pressing and control is a different style of playing in comparison to recent years, so in this article we’ll take a look at five players who could flourish and five who may be heading for the exit:

Five Who Could Flourish:

1. Fred

The first player in this list is almost an obvious pick after recent performances. The 28-year-old Brazilian has been hugely impressive in the last four games, sticking to his best attributes of breaking up play and providing energy in United’s midfield. 

If Fred was capable of doing this consistently then there’s no doubt around the fact that he’d be considered one of the top midfielders in the league, however this has not been the case during his time at United thus far. Fortunately, with Ralf Rangnick’s preference for fast and high pressing football, Fred may be better suited to perform to his best ability more consistently.

Already proving to be the matchwinner in his first game under Rangnick, Fred produced a brilliant performance- deservedly winning man of the match. With all of this being said, under Rangnick’s expert coaching and being well suited to United’s new system, Fred is one of the players who will look to improve the most over the next six months; and hopefully finally fulfil his full potential for United.

2. Victor Lindelof

Victor Lindelof is a player who may be surprised that he’s currently featured so frequently in the United starting eleven, however an injury to Raphael Varane has afforded the Swede an opportunity to stake a claim for a permanent spot. The 27-year-old has actually been one of United’s better performing defenders this season, although that’s not saying too much. 

Having just been promoted to Sweden captaincy it seems Lindelof has gained more maturity and this is showing in his performances. During Rangnick’s first game in charge, Lindelof was aggressive and tenacious when pressing further up the pitch. Additionally, he was able to pass out accurately and switch the play with ease, which was to the benefit of United’s charging fullbacks and forwards.

It’s likely that when Varane comes back from injury Lindelof will be delegated to the bench once more, however this isn’t certain as club captain Harry Maguire has had an awful season so far. Whether Lindelof manages to become a regular starter or not, there’s some good signs for a high level of performance from the Swedish captain, suited to Rangnick’s affinity for pressing high and aggressively.

3. Mason Greenwood

Mason Greenwood burst onto the scene at United as a teenage sensation, managing to bag a hugely impressive 19 goals in the 2019/2020 season. While not quite reaching those numbers last season, Greenwood has started this season well- scoring some brilliant goals already. 

Greenwood has already scored five goals in all competitions thus far and has the potential to surpass his impressive haul of 19 from a couple of seasons ago. The 20-year-old registered an assist in Rangnick’s first game in charge and scored a stunning goal in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys

The deadly forward was largely restricted to a role on the wing in recent years, but with Rangnick’s preferred 4-2-2-2 system Greenwood may be able to start as one of the two strikers more regularly, allowing him ample opportunity to score. 

Rangnick has already spoken about Greenwood’s talent and potential, having been impressed with his performances so far this season, which means Greenwood should mature into an even more deadly forward under Rangnick.

4. Diogo Dalot

United have relied on Aaron Wan-Bissaka as the right-back option heavily during his time at the club, while Portuguese Diogo Dalot has been second choice. Dalot, who joined from Porto, was touted as one of the most promising fullbacks in world football when he initially signed. 

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old has failed to live up to the hype just yet, although there is still ample time for him to develop his game. Dalot moved to AC Milan in 2020 for a moderately successful loan spell, which many thought would lead to his permanent sale. 

This didn’t happen though, and it now looks likely that Dalot may be able to displace out of form Bissaka for the starting spot in the team. As mentioned previously, Rangnick likes proactive football with high pressing and attacking fullbacks- something more suited to Dalot’s natural game than Wan-Bissaka’s. 

In the game against Crystal Palace Dalot was a constant threat, overlapping and knocking balls into the box all game. In addition to this he came very close to scoring at the end of the first half after a nice run. Rangnick may well just prefer to use Dalot as his starting right-back, which could lead to the Portuguese’s best run of form yet.

5. Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho’s start to life at United has not quite been what he or the fans may have expected, however in the last week or so there are signs that he might start hitting form. Sancho struggled under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, spending more time on the bench than he would have liked. 

However, it looks like Sancho may be granted a first team role under Rangnick, playing in one of the number 10 roles alongside Bruno Fernandes.  After scoring twice in one week under Michael Carrick, Sancho may start performing to his best ability under a new manager who actually tried to sign him several years ago.

Rangnick recognises the talent in the young English forward after presumably watching him intensely during his career at Borussia Dortmund. Playing in an inside 10 role may benefit Sancho, who can start linking up with the strikers and fullbacks more cohesively, which should ultimately lead to a flurry of goals and assists.

Five Who Could Leave:

1. Anthony Martial

After announcing himself in dramatic style against Liverpool in 2015, Anthony Martial has never fully reached that same height again. The Frenchman has had periods of good form but has never consistently impressed or shown enough to be a first choice Manchester United striker. 

Since the arrivals of the likes of Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho, Martial has been starved for game time or any kind of good form. News also broke this week from Martial’s agent Philippe Lamboley, stating the striker wishes to leave the club in January due to his lack of game time, which all but confirms the exit is looming for the once promising 26-year-old.

2. Eric Bailly

Eric Bailly is a player that has only recently signed a new deal with United, yet presently sits as fourth choice centre-back. The Ivorian has expressed his desire to play games and help the club, yet under Solskjaer this opportunity was not presented. Bailly has a high level of talent but his tendency to make rash decisions holds him back from being selected week in week out. 

Theoretically Bailly fits in with Rangnick’s high intensity pressing football perfectly, but it looks like he will have to settle with being a squad player after the arrival of Raphael Varane and the good form of Victor Lindelof, plus the fact that it’s likely club captain Harry Maguire will be retained as a starter. All of this being said, Bailly will probably look to seek another club in order to gain more playing time.

3. Dean Henderson

Dean Henderson looked very likely to replace David de Gea as United’s number one goalkeeper towards the end of last season, however a De Gea resurgence has shut down any chance of that happening. 

Henderson possesses enormous amounts of talent for such a young goalkeeper, and certainly doesn’t lack the confidence necessary to be United’s first choice goalkeeper. Henderson played in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys, putting in a confident display complete with elements of a sweeper- keeper. 

This would be to Rangnick’s liking, however the United manager has made it clear that De Gea is number one, which could indicate rumours about a potential loan or permanent move away could become something more concrete.

4. Jesse Lingard

The longstanding saga surrounding Jesse Lingard and his United future should finally come to a close under Rangnick’s reign as manager. While there are no doubts surrounding the quality Lingard has, it’s clear the academy graduate wants to be starting games, deservedly so too. West Ham looked like a likely destination after an impressive loan spell there last season, although Newcastle United are starting to show interest as well. 

Lingard will suit Rangnick’s style of pressing, but it feels like it’s too late for the 28-year-old to revive his United career at this point.

5. Juan Mata

Juan Mata has been an excellent servant to United since joining back in David Moyes’s short spell as manager. Mata has always oozed class when playing but he finally seems to be at the stage where his body can no longer cope with the rhythm and intensity of the Premier League. 

The 33-year-old has only made three appearances so far this season and there have been suggestions Mata may prefer a return to Spain sooner than later. It’s distinctly obvious Mata is the wrong type of profile to carry out the intensive pressing style of play United are expected to develop over the next six months, meaning a January or summer exit is on the cards.

In addition to the players mentioned above there are still several futures that could pan out either way- including the likes of Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. Rangnick will be keen to trim the squad down and assemble a team more in his image over the next few months, and if successful United may finally compete for the Premier League title once more.

Written by Sam Wilson

Jadon Sancho: Time to push on?

Manchester United’s 2-0 victory against Villarreal in the Champions League on Tuesday night brought many positives, most notably qualification to the knockout stages of the competition. 

This game also proved a positive experience for some of the players who were low on form and confidence following the dreadful run of games United have been on that led to the sacking of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last weekend. 

One of the players who proved their worth during this game was summer signing Jadon Sancho. 

Sancho signed for United form Borussia Dortmund in the summer for a reported £73 million after United showed a long standing interest in the winger, as reported by Sky Sports. Sancho stated the move was ‘a dream come true’ and seemingly could not wait to get started in a red shirt. 

United fans were also positive about the move, knowing the club had wanted the youngster since at least the summer previous, it felt like a signing that was always meant to happen. It was also a singing that fans felt solved an issue within the squad, which was the weakness in the right-winger position previously held by either Mason Greenwood, who is more of a central striker, and Daniel James, who has since been sold to Leeds. 

United fans had every reason to be excited about the young winger as at the time of purchase, Sancho was considered one of the best young talents in the world. 

During his time at Dortmund the winger made 137 appearances in all competitions, scoring 50 goals and contributing 66 assists, for a player who was only 17 when he joined, as reported by the Bundesliga and 21 when he left, these numbers are extremely impressive. 

The fact the winger left Manchester City’s Academy at 17 to go abroad to get game time also shows Sancho’s resilience, an attribute that would serve him well at a cub as big as United. 

However, Sanchos time at United has not gotten off to the best start, before Tuesdays game Sancho had contributed no goals or assists during his 14 appearances in all competitions. This poor start led to journalists and pundits alike jumping on the youngster and questioning why he was not preforming, especially after arriving for a big fee.

Sky Sports reported that the situation had ‘echoes’ of the Donny Van De Beek situation at United, a player who was bought in the summer of 2020 and has barely been used since. Gary Neville stated that Sancho ‘is a victim of the current performances of the team’ stating that a new player would ideally come into a settled unit, and that did not appear to be the case for the youngster, possibly explaining his bad run of form. 

Now things seem to be on the up for Sancho who undoubtedly put in his best performance in a United shirt on Tuesday, scoring his first goal for the club. His all-round performance was also praised by interim manager Michael Carrick who stated after the game that ‘Jadon was brilliant’, as reported by BBC sport

As United look to move forward into a new era after the dismissal of Solskjaer, it is highly likely that Sancho will be a key player for whoever takes over at the club as there is no doubting, he is a huge talent and could go onto the be one of the best in his position if handled correctly. 

United fans do not need to worry as Tuesday proved that the player the club signed in the summer is still there and can make an impact, it is just a case of finding consistent performances moving forward, which he must do in order to keep his spot in the firs team. It is now time for Jadon Sancho to push on and prove his doubters wrong at Manchester United. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Solskjaer’s Tactical Tweak: A New System For Manchester United?

After a week of intensive pressure, Manchester United managed to respond to the shocking 5-0 defeat against Liverpool with an impressive, albeit, comfortable 3-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspur. Many had suspected United would have had a different manager in charge this past weekend, however Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retained confidence from the club despite a large outcry from certain fans against him. 

Solskjaer made a good decision to adjust United’s formation into a 3-5-2, making the team look far more comfortable defensively. With the impressive display against Tottenham, it seems this setup could be the way forward for United.

It’s not the first time United have effectively deployed the 3-5-2, Solskjaer’s side recorded a very impressive 2-1 victory against Paris Saint-Germain last season using the same system. Aside from this game there have been victories against both Manchester City and Chelsea in the past using the 3-5-2, which cements it as a formation that can be used to thwart the higher quality teams. 

Across his tenure at United Solskjaer has largely played more of a counter attacking game, although this season it looked as if Solskjaer had shifted away from that slightly. Games against Leicester and Liverpool recently highlighted Solskjaer’s desire to use a 4-2-4, a formation that saw United played off the park in both games, conceding nine in total across the two games. 

It may be that the addition of high-quality players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane has fooled Solskjaer into thinking he can get away with playing a more offensive game with less focus on defensive structure, however, it just doesn’t work like that. 

The issue with the United team is a large contingent of attacking minded players who when deployed in more offensive formations leave the defence totally exposed. United have looked like trying to deploy more of a press in recent weeks, however, it’s not the same as the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, who have perfected their systems over the last few years to work flawlessly

Additionally, Solskjaer doesn’t possess the right set of players to deploy aggressive presses like some teams, Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood may be exceptional finishers, however they aren’t players who will press effectively.

In the game against Tottenham, the inclusion of three centre-backs with two wing-backs meant United had a much more secure shape and were less susceptible to being played through in the middle. Ronaldo also had a strike partner in the form of veteran striker Edinson Cavani, who scored a wonderful goal in the second half set up by partner Ronaldo. 

In recent weeks Ronaldo has had the tendency to look a little isolated at times, so the change of formation could be hugely beneficial for the Portuguese forward, allowing more direct link up play to occur. Another facet of the change meant United looked like they were a lot more compact and closer together, Bruno Fernandes occupying a slightly deeper role than he usually does. 

There were no more gaping holes in midfield and both Scott McTominay and Fred looked far more comfortable marauding the midfield with three defenders securely behind them.

One of the issues that arises from switching to a formation with three at the back is in regard to the reduced roles it affords to United’s more offensive players. The club secured Jadon Sancho in the summer for a hefty fee of £73 million, but unfortunately the young winger has had limited opportunities to impress thus far. 

Sancho is still finding his feet and worryingly a formation change could mean he has even less of a chance of breaking into the team this season. The drawback of 3-5-2 is the lack of out and out attacking wingers, which for United is problematic considering the depth and quality available in that position. Marcus Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho are just three of the several wingers who possess top level quality at the club, meaning there’s no chance all of them get into the team at the same time. 

While both Rashford and Greenwood could occupy the striker role next to Ronaldo, it’s unlikely Sancho would play in such a role considering his ability as a natural winger; giving Solskjaer something to think about in regard to accommodating all of his players.

United face two difficult upcoming games in the next week, one against Atalanta in the Champions League and a derby against city rivals Manchester City. It’s very likely that Solskjaer will stick with the 3-5-2, or some variation of it, and the Norwegian will hope United can pick up further clean sheets against two difficult sides. 

Despite the comfortable win against Tottenham, United will have to work to perfect a new system if Solskjaer chooses to stick with it, but further wins in the next week could gift Solskjaer a new lease of life on his team and more importantly, offer a new way to play going forward.

Written by Sam Wilson

Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United likely to continue after summer transfers – reports

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba was expected to run down his contract at the Old Trafford club this season, leaving as a free agent next summer for the second time in his career. However, the transfer business conducted by the club this summer, in which Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo all signed for the club could see the player make a U-turn on his future, as reported by The Mirror.

If these rumours of the player changing his min are true, United could be set for success in the not too distant future.

Pogba first left United in the summer of 2012, rejecting a new contract to remain at the club, which was then managed by Sir Alex Ferguson. Pogba signed as a free agent for Juventus, in which compensation was paid as the player had come through United’s academy. Four years later, United signed Pogba for £89 million with the player looking to finish what was started at the club.

In his first season back at United, then managed by Jose Mourinho, Pogba helped the Old Trafford club lift the EFL Cup, now the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Europa League, which meant that United had now won every trophy they had ever played for in the history of the club.

Since winning their last trophy, United have faltered in rediscovering that trophy-winning form, overcoming their semi-final hoodoo last season by earning a UEFA Europa League final against Villarreal, which was lost on 11-10 on penalties. It was a shame that United could not win the Europa League last season but the trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic were just one of the reasons the club failed.

Many may see that blaming the inability to win on the pandemic might be childish, but you have to look at the three months delay to the 2019/20 season, which saw the season finish during June and July 2020 with the UEFA competitions being played out through August 2020. That with the 2020/21 season starting in September, it saw United with around three weeks break with no pre-season and effectively continuing one season straight after the other which resulted in continued fatigue.

It is being suggested that the 28-year-old French midfielder has had a change of heart over his future at United, which if true is a good thing as United could achieve so much more with the player in the squad this season.

Pogba has started the season in fine form with United’s start to the season, getting four assists in the 5-1 demolition of Leeds United in the clubs opening match of the season, getting another assist in the 1-1 draw with Southampton, then getting two more in the 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at the weekend.

United have scored 11 goals in their opening four Premier League matches this season, conceding just three, which is a much better start to the season compared to last season, where they fell to a home defeat on the opening day of the season to Crystal Palace, losing five more matches, all at Old Trafford during the course of the season in the league.

Pogba did not have the greatest 2020/21 season but his start to the current season shows that he wants to make amends for that.

The reports in The Mirror on Monday seem to come from a report by The Athletic, which seems to suggest the return to Old Trafford of a certain Ronaldo is the major boost in Pogba’s mind seemingly changing, which shows that United are seeking to create something for the future and the now in their bid to challenge for silverware both this season and in the future.

Ronaldo’s second debut at the club saw him score a brace against Newcastle, which turned back the years at the Theatre of Dreams.

Over the years, Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola has been vocal about United’s demise, which you can see from the point of view of the player, in that he wants to achieve success with the club, especially during the peak of his career.

But the words from Raiola were agitating and seemed to suggest that he wanted to move his client on to pastures new once again, if only to earn some money for himself, which he seems to be obsessed by as an agent. Another client of his, Erling Haaland seems to be wanted by many clubs, which will earn Raiola a tidy sum, which is something he seems to care about more than anything else.

If Pogba ends up committing his foreseeable future to United, and it is a good deal for the club – not something that will see the player earn £400,000 per week, as has been talked about in the media recently, it could be a good deal, especially if the French FIFA World Cup winner wants to achieve things for this club once again.

United winning the Premier League title for the first time since the 2012/13 season would be considered a great success for the club, based on the fact Manchester City seem to have dominated – winning the title four times, with Chelsea winning twice and both Leicester City and Liverpool winning one each.

United will obviously be seeking to signing more players next summer with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata all entering their last year of their contracts, plus Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to finally sort out the midfield, with Nemanja Matic the only experienced defensive midfielder at the club.

Whatever United manage to achieve this season will only be the beginning as the club looks like they mean business in getting back to winning ways and challenging for silverware for the foreseeable future.

Written by John Walker

An Attacking Dilemma: How will Manchester United cope without Marcus Rashford?

In the 2020/21 season Marcus Rashford had a career best season, scoring 21 times and assisting 15 in 57 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United, this attacking return cemented Rashford as a key player in the United first team, with only Bruno Fernandes having a better attacking contribution with 28 goals and 17 assists in one more game than Rashford. With these attacking returns, it is easy to understand why many United fans are anxious about the prospect of not having the number 10 until October.

The reason for the absence of Rashford is surgery he decided to have on a shoulder injury, the Manchester Evening News reported that ‘the forward has been playing with several injuries for the last year, with the shoulder injury being the most troubling’, the fact Rashford had been playing through an injury barrier in the 2020/21 season and still managed his best attacking return implies that had he not been injured, those numbers may have been even better, proving how crucial a player he is. While Rashford is side-lined it is important to evaluate the options Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has available to him in that left wing position while and consider who may even thrive in that position while given the opportunity. 

The first, and perhaps most exciting, option that United have in that left-midfield area to fill in for Rashford is Paul Pogba, who played in that position in United’s opening game at Old Trafford against Leeds United. Pogba put in a “Man of the Match” worthy performance, contributing four assists during the 5-1 win. Playing the Scott McTominay and Fred pivot allowed Pogba more freedom down the left-hand side in comparison to the more reserved game he must play when he is played deeper and more central in a pivot role. 

This freedom not only allowed Pogba to go further forward down the pitch with the ball, but also allowed him to be more fluid in his positioning, an example of this being the position he was in to deliver the assist for Fernandes’ first goal, Pogba occupies a central position while Mason Greenwood turns and runs down the left hand side and Fernandes pulled ahead into the space Greenwood has just vacated to run between the defenders and slot home his first goal of the day. 

This fluidity is a crucial part of Pogba’s game and is something he did regularly during his time at Juventus, however, since signing for United in 2016, Pogba has more often than not been played in a midfield two, expected to create from a deep lying position, this injury to Rashford, and the managers trust in the McTominay and Fred partnership, has created the perfect opportunity for Pogba to show his ability when given freedom down his favoured left hand side of the pitch. After his five-star performance on the opening day of the season, maybe United don’t need to look much further than their record signing for the perfect option to fill the void left by Rashford. 

The key issue with relying on Pogba in that left midfield area is that as a team United are still relatively thin in midfield, it would only take an injury to Fred, McTominay or Nemanja Matic for Solskjaer to need to use Pogba in the central midfield role he can also play. Therefore, while for now, with a very fit squad, Paul Pogba is the most exciting and straight forward replacement for Rashford, he cannot be the one to completely rely on. There must be other options for games where Pogba will need to play midfield between now and October, which is the expected return date for Rashford as reported by Sky Sports.

A second natural fit Manchester United could use to play on the left, that wouldn’t take away from their midfield options, is winger Daniel James. Since signing for United in 2019 James has played 4,526 minutes in all competitions across two full seasons at the club, in that time scoring nine goals and getting nine assists, while these numbers are much weaker than Rashford’s, it must be noted that for the majority of James’s Manchester United career he has been played out of position on the right wing, instead of his favoured position of left wing, which is the position he played for previous team Swansea and his national team. 

In his final season at Swansea, before he signed for United, James registered five goals and 10 assists in 2,815 minutes from the left wing, for a young player in the Championship, in a team like Swansea who will not be attacking as regularly as Manchester United, these are very respectable numbers. Similarly, in only 1,877 minutes for Wales, James has registered four goals and three assists, again this is in a much more conservative team than United, with weaker players around him. 

These numbers imply that James produces better attacking contributions when playing on the left-wing, it could be argued that the current predicament is a natural time for Solskjaer to give James a run of games in his favoured position to see what he is able to do there. It must also be noted that James is one of the fastest players in the league, an attribute that Rashford also has, this might help in games against teams who defend with a high line as James speed in behind, must like Rashford’s when fit, could be used as a tactic to break those teams down. This is an attribute Pogba lacks. 

The final player who could be used to fill the position left vacant by Marcus Rashford is Anthony Martial. Of course, since Solskjaer’s arrival at the club, Martial has been used primarily as a central striker which is his favoured position as reported by The Daily Mail, a move which paid off in the 2019/20 season when Martial delivered his best attacking return in a Manchester United shirt, scoring 23 goals and getting 12 assists in 48 appearances

However, in the following season, these numbers stalled significantly in the central forward position, with the number nine only managing seven goals and nine assists in 27 appearances, this meant that Edison Cavani took his spot as United’s starting striker midway through the season. Interestingly, in Martials first season at United in 2015/16 the attacker played a total of 4,128 minutes getting 17 goals and nine assists, from the left-wing position only, he played 2,132 minutes scoring nine goals and getting seven assists, showing that most of his attacking contributions came from the left-wing position, in 2,000 fewer minutes overall. 

This is a trend that continues throughout his United career, until he is moved to only play striker in the 2019/20 season. He consistently produces most of his attacking returns from the left-hand side, proving that he is a valuable player in that position. 

Another reason why Martial may be the perfect fit to replace Rashford while he is side-lined is because he is currently third in the pecking order in his favoured position of centre forward. After the breakthrough of Greenwood and the solid season in 2020/21 from Edinson Cavani, Martial may need to move position for the foreseeable to get the minutes he wants and needs as a player.

It is a position the fan base has seen him thrive in before and would leave room for Greenwood to flourish in the striker role after the summer signing of right winger Jadon Sancho, everything seemingly fits in place for Martial to make a comeback this season from the left-wing, staking his claim as a valuable attacking player for United. 

What this illustrates is that while the prospect of starting a new season without a talismanic figure like Rashford may be daunting for United fans, the squad is now deep enough that the team can not only survive the absence of Rashford, but perhaps even thrive due to the wealth of attacking ability now at the club. Pogba, James and Martial all have individual qualities that can fill the void left by Rashford, with Solskjaer even having the option of rotating these players in the left sided position to best fit the opposition.

It should also be noted that while Rashford will no doubt be missed, this forced break away from the game can only do the young star good after playing through injuries for the best part of a year and through Euro 2020, perhaps United fans will see an even better Marcus Rashford when he returns fully fit and ready to make his mark on the 2021/22 campaign.

Written by Jennifer McCord

The Red and Blue of Manchester

Following Jadon Sancho’s high-profile move to Manchester United, this article explores the most famous players to have also played for both Manchester United and Manchester City, analysing their time at both clubs and commenting on the success of each period.

It would be of great difficulty to mention every player to have competed for both clubs and even more so to cover them all in considerable detail. Instead, this article will focus on the most significant and memorable individuals to represent both sides of Manchester.

The First Manchester Men

William Douglas and Robert Milarvie became the first men to play for both Manchester teams, representing both sides of the city towards the end of the 19th century. Douglas was a Scottish goalkeeper who made 36 appearances for City, at this point known as Ardwick A.F.C, between 1890 and 94. In 1984, he transferred to Manchester United, or Newton Heath L.Y.R, and played 57 times for the Reds up until a move to Derby County in 1896. Scottish forward Robert Milarvie also turned out for both Manchester clubs.

After being signed from Derby, Milarvie played 22 times for Newton Heath in just one season, the 1890/91 campaign. He then transferred to Ardwick, where he played 69 times between 1891 and 1896. Notably, Milarvie was at the club when Ardwick transformed into the now universally-known Manchester City, in 1984/85. While neither Douglas or Milarvie played a great number of games for their Manchester teams, or are even well-known by the average fan of either club, they have both earned mythical status as two of the first players to wear both the famous red and blue of Manchester.

Perhaps the most famous player to play for both sides of Manchester was Welsh international, Billy Meredith. As well as earning 48 caps for his country, the ‘Welsh Wizard’ had two spells at City and a successful stint at United. A truly iconic figure for both clubs, Meredith played for City from 1894 to 1906 and then again from 1921 to 1924. In total he made over 300 league appearances for the Blues, scoring 129 goals. With City, the Welshman won the 1898/99 Second Division and the FA Cup in 1904, the club’s first major trophy. Meredith captained the City side in the final and scored the winning goal, in a 1-0 victory versus Bolton.

In the summer of 1906, the phenomenal winger moved to Manchester United, becoming the highest profile figure to represent both clubs. Over 15 years, Meredith made 303 league appearances at Old Trafford and bagged 35 goals. With United, he won two first division titles, in 1907/08 and 1910/11, as well as another FA Cup in 1909. Meredith returned to Manchester City in 1921, aged 47, and played 32 more games before retiring in 1924. He remains the oldest player to play for each of Manchester United, City and Wales. With over 300 appearances and multiple trophies at both clubs, Meredith is arguably the individual who saw the most success at both Manchester sides. He remains an iconic figure to both clubs to this day, playing a vital role in both clubs’ early successes.

Playing in the same period as Meredith was Scottish forward, Sandy Turnbull. Turnbull was a player for Manchester City between 1902 and 1906. He had an impressive goal scoring record, scoring over 50 goals in just over 100 league appearances for the Blues. Turnbull was part of the same team as Meredith that helped secure City’s first FA Cup win in 1904. He then made the switch to United in 1906, where he spent nine years a Red and, along with Meredith, won two titles and an FA Cup. Turnbull played over 200 games for the Red Devils, scoring 90 goals during his time at the club. Sandy Turnbull had a remarkable goals-to-game ratio for both sides and, like Meredith was instrumental in the early achievements of both clubs.

In 1906, Manchester City became embroiled in a scandal over finances and players’ wages. As a result, the club were forced into selling several of their top players. Along with Billy Meredith and Sandy Turnbull, Manchester United also purchased two Englishmen, Herbert Burgess and Jimmy Bannister, from their local rivals.

The Post-War Period

When football returned following its hiatus due to the global turmoil of two world wars, several more players graced the fields of both Old Trafford and Maine Road. One such figure was centre-forward Brian Kidd. Kidd enjoyed a successful career with Man United, playing 203 times for the Red Devils and scoring 52 league goals. Memorably, Kidd scored in United’s 1968 European Cup final win over Benfica. After a subsequent spell with Arsenal, Kidd moved to City in the summer of 1976. During three seasons at Maine Road, Kidd managed 44 goals from 98 league appearances, before leaving for Everton in 1979. Following his playing career, Brian Kidd has gone on to enjoy great success as a coach. After brief spells in charge of Barrow and Preston North End, Kidd was appointed as a youth team coach for Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson in 1988.

Kidd was influential in helping mould and encourage a group of young talented players at United, such as Ryan Giggs, who became vital to the Red Devils’ success in the 90s. Kidd was promoted to assistant manager and occupied the role from 1991 to 1998. He famously ran on to the pitch and dropped to his knees to celebrate Steve Bruce’s second goal in a win over Sheffield United, which was pivotal in helping United to secure the 1992/93 title. During Kidd’s time as a coach at United, the team won four Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one League Cup. Kidd returned to City in 2009 as a technical development manager, before being appointed as assistant manager to Roberto Mancini in December 2009.

Kidd held this position under successive managers Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola, before leaving the role at the end of the 2020/21 season. While part of the coaching set-up at City, Kidd saw the team achieve five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and six League Cups. As a player, Kidd played more times for Manchester United, with the highlight undoubtedly the 1968 European Cup victory. He went on to experience immense coaching success at both clubs, holding the role of assistant manager to two of the greatest modern managers, in Ferguson and Guardiola, and amounting an impressive trophy haul.

Scottish footballing icon Denis Law also represented both Manchester teams. Law joined City as a club record signing in 1960 from Huddersfield Town. After just one season at Maine Road, Law moved to Italian side Torino, and then moved again the next year to Old Trafford, in 1962. Law set the record for a fee involving a British player three times, moving from Huddersfield to Manchester City for £55,000, City to Torino for £110,000, and then moving from Torino to United for £115,000. ‘The King’ as he became affectionately known by the United fans, spent 11 hugely successful  years at Old Trafford, scoring over 237 goals from 404 appearances.

Law became part of United’s legendary ‘Holy Trinity’, along with Bobby Charlton and George Best. He remains Manchester United’s third-highest all-time goal scorer, behind only Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton. Denis Law is also the only man to have two statues dedicated to him at Old Trafford, one as an individual, and one dedicated to the United Trinity. After Tommy Docherty’s appointment as the new manager, and the departure of Charlton and Best, Law returned to Manchester City on a free transfer in July 1973. Before retiring, Law spent the final season of his career at City, famously scoring a back-heeled goal in the derby that saw Manchester United relegated from the top division in 1974.

This was his final touch in league football as Law asked to be substituted immediately after the goal. In both spells at City combined, Law made over 75 appearances, scoring 37 times. Ultimately, Law spent just two seasons at City, whereas he remains an all-time United legend and a favourite of many United fans to this day.

In addition to Kidd and Law, Peter Barnes and John Gidman played for both Manchester United and City in the post-war period, with both players transferred directly from United to City.

The Premier League Era

One surprising individual who played for both Manchester giants during the Premier League era is Danish goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel. The Great Dane joined from Danish side Brøndby in August 1991. He went on to become one of United’s greatest ever keepers, making 367 appearances for the Red DevilsDuring his eight years at United, Schmeichel won five league titles, three FA Cups, one League Cup and the Champions League. He ended his United career by captaining the team to victory in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, sealing United’s famous treble. After moves to Sporting CP and Aston Villa, Schmeichel joined City for the 2002/03 season. That season, Gary Neville famously ignored Schmeichel’s handshake in the tunnel before a derby fixture. Schmeichel spent the peak of his career at United, amassing numerous trophies and accolades, his time at City, in comparison, was a brief stint before the keeper’s retirement from football.

Like Schmeichel, Andy Cole also spent his peak years at Manchester United before a later spell at City towards the end of his career. Ferguson signed Cole in January 1995, from Newcastle United, for a then British record of £6.25 million. Cole had a hugely successful and prolific spell at United until 2001 and formed a lethal partnership with Dwight Yorke. Cole won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League with United and finished his time at the club with 121 goals in 275 appearances. After spells at Blackburn and Fulham, Andy Cole signed for Manchester City in 2005. He played just one season for City and finished as the club’s top scorer, scoring ten goals in 23 appearances. Cole remains the third-highest all-time top scorer in the Premier League with 187 goals, behind Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney. Andy Cole is rightly remembered as one of the great Premier League strikers. The majority of his appearances, goals and trophies came for United, while his spell at City came towards the decline of his career.

Both Schmeichel and Cole signed for Manchester City during the final years of their careers when they were past the peak of their powers. This was also a period where City were possibly not considered a genuine threat to United. Carlos Tevez is perhaps unique in the fact that he moved directly from United to City during the prime of his career, at a time where City were directly challenging their rivals for silverware. The Argentine striker signed for United from West Ham in 2007 and became part of an impressive attacking trio next to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. In just two seasons at Old Trafford, Tevez won two Premier League titles, the Champions League and the Club World Cup Championship.

He finished his United career with 34 goals in 99 appearances. Tevez was the subject of a controversial and high-profile move to the Etihad in 2009, whereby he joined a growing Manchester City team. He continued to score and perform at City and, at the end of his first season, won the club’s Etihad Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards. Tevez scored 50 goals in his first 73 games, becoming the second-fastest player to reach this milestone in the club’s history. At City, Tevez won the FA Cup in 2011 as well as the Premier League in the 2011/12 season, the club’s first Premier League title. Tevez left City for Juventus in 2013, having scored 73 goals in 148 appearances for the club. The Argentine striker can boast an impressive goal-scoring record as well as the accolade of having won a Premier League title for both Manchester clubs, despite this, the controversial and often rebellious figure isn’t remembered particularly fondly by either set of fans.

The Premier League era has also seen the likes of Peter Beardsley, Mark Robins, Terry Cooke, Andrei Kanchelskis, Owen Hargreaves and Frédéric Veseli, play for both the red and blue of Manchester, arguably to a less impactful and significant level. Additionally, Abbie McManus and Jane Ross have played for both of the Manchester City and Manchester United women’s teams. In terms of managers, Ernest Mangnallholds the impressive feat of being the only man to have managed both City and United. The great Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby, who famously commanded the ‘Busby Babes’ and guided the Reds to European Cup glory in 1968, also had an impressive playing career. This included an eight-year spell with Manchester City between 1928 and 1936, where he played over 200 times and even won the FA Cup in 1934. Both Steve Coppell and Mark Hughes had opposite career trajectories to Sir Matt Busby, having spent time at United as players and then going on to manage City later in their careers.

As Manchester United and Manchester City continue to directly compete for trophies and titles, the number of players to represent both clubs has declined, often limited to players near to retirement, or academy players who are surplus to requirements. Following his transfer from Borussia Dortmund, former City academy star Jadon Sancho has returned to Manchester, but he will now be wearing red. Fans will be eager to see how he gets on this season, as the latest player to wear both the famous red and blue of Manchester. One former City academy player that could prove a point in the future is none other than Charlie McNeill who has been firing in the goals for both City and United’s academies.

Written by George Lavin

Jadon Sancho: The final piece of the puzzle?

The key to a successful team is balance, without balance the team can become one sided and heavily dependent on certain positions rather than consistency throughout the field. Manchester United have had this issue in recent years lacking a natural quality right winger since Cristiano Ronaldo left for Real Madrid in 2009. Players have come and go, with the likes of Antonio Valencia, Luis Nani and Angel Di Maria but none solidifying the right wing for very long. In recent years, United have craved a natural right winger who could beat a man but also has good technical quality and can pick out a pass but also score goals. The key question is, can Jadon Sancho be this player?

Sancho is an intelligent winger, who is press resistant and has great ability to be direct and beat a man; he’s also got some good speed on him making him tricky to mark. What makes Sancho stand out in Europe is his superb goal and assists numbers. Over the past three seasons he’s managed 38 goals and 51 assists in 108 games in the Bundesliga. In the Champions League he’s created six goals and scored five in 21 games. Furthermore, when compared to England’s other wingers, Sancho tops the assists in 2020/21 with 11; he’s also got the lowest minutes to goal or assist ratio with 108 mins. Therefore, this implies Sancho is often involved in the final third but there’s other key elements to his game that will improve United offensively. 

As mentioned, Sancho has a knack for beating a man and this is seen through his 3.3 successful dribbles per game bettering Jack Grealish who is renowned for his ability to dribble past players and win fouls. This dribbling could be crucial for United as it’ll provide directness and impetus into the attack which sometimes has lacked on the right side as Mason Greenwood preferred to cut in and Aaron Wan-Bissaka favours passing to dribbling, thus, giving the fullback far more issues as Sancho has the ability to create with 2.9 chances created per 90 mins second only to Jack Grealish. Subsequently, this should open up opportunities for Wan-Bissaka, as the oppositional fullback will be caught in two minds whether to let Sancho cut in or to let him dribble outside him which ultimately will make United far dangerous on the right flank.

Furthermore, as seen with his high chance creation, Sancho could become a crucial part of United’s creativity. As a team, this will help players like Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba as the creative role is often forced upon them and with the added help of Sancho it releases some of the pressure upon them making it harder to supress United’s creativity as previously teams have been able to man mark Pogba or focus on Fernandes which can neutralise United’s attacking force, but with Sancho it adds another element to deal with as if they mark Bruno out of the game it could leave Sancho with more space to cause problems. In addition, the centre forward, likely to be Edinson Cavani will be helped immensely as Sancho won’t be afraid to put a ball into the box and with his ability to pick a pass, he could deliver Cavani more chances which will enhance United’s likelihood of scoring.  

In the last decade since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United’s style has been scrutinised as in the roots of the club quick fast flowing football is expected. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be looking to bring this back after the slow boring football under Mourinho and the side to side possession football under Louis van Gaal. Sancho could be key to this, as he’ll play with the confidence seen with past wingers like George Best, Ryan Giggs and Ronaldo. His confidence and directness could help improve the players around him as well as creating a proper link up with winger and fullback which has been missing since Wan-Bissaka signed. 

If the pairing can create a real chemistry in their game, it can build a strong right flank which will provide the balance that is needed to ensure fast fluid football which is demanded at Manchester United. Overall, I feel Sancho will have a vastly positive effect on Manchester United, especially with regards to the overall fluidity of the team, the creativity, and the linkup on the right side. With Sancho leading the right flank, United will be hoping he can take them back to the top and becoming the final piece in the puzzle.

Written by Ethan Bents

Manchester United announce the signing of Jadon Sancho – an important addition to the squad

Manchester United have confirmed the signing of Jadon Sancho, who has arrived from Borussia Dortmund for a reported fee of £73 million. The 21-year-old was linked to the Old Trafford club last summer but the move was never completed after the deadline to sign the player elapsed and the fee demanded at the time was massive, especially when you factor in the coronavirus pandemic which was raging on around the world at the time, added to the fact that supporters were still not inside football stadiums either, resulting in lower turnovers for clubs all over the world. United had been after the player for the past two years or more.

The England international has signed a five-year contract at the Theatre of Dreams which also includes the option of a further year to be added, which is the way contracts have been done since the 2013/14 season. The player was recently involved in Euro 2020 for England, not having a lot of playing time but playing a part in the final, albeit penalties after coming on in the dying seconds of extra time. Along with Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka, Sancho missed his penalty which saw Italy win the tournament with England appearing in their first final since 1966. But this seems to be the beginning, not the end for England.

Sancho has history in Manchester, signing for Manchester City from Watford in 2015, when the player was just 14 with a £66,000 fee paid at the time, which could have risen to £500,000. Sancho was part of City’s academy for two-years before leaving the club for Borussia Dortmund, where the Bundesliga club paid £8 million for the player. City, over the years have lost many talented academy players who have gone on to better things but a talent like Sancho will have been a big loss for them, especially after what he has achieved in Germany, where he has played 137 times for the first team, scoring 50 goals and 64 assists.

During his first season in Germany (2017/18), Sancho made 12 appearance for the first team, scoring one goal and four assists, also making a further nine appearances at youth level, scoring four goals and three assists. The following season (2018/19), Sancho was considered a first team player, making a total of 43 appearances in the Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and DFB-Pokal, scoring 13 goals and 20 assists – it was the first of three seasons where the player would achieve 20 assists a season. During the 2019/20 season, Sancho made 44 appearances, scoring 20 goals and 20 assists, with a further 16 goals and 20 assists in 38 appearances during the 2020/21 season – his last season in Germany.

During his time in the Bundesliga, Sancho won two trophies for his club; the DFL-Supercup in the 2018/19 season and the DFB-Pokal in the 2020/21 season. He has yet to win a league title, which might be something that he will achieve in the not too distant future at United. He also has an honour with England after helping to win the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017, a tournament that he was also named the Golden Player and also named in the team of the tournament. It shows that United have added a good player to their squad and the first experienced right-winger, which will add balance to both the squad and the attack.

It is expected that Sancho will head away on holiday after finishing with England after the Euro 2020 final on Sunday evening and could take up to three weeks off, to recuperate and recharge his batteries after a tough season and early summer months. United will be back in action against Derby County in their first pre-season match on Sunday, then facing Queens Park Rangers on the 24 July, Brentford at Old Trafford on the 28 July, Preston North End on the 31 July, ending with another home friendly against Everton on the 7 August, the latter two expected to feature the majority of the players to played in Euro 2020.

Sancho will be looking forward to making his debut for United this season with the club seeking to build on their second-placed finish in the Premier League last season with the club also seeking to build on their Emirates FA Cup quarter-final place, their Carabao Cup semi-final place and with them featuring in the UEFA Champions League for the second-season running, make it to the knockout stages at least and not fall into the UEFA Europa League like last season, which them being beaten by Villarreal on penalties in the final in Gdañsk in May 2021. This will be a big season for both Sancho and his new manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Speaking to the official Manchester United website about signing for the club, Sancho said:

“I’ll always be grateful to Dortmund for giving me the opportunity to play first team football, although I always knew that I would return to England one day.

“The chance to join Manchester United is a dream come true and I just cannot wait to perform in the Premier League.

“This is a young and exciting squad and I know, together, we can develop into something special to bring the success that the fans deserve.

“I am looking forward to working with the Manager and his coaching team to further develop my game.”

Sancho will almost certainly add to United’s attack this season, after some settling in time, where he could feature in the same team as Marcus Rashford, Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes, and with the trios number last season, which included 66 goals and 37 assists, the chances of Sancho increasing those numbers considerably will be a welcome addition which could see United dominate in attack and frustrate their opposition, which is something the club has been doing on and off for the last two years or so, even if the negative supporters want to pretend it did not happen. Solskjaer, speaking to the official Manchester United website about his new signing, said:

“Jadon [Sancho] epitomises the type of player I want to bring to the club, he is a forward player in the best traditions of Manchester United.

“He will form an integral part of my squad for years to come and we look forward to seeing him blossom. His goals and assists records speak for themselves and he will also bring tremendous pace, flair and creativity to the team.

“Old Trafford will give him the platform he needs to release his untapped talent and perform at the highest level. For a player of his age, Jadon has already achieved a great deal and showed the courage to go and prove himself abroad.

“We all look forward to welcoming Jadon to the squad as we prepare for the new campaign.”

Written by John Walker

Four right wingers that could greatly improve Manchester United this summer

Manchester United have endured a tough 2020/21 season which resulted in them finishing second in the Premier League, reaching the quarter-final of the Emirates FA Cup, the semi-final of the Carabao Cup and the final of the UEFA Europa League, after exiting the group stages of the UEFA Champions League. It is fair to say that United have ignored the right-wing position for longer than a decade with players brought in to fill the void rather that complete the team. Jadon Sancho is the player that United want to sign and have done for a few years now. Last summer, Facundo Pellistri signed for the club with a deal for Amad Diallo also happening, with the player moving to Manchester in January. There is the need for quality and experience though.

Jadon Sancho, 21 – Borussia Dortmund and England

The 21-year-old is the player that United really want to sign and a player that the supporters of he club have wanted for almost two years now. He would fit in so well at the club and help balance the squad, also being the only right winger that has experience at the club. Last summer, United signed Facundo Pellistri, who is a long way from making the first team at United and Amad Diallo, who has been involved in the first team since joining the club in January but has not cemented a place in the team – although he is a positive prospect. With some leadership from an experienced player, United could bring out the best of both Pellistri and Amad in the future which would also make the position stocked rather than depleted – as has been the case for years.

There is a lot of speculation surrounding Sancho at this time and with Euro 2020 on the horizon, it remains to be seen if anything can be completed before the tournament starts – the likelihood is that it will be done after the competition but at that time, if he and England do well, there could also be more competition from Liverpool, who have an interest in the player but only if the likes Mohamed Salah or Said Mane are sold this summer. Sancho would be my main choice for this position. It feels like the club are invested in him as a player but it is yet to be seen whether the club does actually want to bring him from Borussia Dortmund this summer. United would, at least on paper, be the team to beat next season with Sancho added to the squad.

David Neres, 24 – Ajax and Brazil

The 24-year-old has not really been strongly linked to United but could be a candidate, at least on a footballing scale if United do not end up signing Sancho. He started out at São Paulo but joined Ajax in 2016 and has done well for the club in that time – winning two Eredivisie titles, two KNVB Cups and one Johan Cruyff Shield. He also appeared in the UEFA Europa League final in 2017, which United won. His current contract expires in the summer of 2023 and he has seen a lot of interest over the past few years. In his time at Ajax, he has played 158 times, scoring 43 goals and assisting 39 times. He can play on either the left or right in an advanced position, which would be good to have, but he seems more comfortable on the right.

His recent conduct in Brazil could be enough to put United off as it does not look good for him breaking coronavirus rules to attend an underground party with 123 others. Still, mistakes are made by everyone and it is how he recovers from the mistake that makes the difference. United really need to bring in a player with experience on the right-wing as none of the current members of the squad seem settled there with Mason Greenwood the most likely to impress – but United should be striving to bring in the best players in the positions that need to be strengthened. Under Solskjaer, United have shown progress, unless you are one of those people that have an agenda that wants to ‘pretend’ progress is only trophies.

Pedro Gonçalves, 22 – Sporting CP and Portugal

The 22-year-old has been linked to United previously and is also being linked to Liverpool this summer. It is suggested that United and Liverpool would need to pay the €60 million release clause for the player this summer, which seems unlikely to happen as neither club will be willing to pay that much for the player. It is likely that a deal could be done but United seem to have other players higher on the list – Jadon Sancho for example. His current contract expires in the summer of 2025, so any agreement for the player would be led by Sporting, who have a good relationship with United after purchasing Bruno Fernandes in January 2020. There is no doubt that he is going to become a good player in the future but he will be a gamble.

Gonçalves is predominantly an attacking midfielder but he can play on the right-wing and in central midfield, so there is a chance that he’s not the player that United need at this time as a right winger is the real necessity for the club at this time – unless he is happy to play in the position, which also makes me wonder why and how he could be better that Sancho, which may not be the case. United would probably be better placed ensuring that Sancho becomes a United player this summer as he has been the player that Solskjaer and United have focussed so much attention on over the last few transfer windows. It was expected that United could sign the player last summer, but it never materialised. Hopefully, the same thing does not happen this summer.

Raphinha, 24 – Leeds United

The 24-year-old has taken the Premier League by storm in his debut season at Leeds United in their first season back in the English top flight. He has been linked to United, purely because of the player’s relationship with Bruno Fernandes, spending a season at Sporting CP with him before he left for Stade Rennais. Raphinha is contracted to Leeds until the summer of 2024 and they will have no reason to sell him this summer after finishing in the top half of the Premier League table, keeping their place in top flight football for at least another season. Liverpool are said to be interested in the player but it is well stated that they have not even made contact with Leeds, so you have to wonder whether that interest is real or media driven?

It is suggested that £32 million will be the fee for the player, if he does leave Elland Road this season, which will look tempting after his debut season at the club. During the 2020/21 season, the Brazilian made a total of 38 appearances in the Premier League, FA Cup, Premier League 2 and Ligue 1, scoring eight goals and 11 assists across the season. He might not be his up there on United’s wish list but the media seem to think that when player’s played for the same club some time ago, it will happen again – which really means nothing in this day and age. United’s priority will be Sancho and they will be seeking to get that deal across the line this summer. United will need to challenge in the Premier League next season and win at least one trophy.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United seem likely to go in for Jadon Sancho again this summer, but the question is, should they?

At the start of August last year, it was widely reported that Jadon Sancho was, depending where you read, either close to agreeing personal terms, according to Sky Sports, or indeed had according to The Guardian, agreed personal terms with Manchester United. It seemed that he was on the brink of joining the red side of Manchester, just three years after leaving the blue side. 

However, as we all know, it fell through. Or was it ever on? Who knows with Ed Woodward? Haggling over the transfer fee ended with United pulling the plug. Of course, transfer rumours never cease. Reports suggest that United will go in for him again at the end of the season, but this time they won’t be unopposed. It will be far harder to sign him in the summer of 2021, but should United even bother?

At the end of last season, that question seemed senseless. His form over the last two years have seen him break into the England squad. The season he joined, he made 12 appearances, slowly adjusting himself to the Bundesliga and first team football. He scored his first goal and set up another two in a 4-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen. Sancho had announced himself. The season after he would have his breakout season. 13 goals and 19 assists in all competitions turned Sancho into one of the first players on the team sheet. He had Manchester City licking their wounds at not being able to tie him down and if they were licking their wounds after that season, they would be spitting feathers in the next. 2018/19 may have been his breakout year, but 2019/2020 would see Sancho transcend into a star.  

In 44 appearances he would score 20 and assist the same number. United’s interest would build throughout the year and after a slow start to the transfer window, the signing of Sancho was meant to begin United’s summer spree. The saga would drag on through the whole of the transfer window. With the window being far longer than a normal one due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it seemed to go on forever. Most people believed it would go through eventually, until it didn’t. Deciding against the signing, United would begin looking at other targets. Ousmane Dembele and Kingsley Coman were considered, but in the end the only wingers signed were future prospects Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo. United seemed to be putting their trust into the players they already had at their disposal and especially Mason Greenwood. 

Greenwood himself, had delivered a breakout season in 2019/20. Scoring 19 goals, he created a highly fluid front trio with Anthony Martial and Anthony Rashford as United stormed to third place in the second half of the season. To the very few detractors towards United signing Sancho, Mason Greenwood was often cited as their reason. If United signed Sancho, Greenwood would have fewer opportunities. It would stunt his growth. His performances were also seen as good enough to warrant a first team place. All of this was probably true, however despite Sancho not joining, Greenwood has struggled to nail down a first team place.

Edinson Cavani’s signing and subsequent good performances has seen him play more often than not when he’s been fit. Greenwood also didn’t help himself with his extra-curricular activities during his time with the England squad. Dan James, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard have all featured sparingly this season, so the right-wing position has not been nailed down. If United are to play a front three with everyone fit, then it will likely be Rashford on the right, Martial on the left and Cavani upfront. Cavani is only likely to stay one more year at the most and if they’re not convinced that Rashford and Greenwood are the man for the right wing and Pellistri and Diallo are not ready for next season, then Sancho might be wanted again. 

The worry for some, however, is that this season he has struggled. In the league he has managed just one goal in 12 games. His performances haven’t matched the consistency of last season, although Dortmund will be hoping that he has returned to form with a sensation goal and an assist in their recent 2-0 against Wolfsburg. It has been claimed that Sancho’s lack of form has been down to the failed move to United. Despite all the talk about Sancho being happy to be at Dortmund, even if the move fell through, his performances have indicated otherwise. The fans who want him at Old Trafford next season will hope that is the sign the move is still on. However, it does pose the question over Sancho’s mentality. If the poor form is down to the move falling through, is he simply going through the motions until the move can be completed again? You’d like to think not, but Sancho has previous. 

Before his move to Dortmund he began skipping training at Manchester City, stating he had no intention of going back until they let him leave. At just 20-years old there already seems to be a growing list of disciplinary issues. Back in 2017, as he was breaking into the first team, he was demoted to the under 23’s after reporting late for training on several occasions. In March 2018, he was cut from the England under 19 side for again turning up late for a training session. In October of 2019, he would be fined £86,000 for, you’ve guessed it, turning up late for training. On that occasion, he was made to run alone in the rain. A fine of £86,000 and running would be enough for most to not repeat those mistakes, but just a month later he would turn up late for a team meeting, just hours before a huge Champions League match against Barcelona.

He would be dropped to the bench and has since claimed that his tardiness is down to a sleeping problem. Whether or not it is true, and despite his tender age, it could be a risk for United to sign a player with a history of issues when Ole Gunner Solskjaer has worked so hard to foster a far better club harmony. United are now taking a far more analytical approach to transfers, relying on data, also ensuring that the players characters are right for the club. Whilst there may be question marks over Sancho, it seems unlikely that Solskjaer would go for a player if he had those worries. 

Most United fans and pundits alike believe that United’s problems aren’t in the attacking areas and that they need reinforcements in the defensive positions. A holding midfielder and centre-backs are the order of the day this summer, but if Solskjaer is convinced on Sancho’s character and the winger returns to his form of last season, then he would only improve United’s options. If they could sign him, a midfielder and a defender, then it might be the most successful transfer window seen in Ed Woodward’s era. 

Written by Huw Rawlings

copyright: JW