Inside Manchester United’s January transfer plans: $227m waiting game, five stars want out

The January transfer window provides an opportunity for Manchester United to re-shape a squad who are struggling in the Premier League right now. Our United insider SAM PILGER explains why they won’t take it.

A smattering of boos could be heard at the final whistle of Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat to Wolves at Old Trafford earlier this week to mark Ralf Rangnick’s first defeat as the club’s interim manager.

United’s beaten players slouched from the pitch, some offering an apologetic wave and clap to the home supporters, as their opponents formed a tight circle to celebrate what was their first win at the stadium for more than 40 years.

United had put on a truly woeful performance, devoid of any real cohesion or spirit, that prompted United’s left-back Luke Shaw to claim his side had lacked a sense of unity, and even any basic motivation and intensity.

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This was United’s sixth defeat of the season, which has left them an embarrassing 22 points behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League table, and more pertinently four points outside of the top four.

A rather shocked Rangnick offered few excuses afterwards, and instead admitted, "I knew this could be and would be hard but today's game [against Wolves] showed we still have a long way to go."

Two days earlier the Premier League’s January transfer window had opened to give Rangnick the chance to bolster and reshape his squad.

However, it is unlikely United will be active buyers over the next month, with the feeling within the club being they already have a big enough squad.

They are also still waiting for a return on the significant business they did in the summer when they signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho for a combined £120 million (A$227m).

The priority is to mould the current squad into an effective team, which is what Rangnick, with his reputation as a coaching guru, was recruited, to do.

The German was made aware of this when he joined and has already spoken about the middle of the season being “not the best time for sustainable transfers.”

United are also reluctant to invest heavily in players Rangnick might like to sign now, but would not appeal to whoever replaces him as permanent manager in the summer, which at the moment remains the club’s plan.

But United’s recent form and the real risk of missing out on a top four finish and Champions League qualification may have given the club some pause for thought and a move for at least one player cannot be completely ruled out.

United’s most glaring weakness this season has been in the centre of midfield where any combination of Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic has failed to assert enough control in games, which was again on display against Wolves.

United have a long-running interest in West Ham’s Declan Rice, but are not intending to make a move this month, and his £100 million (A$189m) valuation and a contract that runs until 2024 will be obstacles in this summer.

Over the last year United have monitored several other central midfielders including Wolves’ Ruben Neves and RB Leipzig’s Amadou Haidara, who is set to play for Mali at the Africa Cup Of Nations this month, but they are fully aware how difficult it would be to sign either at this stage of the season.

In recent weeks United have been constantly linked with Argentinian striker Julian Alvarez, who reportedly has a £17 million (A$32m) release clause at his club River Plate, but it is understood this has been almost entirely driven by his agent, and United have no plans of signing him this month.

It is more likely United’s activity in this window will be focused on selling players, to clear space on their large wage bill and raise funds for more aggressive spending later this year.

The United striker Anthony Martial has told Rangnick he wishes to leave Old Trafford this month, after starting just three league games this season and being demoted to the fringes of the squad since the arrivals of Ronaldo and Sancho.

United would be willing to listen to offers in the region of £40 million (A$76m) for Martial, but are not overly confident it will happen in this window.

They would be prepared to let Martial leave on loan if a club covers his wages and pays a loan fee. Spanish side Sevilla showed some tentative interest last month, and United are now waiting for them to come back with an offer.

Jesse Lingard has also grown frustrated with life at Old Trafford and sees his future elsewhere, possibly as early as this month.

The England international has yet to start a Premier League game this season, even when his form as a substitute, most notably when he scored United’s winning goal at West Ham in September, has demanded it.

Lingard’s contract expires at the end of the season, and so United would naturally be keen to sell him before he leaves for nothing in five months time.

The 29-year-old Lingard, who enjoyed a highly successful loan spell at West Ham last season, could return to east London if they make a bid for him this month, but appears more than happy to see out his contract and see what offers he receives as a more attractive free agent.

Donny van de Beek is another disgruntled United player who is open to a move away after starting just two league games in the last year.

Signed from Ajax for £40 million (A$76m) in the summer of 2020, Van de Beek has been a massive disappointment at United and was keen to join Everton last year before being stopped by the then manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

But by the end of his reign it was clear Solskjaer had little trust in the Dutchman, with doubts about his ability to physically impose himself in the Premier League, but so far he is yet to fare any better under Rangnick.

Even so, the German has made it known he should be retained for now. “I still believe we should keep him, he should stay here definitely until the end of the season and try to get as much game time as he possibly can,” he has said.

Edinson Cavani and Juan Mata’s contracts both expire at the end of the season, but while United would be willing to let the popular Spaniard leave this month, the Uruguayan striker has been told by Rangnick how much he values him and he will not be allowed to leave, despite some fleeting interest from Barcelona.

It had been expected United’s central defender Phil Jones would be sent out on loan this month, but after impressing against Wolves this week in his first game for two years, that is now under review, and it is possible he will be kept to provide renewed competition to Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof.