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For the neutral fan of schadenfreude, it would be good for United to move for Herrera again, just to see what fresh shambles is served up this time. Nobody really seems sure if that tale about lawyers and briefcases and the Spanish FA is true, but that misses the point: the important thing to note is that it was really funny. Indeed, there was talk that the real story was that the deal fell through because David Moyes wanted more time to consider the transfer, and in the end decided against it - still, United have apparently kept their eyes on the Athletic Bilbao midfielder.
One factor that may either complicate or simplify the deal is Herrera's form this season - he hasn't been a fixture in the Athletic side, although he has returned to Ernesto Valverde's starting XI recently. That last season's player of the year is no longer an automatic selection might indicate the Basque club are willing to relax their stance over his asking price. "Once they had said to us: 'Only the buy-out clause being met will issue a release', we knew it wasn't going to happen," said United chief executive and urgent transfer business departee Ed Woodward last year, but while United may not have been willing to pay the requisite cash before, half a season of creative anaemia may convince them to stump up a few more Euros. Of course, that he has not played at the levels of last season may also mean United won't be so keen as they were in the summer. Herrera is undoubtedly the sort of player United need, but the answer to whether he is good enough might lie in their scouting reports and how Moyes intends to use the midfielder.
Whether David Moyes needs a left-back right now, with Patrice Evra performing largely competently, is up for debate. He'll need one for the future, that's for sure, and while Luke Shaw would appear to be the best long-term option, Southampton don't seem keen to let him go this month (the BBC rather amusingly reported that they 'sternly' rejected an approach from United). Coentrao was apparently on the verge of joining United in the summer, but didn't after Real's deal for a replacement (Guilherme Siqueira from Granada) fell through, so it seems clear that United are indeed interested in the Portuguese full-back.
There are conflicting reports from Spain about Coentrao's availability this month. For one thing, Carlo Ancelotti said recently that nobody would be leaving and nobody would be joining Real, but as we all know managers are not exactly connected to a polygraph when they give press conferences. Various reports suggested in November that he had agreed a new contract, but confirmation on that has not been forthcoming. Meanwhile, a journalist from AS (the slightly less-bullshitty of the Madrid football papers) reported on Monday that the deal to take Coentrao to United was virtually done, so believe what you like. Whatever the actual truth is, we can be fairly sure of a few things: he's good enough for United, they want him, and there is at the very least some wiggle room regarding his position in Madrid.
After that early-season unpleasantness surrounding the whole bid from Arsenal, 'My head's not right to play against Manchester City' farrago, Cabaye's form has improved in the last couple of months. So much so that he's approaching his impressive levels of 2011/12, when he and Cheick Tiote enabled Newcastle to play that old unfashionable two-man central midfield and not get dominated, qualities that United could very much do with at present.
The fly in this particular ointment might come in the large and moneyed shape of Paris St-Germain, whose manager Laurent Blanc is a big fan of Cabaye - a fan to the extent of a £22million bid for the Newcastle man being mooted in recent weeks. That sort of dough would blow United out of the water, and getting into a bidding war with PSG is the easiest way to feel inadequate, other than standing next to Michael Fassbender at a urinal.
A name that hasn't been mentioned much in United despatches, but perhaps should have been. A tall, composed midfielder who likes a tackle almost as much as he likes a foul, Gonalons could be just the man to stop United's midfield getting overrun so embarrassingly. One might think that's what Marouane Fellaini is for, but Gonalons is more comfortable both on the ball and in a deeper role than Fellaini, as well as having the added advantage of not inspiring 'wacky' fans to show up to games wearing big afro wigs.
Perhaps crucially for this window, Gonalons seems to be available. Napoli are said to be keen, to the point of making a bid in the region of £12million which, even in these Glazer-straitened times, surely isn't beyond United. "Napoli are interested in me and everyone knows it," said Gonalons this week. "When a major European club wants you, you have to evaluate everything. In the next few weeks, we will talk with the president and the coach to find the best solution and see what happens." Again, even though United aren't the draw they once were, they are still more appealing than Napoli and can offer more money. Lyon coach Remi Garde insisted that Gonalons wouldn't be sold in January, which is cute, but when Jean-Michel Aulas is your president and someone with jangly pockets comes a callin', that sort of promise isn't worth the bullsh*t it's printed on.
Sevilla's Croatian midfielder has reportedly been a target for Liverpool in recent weeks, but perhaps United should take a look as well. Statistically intolerant types look away now, but Rakitic has scored eight and set up six goals this season (only Koke, Gareth Bale, Cesc Fabregas and Neymar have more in La Liga), which is pretty solid for a central midfielder. Particularly when one considers that United have gathered just one goal and zero assists from their assorted centre-mids so far this season. Rakitic would apparently cost something in the region of £15million, but that should not break the bank for a team who, their leaky PR machine would have you believe, have anything between £100-200million in their transfer kitty for the next year or so. United need something to shake the heart of their team up, and Rakitic might just be that something.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter
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