Could Haaland & Sancho Be Man Utd’s New Rooney & Ronaldo?
Haaland, left, and Sancho, right, are two of Europe's hottest young prospects (© PA Images)
Should he come through a testing few weeks, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will mark one year in charge of Manchester United on December 19.
The Norwegian has had time to assess his squad and with his third transfer window opening on January 1, his future with the fallen Premier League giants could be decided by the business he does, or doesn't do.
United need strengthening in most areas but it's their attack that fans will want to see boosted first.
Marcus Rashford (7), Anthony Martial (3) and Mason Greenwood (1) are leading the line for United this season and the trio have combined for just 11 league goals between them in 14 Premier League games, that's two less than Jamie Vardy has managed on his own for Leicester.
United's history has been based on attacking flair which includes Solskjaer being one of four top strikers to help the club win their historic Treble in May 1999.
In recent years, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney lit up Old Trafford with an abundance of goals and it's fair to say that United have not adequately replaced either player since their departures in 2009 and 2017 respectively.
Yet United's fortunes could change if they are able to sign a couple of exciting attackers.
Erling Braut Haaland, 19, is a name being linked with a move to Old Trafford. Haaland, who has been compared to Rooney, is well known by Solskjaer from their time together at Molde before the forward joined Salzburg in 2018.
Statistics: Charlie Mullan
Earlier this season, Haaland scored a hat-trick on his Champions League debut in a 6-2 home win over Genk 15 years after Rooney introduced himself to United supporters with three goals on his debut in a 6-2 home win over Fenerbache.
Haaland has followed that up with five more goals in Europe's top club competition to take his total to eight in just five games.
It would take Rooney a total of 23 games to score his eighth Champions League goal, while Ronaldo – who is now the competition's all-time leading scorer with 127 – took 36 games to reach eight goals.
Haaland became the first teenager to score in five successive Champions League games and his eight goals takes him past Harry Kane and Diego Costa, who managed seven in their first five ties.
With 27 goals in 19 games for Salzburg, Haaland is on course to break many more records. Let's not forget, his achievements so far are with the Austrian champions.
Sancho A Top Target?
Jadon Sancho is another bright young talent that United fans would love to see turn out for them.
The 19-year-old began his career at Watford and after a move to Manchester City failed to work out, he decided the best way of getting his career off the ground was to join Borussia Dortmund.
It turned out to be a wise decision and after his first 74 games for the Bundesliga side, he has scored 21 goals at an average of a goal every 3.52 games.
After Ronaldo's first 74 games for United, the Portuguese had scored 11 goals at a rate of a goal every 6.72 games.
Haaland and Sancho would surely be welcome additions to the United squad and alongside Rashford, Martial and Greenwood they would certainly represent a bright future for the Red Devils with all five aged 23 or lower.
Statistics: Charlie Mullan
However, with United languishing in ninth position in the Premier League table, and seemingly no immediate end to their post-Alex Ferguson struggles, there have been suggestions that top prospects may actually reject any advancements from Old Trafford.
“The biggest problem United have with going for Haaland is that they’re probably not going to be able to get him,” former United defender Paul Parker told Gambling.com.
“You can’t question what Haaland has done so far – he’s scored goals against big sides in the biggest club competition. But does he really want to come to Manchester United given the current situation?
“There would be massive pressure on him to deliver from the moment he arrives. That’s what worries me the most every time he gets mentioned as a possible signing.
“Obviously there’s the Norwegian connection to Solskjaer, but does he feel comfortable enough that Ole is still going to be there by the end of the season?”
The reported fee Salzburg will demand for Haaland is £85million, and although Parker admits it’s “too much” for a teenager, he hopes Solskjaer – who is 6/1 with William Hill to be the next Premier League managerial sacking – remains in charge long enough to identify his targets.
“There’s no doubt £85million is too much for a teenager, but these are the times we live in,” said Parker.
“Haaland was always going to be an expensive target because he’s scoring loads of goals at a high level. If you don’t pay it, you miss out. Maybe – hopefully, in my opinion – Solskjaer will get the opportunity to stay in the job and be given the respect he deserves by allowing him to go and get the transfer targets he wants in January.”
‘Disrespectful to Sack Ole’
“After what he’s had to endure over the past year – having had to manage all sorts of scenarios in a struggling club – it would be disrespectful to take away the opportunity for him to go out and at least try to bring in the faces he wants to see at the club, which could change the whole team’s fortunes.”
Solskjaer has, however, stressed his wish to sign a winger in the January transfer window, something Parker believes should be the least of his priorities, suggesting a £100m acquisition of Sancho – who was unexpectedly dropped by Dortmund boss Lucien Favre last month – would be a ‘massive gamble’.
He said: “I’m not sure what’s happened with Sancho at Dortmund. It seems that, all of a sudden, people are jumping to the conclusion that he has fallen out with Dortmund because he was left out of the side.
“We don’t really know what the problem is because players don’t speak much anymore, so we can’t say for sure that he’s unhappy, as the papers seem to suggest.
“They’re talking about £100m for him. I’ve seen him a few times for England; he’s been alright, but I’ve never seen him make a massive impact.
“Yes, he’s done very well in the Bundesliga, but is he worth that money? I think it’s a massive gamble, particularly as I don’t think United even need a wide player, not unless they’re going to contribute 15-20 goals a season.
“The priority, for me, has to be the spine of the team. Look at the centre of midfield and centre forward, they need addressed. Another wide player should be further down the list of priorities for me.
“We’ve got so many wide options already, so £100m for another seems excessive to me.”
Should United Sell Pogba?
Speaking of the ‘spine’ of United’s team, Parker does not consider the impending return to fitness of Paul Pogba as the answer to United’s midfield woes.
The French World Cup winner has not played for the club since a 1-1 draw with Arsenal on September 30, but Parker insists he’s no great loss to the side and has urged United to sell him at the first opportunity.
“If someone was to come in for Pogba in January and offer the right money, I’d take it, without a doubt,” said Parker.
“I used to feel very strongly about keeping him – I didn’t like how he was being treated by Jose Mourinho – and I thought there would be a better way to manage him.
“But since Solskjaer’s come in, despite a return to form early on, I’m still not seeing Pogba’s desire to play for Manchester United, a lot of fans would now admit that.
“While he’s been out injured, there’s been no apparent desire to come back. You don’t even have to be a United fan to see that now, everyone’s asking themselves how much does Pogba really want to come back and play for this team?
Pogba has been absent for two months but little has changed (© PA Images)
“And would he even make that much difference to the team’s trajectory? We can’t say for sure, but we’re pretty sure Manchester United isn’t what he wants anymore, he wants something a bit more glamorous.
“Should the opportunity arise, I think United should allow him and his agent to move on and fill their pockets again.”
The end is nigh for Pogba at Old Trafford, according to Parker, and in the former England international’s eyes the move has only been a success from a commercial perspective, a failure United cannot afford to make again if they’re to improve results on the pitch.
He said: “Paul Pogba only became a true superstar when Manchester United broke their transfer fee to bring him back in 2016. He was a decent player at Juventus, but the main motive for spending so much money on him was his potential commercial appeal.
“He’s still a commercial asset for the club, even though he’s not playing at the moment, but when he has played, he hasn’t performed anywhere near as well as we were all hoping for.
“From a commercial viewpoint, he’s been great, but what do you want from a player? A commercial entity or an efficient player? Personally, I want to see a footballer. It’s about what you do on the pitch that matters.”
Solskjaer On Thin Ice
For now, Solskjaer has a job on his hands to hold on to his role long enough to make the January transfer window, with rejuvenated Tottenham to visit Old Trafford on Wednesday before a daunting trip to neighbours Manchester City on Saturday.
The club legend has been given just two windows to turn the club’s fortunes around so far, and by denying the 1999 Champions League winner a third to shape his team would be bordering on betrayal, claims two-time Premier League winner Parker.
“I’m going to have to be perfectly honest and admit that if they lose both games (Tottenham and City) and it happens in a bad fashion, I think he’s going to be let down by the club,” said Parker.
“They’re two really big games, and the Spurs game is now even bigger because of who’s in charge of them now. If United perform well and get a result in that game, then I think Ole goes to the Etihad in a good position.
“If they lose to Tottenham, and the performance is anything like it was in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa on Sunday, then it makes the trip to City an unbelievably difficult game. Everyone will be saying ‘lose this and he’s out’ if it comes to that.”
Solskjaer has been treading water for the majority of 2019 (© PA Images)
With former United boss Mourinho now at Tottenham, he’ll be eager to prove a point against his old employers, who sacked the Portuguese and replaced him with Solskjaer almost a year ago.
That said, Parker actually believes the availability of popular former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is more of a concern for Solskjaer than Mourinho, with the Argentine now clear favourite (10/11) to be United’s next manager.
“The fact that Pochettino is now readily available adds extra pressure on Ole’s shoulders,” he admitted. “The going has certainly got tougher because fans are now starting to think about what things could be like if Pochettino was in charge.
“Pochettino probably has plenty of options on the table, but few can rival the name and stature of Manchester United.
“Is he willing to jump out of the Tottenham frying pan and into the fire that is Manchester United? The stature of the club might just be enough to convince him.
“But unless something changes in their transfer business ethos, then he’d be mad to come to United. He’d just end up in the same position whereby he’s not in control of transfer dealings and all he gets is empty promises.
“With the way things are at the moment, there’s not a lot anybody can do to change the club’s fortunes around.”
Whoever is in charge come January, top bookmakers make United 7/1 to sign Sancho by the end of the month, while Haaland looks a considerably more likely target at 7/2 to be at Old Trafford come February 1.
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