Fernandes will boost the team, although perhaps not necessarily in the short-term if he doesn’t settle and adapt instantly – an acceptable concession – but the Portugal international is not the only solution to the problem of the United squad being largely bereft of creativity in midfield.
United may spend the remaining two days of the transfer window considering options for a short-term forward deal to boost numbers while Marcus Rashford is out. When February hits though, the club has to focus energy on securing a deal for Grealish which can be concluded as soon as possible at the end of the season. No time wasting can be allowed this year.
Regardless of the Fernandes capture, United are still thought to be after another attack-minded midfielder for the summer anyway, with Grealish and Leicester’s James Maddison already thought to be the main targets on that front.
And while Maddison is an obvious choice and has seriously impressed in Leicester’s fine season, Grealish could ultimately have greater appeal and be a better fit.
Shining in an otherwise poor team, the Villa star has seven goals and five assists in the Premier League so far in 2019/20, more than Maddison (six and three) on both counts.
Only two players have created 50+ chances from open play in the Premier League this season:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) January 28, 2020
Kevin De Bruyne (63)
gbeng Jack Grealish (50)
Elite playmakers. 易 pic.twitter.com/ae6SBhyH0L
Grealish’s seven-goal tally is more than double the combined league tally of United’s two top scoring midfielders – Daniel James (arguably not even a midfielder) and Scott McTominay. In all competitions, he has nine goals and seven assists to his name, still more than Maddison.
One of those goals came against United in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in December, curling the ball into the top corner from an unlikely angle.
United have recent first-hand experience of negotiating with Leicester as a result of last summer’s Harry Maguire saga. Maddison will be a tougher target given that the Foxes are now in an even stronger position, and opening demands are likely to be in excess of £100m.
Grealish will be cheaper and much more attainable. Keen to move up in the world, he might be available in the summer come what may; but if Villa are relegated to the Championship, which remains a real possibility, his departure will be all but a certainty.
It was reported shortly before Villa’s promotion back to the top flight in May that Grealish has a £60m release clause in his contract. The Daily Mail more recently reported a £45m clause, and while manager Dean Smith has denied that is the case, it cannot be ignored that Villa will have little choice but to cut costs and sell assets if they lose the top flight’s revenue streams.
Questions surrounding his attitude and application, which abounded when he broke into the Villa first-team in 2014 and 2015, have long since abated and he is tipped to make the cut for England’s Euro 2020 squad, having formally switched allegiance from Ireland in 2016.
Conversely, Maddison has had to fight questions over his character, particularly following criticism for visiting a casino after pulling out of international duty with illness. That prompted a fierce defence from Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, but at a time when United are looking for the right personalities as much as talent, it will also have to be a consideration.