With Cristiano Ronaldo off to join the new galáctico era at Real Madrid leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with £80 million burning a hole in his pocket here is a selection of South American starlets who could fill the vacant number seven shirt at Old Trafford.
Despite assuring Nani that he has a future at the Qiu club, having Serbian Zoran Tosic in the wings as well as pursuing Franck Ribéry and Karim Benzema do not be surprised if one or more of the names below show up in a Manchester United shirt sooner rather than later.
In fact with the money raised by the sale of Ronaldo alone Fergie could bring all four of the Latin wing wizards he is linked with and still have enough left over for a sizable punt on the nags.
So lets have a look over the runners and riders…
Name: Alexis Sanchez
Current Club: Udinese
International Record: 22 caps, 7 goals
Possible Cost: £30 million
Both Udinese and Chile have benefitted this season as Alexis Sanchez continues to polish up his act and produce the goods on the pitch.
El Niño Maravilla has grabbed his chance in Italy by making 32 appearances for Udinese this term and his performances for Chile, including a brace last time out against Bolivia, have fired his nation to within touching distance of the World Cup.
Despite Udinese’s president Sergio Gasparin issuing a hands off warning to Manchester United speculation is still rife that Alexis Sanchez will be swapping Stadio Friuli for Old Trafford in time for next season.
Gasparin is obviously keen to be seen as protecting his prize asset and has turned to the press to voice his concerns about Sanchez even though the player himself has stated he would love to play for Manchester United one day.
“Alexis Sanchez is not for sale,” Gasparin told the Italian press. “From a technical standpoint, this player means a lot to us.”
“He has a four-year contract with Udinese and there is no contact with Manchester United,” bluntly added the club’s president. “We do not have any intention of selling Alexis.”
Gasparin has already turned down a €25 million bid from Bayern Munich who appear to view Sanchez as a perfect replacement for want away Franck Ribéry.
However the player’s agent appears not to be heeding Gasparin’s warning and continues to put his player in the shop window. Fernando Felicevich went as far to reveal that meetings were taking place with Old Trafford officials to get a deal off the ground.
“My partner is currently in England working on the transfer of Alexis,” Felicevich told Setanta.com. “Yes, we have spoken to Manchester United, but not just to United. We have also held talks with other English teams. We are trying to do the transfer this summer.”
Sanchez first appeared in the Chilean league with Cobreloa and was snapped up shortly after by Udinese for around £2 million. Sanchez was then loaned to Colo-Colo and then River Plate where he picked up an Argentine league winners medal.
After a successful debut season in Serie A Alexis Sanchez has proven his ability in one of Europe’s top leagues and the high asking price represents the relatively low risk factor of this transfer with the player primed to make an instant impact in the Premier League.
Name: Antonio Valencia
Current club: Wigan Athletic (ENG)
International record: 34 caps, 4 goals
Probable cost: £17 million
Sir Alex doesn’t have to look to far for one Latin America option with Ecuadoran Antonio Valencia plying his trade just up the road at Wigan Athletic.
Valencia has just completed his third Premier League term and did his chances of a move to Old Trafford no harm with a man of the match performance there this season as Wigan lost by a single goal.
Steve Bruce knows what it takes to succeed at Manchester United and he gave a frank assessment of the player when he eventually signed Valencia on a permanent bias from Villarreal last year.
“He has pace, trickery, he is as strong as an ox and has a great work ethic,” said the former United captain. “I want him to focus completely on his football and keep improving because I believe he has the potential to be a top, top player.”
Valencia certainly stepped up to Bruce’s challenge as he helped in his manager’s transformation of Wigan from basement battlers to Europa League contenders.
However as Wigan’s chairman Dave Whelan freely admits just like Wilson Palacios, Emile Heskey and Leighton Baines before him, Valencia has his price.
That price is believed to be in the region of £17 million but could be pushed up as joint interest from Real Madrid sparks a bidding war for the Ecuadoran. Another factor which could add a few quid on to Valencia’s transfer is a 20% sell-on fee owed to Villarreal.
Whelan explains the latest state of play concerning Manchester United’s approaches.
“They have been in touch with us and we will be starting negotiations very shortly, I would imagine,” the Wigan chairman said. “United have been in touch with us over Antonio over the last two or three months, expressing an interest and putting cash offers on the table.”
Manchester United were forced to act on Valencia after they learnt of Real Madrid putting in an £18 million bid back in January despite seemingly to have already secured the services of Ronaldo.
While Whelan would like to strengthen his ties with the current Premier League champions he concedes that the eventual decision will be in the player’s hands.
“We have had offers that are acceptable to Wigan Athletic, around the £14-£18m mark, said Whelan. “One club could offer £2m more than the other, but if Antonio says he doesn’t want to go there then there is no point.”
Name: Douglas Costa
Current club: Grêmio (BRA)
International record: Under-20 11 caps, 3 goals
Probable cost: £21 million
After getting his fingers burnt with Brazilian talent in the past Sir Alex looks now to have found a way to harness players from the most successful footballing nation in the world.
Fergie plucked Kleberson straight from the Brasileirão after his performances in the 2002 World Cup singled him out as star performer in the middle of the park. However, an injury in only his second appearance for Manchester United set the tone for two disappointing seasons with the club.
A look through the Manchester United squad now though reveals a healthy Brazilian contingent including first team regular Anderson as well as Rodrigo Possebon and the Da Silva twins on the fringes.
No surprise therefore that Fergie has used his considerable scouting network in Brazil to identify a possible successor to Ronaldo. It appears all his sources have come back with the same name, Douglas Costa of Grêmio.
Now after a year of monitoring the player’s progress which has seen Douglas establish himself in the Grêmio side and guide Brazil to success at the South American under-20 championships the time has come to act.
Inter Milan and Real Madrid are reported to be interested but Manchester United hope that Douglas will be swayed by the prospect of joining up with Fergie’s current boys from Brazil.
The left-footed Douglas is rumoured to have a £21 million release trigger in his contract with Grêmio plus United would have to jump through a few hoops on the work permit front in order to secure his signature.
These hurdles however have not prevented officials from Old Trafford starting a dialogue with Douglas’ agent Cesar Bottega.
“There have been informal conversations and I believe United would match [the release price],” Bottega said. “At the end of the Brasileirão in December, Douglas will be worth at least twice that.”
Bottega also added that the reported £6.7 million that Manchester United have already tabled for Douglas was laughed off by Grêmio president Duda Kroeff.
One person who is not happy with United’s interest in Brazilian youngsters is the 1970 World Cup winning captain and scorer of that goal, Carlos Alberto. After seeing so many talented youths tempted away from his homeland Carlos Alberto has accused Manchester United in particular of “raping Brazilian football”.
As well as employing two full-time scouts in Brazil Manchester United also have a deal with Desportivo Brasil, a youth club owned by Traffic Football Management. A move which be seen as at odds with some of the club’s comments concerning third party ownership which arose as Carlos Tevez left the club.
Name: Javier Pastore
Current club: Huracán (ARG)
International record: Unreleased by Huracán for under-20 duty
Probable cost: £11 million
Last weekend I went along to watch Huracán go top of the Argentine league with a 3-0 win over Arsenal. The star of the show without doubt was Javier Pastore, a midfielder equally adept in creating as well as taking goalscoring chances.
It was looking likely that Pastore would be available in the coming months as his complicated contract with Huracán drew to a close but before last week’s match it was announced to the great delight of the crowd that Pastore has signed up for another six months on loan.
However, if a big bid was to come in who is say that Pastore would be sticking around in Buenos Aires for another season. Any deal would have to suit the investment group would paid £200,000 for 55% of his registration and Talleres, the Argentine lower league club who own the remaining 45%.
It has been quite the coup by Huracán chairman Carlos Babington, nicknamed El
Ingles for his English sounding name, to secure Pastore’s services as the cash strapped club stand one game away from an historic league title.
Pastore has benefitted from working under Huracán’s manager Angel Cappa, a staunch football purist whose style of play demands the ball is played to feet. Cappa has urged Pastore to explore his talents on the pitch as he gives his players free range to express themselves in pursuit of goals.
This freedom has seen Pastore head and shoulders above his fellow tricksters in Argentina’s weekly showboating feature on a television program and what makes him such an attractive proposal is the final product he has delivered time and time again.
Braces in recent wins against River Plate and Rosario Central have kept his team in a title race as well as cementing the interest of Manchester United.
“I’m very proud that a club like United are interested in me,” Pastore said. “The thing is that at clubs like Manchester United there are a lot of great players, and they are all internationals. I know that if I moved to a club like that, I’d have to wait to get my chance to play.”
In the meantime a little wrinkle for Pastore to iron out is his apparent snub of international duty which has recently seen him frozen out of Diego Maradona’s plans with the national team.
Pastore was selected to represent Argentina at the South American under-20 championships but Huracán refused to release him and this has led to a feeling that he let his country down.
When reacting to his exclusion from Argentina’s recent B international against Panama the talented youth took the opportunity once again to remind people that it was not him who made the decision to withdraw.
“I didn’t refuse to travel with the national team,” Pastore said, before adding. “The players who are in the national team are there because they deserve to be.”