Ever since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer announced his intention to “rebuild” the Manchester United squad the question has been how many transfer windows it will be until the renovations are complete.
There’s far more than just the foundations in place now for United under Solskjaer. This is a squad that has looked close to being equipped for a title challenge this season, but there are still some finishing touches to be applied.
It’s some interior design improvements rather than major structural projects now.
But the reality may be that the question is the wrong one to ask. Is a squad rebuild ever complete? Every manager is only one poor run away from having holes in the squad exposed, or an injury crisis away from needing to sign centre backs from the Championship in the mid-season window.
Manchester City won two Premier League titles without a left-back. Liverpool won the Premier League without any genuine competition for places in attack and this season’s they tried to compete with only three central defenders.
If City and Liverpool have won trophies without having what you would term a full squad, then what are the chances of United reaching that holy grail under Solskjaer any time soon?
What the Norwegian wants is a core of players strong enough to challenge for titles and a significant enough chance in personnel that he can put his own stamp on the group. In that regard, they’re very close.
But every window will bring short-term issues and while it could be argued United need a right-winger and a centre back to complete a rebuild, this summer will throw up two other unknowns.
They concern Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani and how United plan to go about their futures. Pogba is still expected to leave this summer, despite his fine recent form, although that may depend on the buoyancy of the transfer market.
If he does go there will be a decision to be made over whether to replace him or to rely on Donny van de Beek.
More will be expected of the £35million Dutchman next season, but so far he’s started only two Premier League games for United and featured in only 11 of their 21 league matches in total. There’s not been a great deal of evidence so far to suggest he can step straight in to Pogba’s shoes, but then signing a replacement for the World Cup winner won’t come cheap.
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Manchester United missed multiple chances to beat Arsenal on Saturday evening, drawing 0-0 at the Emirates Stadium.
Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford were culpable of squandering opportunities, as United now sit three points off league leaders Man City having played a game more.
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So it may be United go with Van de Beek and hope he finds his second season at Old Trafford easier than his first. With Nemanja Matic turning 33 before the start of next season it might be that a new midfielder is required in 2022 anyway.
United’s other big decision is over a succession plan at centre forward. This season has only accentuated concerns over Anthony Martial’s long-term suitability as a No. 9 and so far there’s little sign of him rising to the competition that Edinson Cavani is providing.
Solskjaer always wanted a clinical striker to complement his attack and in Cavani he has just that – despite those missed chances at the Emirates on Saturday.
But Cavani turns 34 this month and while United can and probably will extend his deal for a further season, there’s no guarantee he won’t start to see his returns diminish.
The Uruguayan’s fitness levels are excellent, but this is a demanding season and Cavani is at an age where a professional footballer’s gifts can quickly begin to expire. Relying on him to be the first-choice striker next season might be a risk.
Either this summer or next United will need to sign another centre forward, arguably they’ll need two depending on Martial’s development and form. With their finances still being hit by a lack of fans inside Old Trafford, finding the money for three key positions in the next window might be a leap too far.
So it may be that Cavani and Martial are the centre forwards at Solskjaer’s disposal for 2021/22. They may well prove to be enough, but it will be a 12-month solution only. That’s the problem with squad rebuilds, the next refurbishment project is only ever around the corner.