By Greg Stobart
GUNDOGAN A RISK WORTH TAKING TO FINALLY FIX UNITED'S MIDFIELD
It may feel like an oil tanker turning in a puddle, but Manchester United are thinking along the right lines as they try to finally solve their dreadful central midfield problem.
Borussia Dortmund star Ilkay Gundogan and Bayern Munich playmaker Toni Kroos are widely considered the club’s two top targets for the summer transfer window. When you see Kroos playing as he did against Arsenal last week, it is hard to imagine him swapping the best team in the world for a side that may not even make the Europa League next season.
Even if United dangle a €302,000-a-week contract in front of Kroos, it is the kind of move that will end in disappointment, just like last summer’s failed pursuit of Cesc Fabregas. Kroos, who is out of contract in 2015, will probably sign a new deal in the coming months and put that dream to bed.
But it is a different story for Gundogan, who also has less than 18 months remaining on his contract and has made just one Bundesliga appearance this season due - and that was way back in August - to a back injury.
A fully fit Gundogan would represent the perfect signing for United, a far more important coup than the deal agreed last week to extend Wayne Rooney’s contract until 2019.
The 23-year-old is a world-class player, the kind of man who can dominate a game in central midfield and the perfect type of player to fill a gaping hole in the United squad. With Gundogan in a team alongside the likes of Rooney and Juan Mata, United can once again dominate games rather than find themselves embarrassingly overrun even against the most mediocre of opposition.
United are sixth in the league and have lost eight matches this season, so signing Gundogan would be just the start of an extensive rebuild. Moyes also wants to sign a central defender, left-back, winger and striker in the summer, backed by the best part of €120 million from the Glazers.
But Gundogan, who played such a key role in Dortmund winning the Bundesliga in 2012 and reaching the Champions League final last season, would be the most important of the lot. He would, however, represent a huge risk given his lack of action this season and the notoriously unpredictable nature of back problems.
Real Madrid are among the clubs that would compete for the Germany international’s signature if he could prove his fitness.
United have been burned before by signing a player with a poor injury history, with Sir Alex Ferguson describing Owen Hargreaves as “a disaster” in his autobiography. Yet Gundogan would be a risk worth taking for a side that has spent years trying to replace Roy Keane and Paul Scholes with no luck.
There is plenty of repair work to be done at Old Trafford in the summer - but Gundogan could prove the catalyst to put United back in contention.
BERKGAMP PROVIDES A LESSON FOR OZIL
Arsenal honoured club legend Dennis Bergkamp with a statue outside the Emirates before Saturday’s thumping win over Sunderland. A fitting tribute for the Dutchman after 11 years and 120 goals in north London, a man who took Arsenal to the top and helped keep them there, who made people fall in love with the club.
Few now remember his shaky start to life in England when it took him seven matches to register his first goal for Arsenal and by his own admission Bergkamp found his first season difficult.
Mesut Ozil can take heart from Bergkamp’s story that he, too, can become an Arsenal legend. The German has had his own teething problems this season, culminating in the missed penalty against Bayern Munich last week.
But his talent is beyond doubt, and Berkgamp’s story is a reminder that even the best take time to settle. For that reason, it is also too early to judge perceived flops on the other side of north London.
Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela are Tottenham’s two most expensive signings ever yet one has barely played and the other looks like a Sunday League striker at the moment. Yet sometimes it only takes one goal, a change of manager or a full pre-season to turn everything on its head.
It is simply too early to make definitive conclusions on players after less than a year at their new club, however big their reputation when they arrived.
TIME FOR ENGLAND TO SWITCH GAMES FROM WEMBLEY
England were handed the group of boredom in the Euro 2016 qualifying draw on Sunday - and now it is time for the national team to hit the road again.
There is no way that Wembley will even be half-full for games against teams like San Marino and Lithuania, so the Football Association have the perfect opportunity to take the Three Lions to the likes of Villa Park, Anfield and St James’ Park.
Switzerland, Estonia and Slovenia are the other opponents for Roy Hodgson’s side in Group E in a simple draw, especially given the expansion of the tournament from 16 to 24 teams for Euro 2016.
The FA are committed to staging their home matches at Wembley but it must be more important to make sure that people across the country can stay interested in the Three Lions over the next few years.
And that means it is time to go back on tour.