Opportunity is king when it comes to the transfer market.
It was opportunity that led Manchester United to sign Robin van Persie in August 2012, poaching the Premier League Golden Boot winner directly from a rival club.
Ordinarily the chance to pull off such a transfer wouldn’t have been there, but it was. United took advantage and it was the Dutchman who ultimately made the difference in the title race.
In 2020, circumstances are building that could present the opportunity to pounce again.
Although necessary, a new striker is not an immediate priority for the Old Trafford club in the transfer market. The return from injury of Marcus Rashford, the continued promise of Mason Greenwood and the extended loan of Odion Ighalo allow other positions to be prioritised first.
United have been eyeing Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho for many months already and 90min has recently been informed by a source close to the situation that there is an ‘expectation from both sides is that this deal will get done - at some point this summer’.
The 20-year-old England international remains the club’s primary target and will fill a longstanding hole that has persisted on the right flank.
United also remain confident of signing Birmingham’s teenage prodigy Jude Bellingham and a source told 90min in May that the Old Trafford side believe the deal is effectively sealed already.
Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish is widely believed to complete United’s primary recruitment strategy, further boosting quality and creativity in midfield.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has warned that no club is immune from the financial impact of coronavirus and United have already seen falling revenues in their latest published figures. But the club’s commercial earning power remains strong and Woodward has also expressed hope of being ‘highly competitive’ in the transfer market once some ‘relative normality’ is restored.
With Premier League football resuming later this month, European competitions expected to wrap up in August and the start of 2020/21 perhaps only slightly delayed in September, that degree of ‘relative normality’ already doesn’t look to be that far away.
In short, United should still have the means to strengthen ahead of next season, more so than others. Liverpool, as an example, briefly tried to claim government assistance to help pay non-playing staff before reversing their decision as a result of the strong public backlash. New signings won’t be good look for the champions elect, even if they have funds.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have persuaded players to take a pay cut and had already previously warned of the problems of having a ‘Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget’.
For United, the latest on the future of Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang presents an opportunity that could be a rare chance for a significant short-term advantage.
90min previously revealed in April that the Gunners are entertaining the possibility of selling their top goalscorer as a result of an unwillingness to sanction an expensive contract extension.
Now, reports claim Arsenal are prepared to let Aubameyang run down his contract and depart as a free agent in 2021 if the only offers that come in are less than £20m. Despite the obvious risk of losing a key player for free, keeping him for another year is worth more than a small fee.
If United, or indeed any other club, can find a way to make it worth Arsenal’s while without spending excessively on a player who is nearing his 31st birthday and will only offer short-term gain, it appears as though there is a potential deal to be done.
£20m in today’s transfer market – it remains to be seen quite how values will be affected longer term by coronavirus impact – is relatively modest at the elite end of the game.
Aside from straight cash, there are other options that could potentially be explored. Arsenal are in need of defensive reinforcement and have often been linked with United centre-back Chris Smalling, who has restored his reputation with an impressive loan spell at Roma.
Regardless of his resurgence, Smalling is unlikely to have a future in Manchester and offering him to the Gunners might be a way to kill two birds with one stone. It is worth noting that Arsenal were credited with Smalling interest as recently as March and that his value is generally thought to be in the £20m region, which appears to be the minimum for Aubameyang.
It’s not improbable that a small cash offer plus Smalling could tempt Arsenal, especially seeing as they could realistically cope with the loss of Aubameyang given the other attacking options and bright youngsters they have at their disposal. Defence is a harder build.
United have the makings of a good squad, but it lacks the depth to compete for multiple major honours or sustain the level of performance required for a Premier League title battle. Aubameyang, like Ighalo, would add to that depth in a big way, if only for two years. That gives the recruitment department time to weigh up the longer-term without worrying about instant results.
He is clearly very capable, having scored 17 Premier League goals in 26 appearances this season and 61 in 97 across all competitions since joining the Gunners only a little more than two years ago.
Clearly, it would be important for United to do due diligence on Aubameyang to ensure his character would be the right fit for the squad. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer declared recently he would prefer a ‘hole in the squad rather than an a***hole’ after some of the club’s more suspect signings in recent years, while United are still (literally) paying for their mistakes with Alexis Sanchez.
But all being right, landing Aubameyang at a knockdown rate could be a massive short-term coup.