They say that if you shoot for the moon, you’ll land among the stars.
But it is not quite clear where Manchester United are in that regard, having ambitiously identified Jadon Sancho as their top summer target and then missed out on him, landing two previously unknown teenagers instead. There has been plenty of debate among supporters on the success of United’s transfer business without Sancho and, more than a month after the window’s closure, we are no closer to an answer.
It was hard to feel anything other than anticlimax when the window, which had been the longest in living memory, finally closed and Sancho was not on United’s books. Having been so eager to land the Borussia Dortmund winger, who ticked absolutely every part United’s criteria, to end the window without coming close to his signature must be seen as some kind of failure.
The club’s messages were of a rather different tone, though, insisting that in Donny Van de Beek and Alex Telles they had two elite players who strengthened Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad without breaking the bank. They claimed they had continued investment in the squad, yet with balance and caution due to the need for a responsible approach in the midst of a pandemic. Fair enough, you might say, though a deal secured late in the window for 33-year-old free agent Edinson Cavani (on a hefty pay packet) did not smack of a long-term and considered approach, even if the Uruguayan proves a success at Old Trafford. It was Odion Ighalo’s loan, last January, all over again.
United sources were particularly bullish about the recruitment of the two 18-year-old wingers who effectively arrived as the Sancho alternatives, though have not been billed as much.
Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo had been extensively tracked and scouted at youth level over a number of years by United, with the former arriving from Penarol on deadline day and the latter due to touch down in Manchester from Atalanta in January, pending some final issues.
There is some very understandable caution, internally, at United about the pair and whether they can reach Sancho-esque levels. But United have also been praised for the deals, which while not insignificant in terms of financial outlay (around £28million in upfront fees) did not cost the earth. Especially in contract to the £108million Dortmund demanded for Sancho.
Could United have skipped the middle man and got themselves the next Sancho?
Patience is the name of the game here, with Pellistri still waiting for his first-team bow, having featured only once for United’s Under-23s so far. On his debut in a 2-1 win over Everton at a typically cold and windy Leigh Sports Village, the teenager from South America got the classic rough welcome to English football, hurdling an early slide tackle or two. He came through the 90 minutes unscathed and is now training regularly with Solskjaer’s first team group.
Brandon Williams, a youngster who has successfully made the jump from youth football into the United senior squad and who played alongside Pellistri that night, has been suitably impressed.
He said: “Facundo’s done very well since coming in. He doesn’t speak that much English but he’s learning. He’ll kick on from this and I’ll be here to help him if I can. I enjoyed playing with him.“
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United entered the international break by winning what was arguably their most important match of the season at Everton on Saturday.
The under-pressure Reds came from behind to beat the Toffees thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ double and Edinson Cavani’s first goal for United.
United have a two-week break with many of their stars heading off on international duty – we’ll be keeping tabs on how they all perform, and on preparations for their next Premier League match against West Brom.
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Pellistri may well get his chance in the first team soon, given Mason Greenwood’s issues this season and the fact Juan Mata has been United’s auxiliary right-wing option of late. Jesse Lingard looks unlikely to force his way into Solskjaer’s plans again, and Daniel James like so many others in the current squad, is better on the left.
Pellistri has played as a No.10 and on the left, but it was no surprise that his Under-23s debut was on the right. He’s being schooled for that role. United need him there.
The same can be said of Diallo, who is arguably the more exciting prospect of the pair and who has been trying to force his way into Atalanta’s side so far this season before he joins United in January.
It is more than a year since the teenager, formerly known as Traore, scored on Serie A debut in a 7-1 drubbing of Udinese. He’s been tipped for the top and United believe he can get there wit them.
United have run the risk of an entire season, or more, without a genuine right-wing option for their first team. But between January and the summer they may find out whether Pellistri or Diallo are up to the task, or whether summer 2021 will see another Sancho saga envelope the club.