Manchester United’s pursuit of Jadon Sancho seems to be reaching a frustrating impasse.
The English winger had looked absolutely nailed-on to join Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils next season, but Ed Woodward attempting to haggle the price down from what was initially agreed has led to a situation where it honestly seems more likely that Sancho stays in Germany than returns home to England to don the red of Manchester United.
This leaves us with a very serious question: what do Man United do now? Their entire summer window seemed based around signing Sancho to start in that right-wing position and ensure that the Red Devils have four starter-quality forwards for three positions.
So if Sancho doesn’t arrive, what’s the move? Where do Man United look now to make sure their attack evolves into a formidable unit that can compete across an entire league season?
If you lose Sancho’s magical skills from the right of the pitch, then the only replacement you could get that would be anywhere near that level would be Adama Traoré at Wolves. At 24-years-old he’s older than Sancho is, but in terms of sheer attacking power he would be a viable alternative.
Traoré is a supernatural dribbler, surpassing even Sancho in that regard. The Spaniard completed 183 take-ons last season, which is the most by a single player in Premier League history. Once he starts moving his combination of technical excellence and athletic prowess make him almost impossible to watch for defenders.
He wouldn’t offer the same versatility as Sancho (who could play on the left or the right) but he would own that right-flank in attack and create chances galore for Man United’s other forwards. Moreover, he’d develop an interesting partnership with right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The Englishman is an elite defender but an average attacker, meanwhile Traoré is an elite attacker who doesn’t like to defend. Well, pair them up and you’d have two players who could just stick to what they’re good at and thus form a symbiotic right-flank that few teams would be able to handle at either end of the pitch.
David Brooks, then. The 23-year-old Welsh attacking midfielder who wowed everyone in the 2018/19 season with his intense attacking play. Brooks is a superb dribbler with an eye for penetrative passes into the box. Injury meant that he missed pretty much all of 2019/20 as Bournemouth were relegated, but that will no doubt work in Man United’s favour as he will be cheaper as a Championship player.
As a left-footer, Brooks would function more like a faster Juan Mata – and that’s a skill-set Man United could make use of now and even next season if they were to sign Sancho. Brooks can play multiple positions so would provide serious depth to a Man Utd side that is lacking it. He could start or he could be on the bench. He wouldn’t demand massive wages and would develop superbly alongside Man United’s other young precocious talents. Whatever Man United need, he could do it.
Man United have been linked with Grealish for a long time, but that always felt like he was going to be an alternative to Paul Pogba should the Frenchman leave. Now he’s staying and playing in a deeper role, the need for Grealish didn’t seem as apparent. But that was when Sancho was expected, and without the winger’s arrival there would be a spot in attack for Grealish.
Of course, Grealish can’t really play off the right, so the shape would have to change to more of a diamond. With Pogba and Fernandes running the show in midfield with a holder, Grealish would be the maverick no. 10 playing behind two forwards. Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and even Dan James would all be able to excel in that striking role where they begin in the half-space and can make runs inside or out, depending on the match situation.
Grealish’s style of play and physical hardiness would be perfectly in line with the kind of mentality that Solskjaer is trying to build at the club, and the attacker is the perfect age to play alongside Man United’s supremely talented attacking corps for years to come.