After years of mixed results in the transfer market, Manchester United appear belatedly poised to appoint their first-ever director of football.
The Guardian reported that the Premier League giants have decided to “modernise” and fix a “disjointed recruitment” process. This follows a summer transfer window stained by manager Jose Mourinho’s moans about a failure to land targets, plus an apparent disconnect with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward about the age profile of potential buys.
Here, Sport360 picks out five potential options to fill the role.
ANDREA BERTA (ATLETICO MADRID)
If United intend to heal any divisions between Mourinho and Woodward, then Atleti’s Berta could be the perfect contender.
The Italian was first linked to the club prior to Mourinho’s arrival in June 2016. Close ties to ‘super agent’ Jorge Mendes were cited as the reason.
This talk did not come to fruition. But it is easy to see why the likes of United and Paris Saint-Germain have been enamored by his work.
Signings such as Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak and France forward Antoine Griezmann have delivered trophies, plus a steep ascent in transfer value. Even flops like Colombia striker Jackson Martinez have often been sold for profit.
Symbiosis between Berta and head coach Diego Simeone shows how well he would fit into a new structure.
The only clear negative surrounding Berta is the transfer ban incurred by Atleti for breaching rules over the transfer of foreign players under 18 in 2016.
Best signings: Jan Oblak, Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Lemar
Worst signings: Alessio Cerci, Jackson Martinez, Nicolas Gaitan
ANTERO HENRIQUE (PORTO)
The Portuguese administrator has gained unmatched experience working both ends of the transfer market.
In nearly two decades at Porto, he oversaw football’s most productive scouting network. The likes of Radamel Falcao, Pepe and James Rodriguez were procured cheaply and later sold for exorbitant fees.
Such work did not go unnoticed, despite a falling out with Alexandre Pinto da Costa – the son of president Jorge Nuno. A move up the food chain to PSG followed in June 2017.
There, he showed his standing as a deal maker when Brazil superstar Neymar was wrenched out of Barcelona’s grasp for a world-record €222 million (Dh928m) and a loan with a right to buy was negotiated with Monaco for striker Kylian Mbappe.
He’s also sold duds at a profit, such as left-back Yuri Berchiche, to ensure Financial Fair Play is complied with.
Best signings: Neymar, Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez
Worst signings: Walter, Diego Reyes, Adrian Lopez
If United intend to hire the very best, there is no question which director of football sits at the pinnacle.
Monchi went from goalkeeper to sporting director in 2000 of a shambolic Sevilla who’d just been relegated to Segunda Division. He left for Roma in April 2017 as a legend.
At Sevilla, homegrown talents – like Sergio Ramos – were twinned with expertly scouted prospects – like Dani Alves – and success followed. An estimated transfer profit of more than €200m (Dh836m) produced 11 major trophies in 17 years.
In the Eternal City, his touch has remained golden thanks to the recruitment of Turkey forward Cengiz Under. Even the rushed sale of Egypt forward Mohamed Salah for just £36.9m (Dh173.1m) to Liverpool can be explained by the necessity of meeting FFP obligations.
Best signings: Dani Alves, Ivan Rakitic, Cengiz Under
Worst signings: Arouna Kone, Andreas Hinkel, Tom De Mul
FABIO PARATICI (JUVENTUS)
The power behind the throne in Turin and one of the sharpest operators in football.
Sporting director Paratici has played an influential role in the most-successful period in Juventus’ glittering history. Since being headhunted from Sampdoria, he corrected the course of a club who’d spectacularly lost its way in the transfer market.
Under Paratici, Juve dominate the free agents market. This summer’s bargain acquisition of Germany midfielder Emre Can follows on from the likes of compatriot Sami Khedira, the peerless Andrea Pirlo and Paul Pogba (sold to United for a world-record fee in August 2016).
Paratici is intrinsically linked to Juve’s CEO Giuseppe Marotta. The pair also worked together at Sampdoria.
This could lead to an opening for Woodward if Paratici is eager to strike out on his own. Similarly, he will need to be well advised on whether Paratici is capable of working productively without his mentor.
Best signings: Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo
Worst signings: Marco Motta, Alessandro Matri, Simone Zaza
MICHAEL ZORC (BORUSSIA DORTMUND)
An almost impossible task awaits United if they decide on Zorc – separating him from Dortmund.
Zorc, 55, joined the club as a 15-year-old in 1978. Nearly 500 Bundesliga appearance later, the German midfielder retired in 1998 and moved straight upstairs to become sporting director.
No-one has served longer in the job, at the same side. Few have had such a varied time, either.
Dortmund experienced severe financial difficulties in the early 2000s and tough lessons were learned by Zorc. In the next decade, acute business by bringing in then-unheralded players such as Germany centre-back Mats Hummels and Poland striker Robert Lewandowski produced the 2010/11 and 2011/12 Bundesliga crowns.
Zorc is already set to leave the club in 2021. Can United expedite this process?
Best signings: Robert Lewandowski, Mats Hummels, Tomas Rosicky
Worst signings: Victor Ikpeba, Ciro Immobile, Kevin Kampl
The 27-year-old’s future has been repeatedly questioned since he came close to joining Real Madrid three years ago and United are desperate to keep hold of the Spain international.
Courtois’ move from Chelsea to the Bernabeu last week has taken his most obvious destination out of the equation, boosting United’s hopes of agreeing a new contract with De Gea.
The Spaniard’s current deal expires next summer with a further year existing as an option to be triggered by the club.
The market for keepers has spiralled considerably in the past year, with Jordan Pickford costing Everton £30 million last summer when he was both uncapped by England and recently relegated, and the world record broken twice in the past month.
First Alisson Becker moved from Roma to Liverpool for around £66m, then Chelsea trumped that by replacing Courtois with Athletic Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga for £72.1m.
That makes the £18.9m De Gea cost in 2011 look paltry by comparison but United’s interest has long been in locking down a long-term stay rather than cashing in.
In the aftermath of Manchester United’s 2-1 opening night Premier League win over Leicester on Friday, Pogba appeared to cast his United future into doubt.
“There are things, and there are things that I cannot say, otherwise I will get fined,” said the Frenchman, who was named captain by his manager.
Mourinho is expected to address the issue when he next speaks this week ahead of the game against Brighton on Sunday, although it is understood that Pogba’s words came out the blue for the United manager.
Mourinho expects his players to raise any issues that they have with him to his face.
The pair get on well together, Mourinho believes. There have never been any clashes on the training ground.
Having suggested Pogba had lack of focus during his time at United, Mourinho would have expected any comeback from the player before that first game against Leicester for which the player returned to the team ahead of schedule.
Mourinho felt making him captain on the night was enough of a signal of faith in the player despite the comments by both sides over the course of the summer.
The tension between the two has chiefly been created, Mourinho believes, by the player’s agent Mino Raiola while within the training ground there are no issues between the £89 million man and his manager.
When Mourinho made his comments during the summer about a World Cup finals being the “perfect habitat” for Pogba, because he was “completely isolated from the external world”, it was the situation with Raiola that was central to his thinking.
Whether Barcelona, who seem to be Pogba’s chief suitor, could afford the kind of fee to sign him either in this window or the next remains seriously in doubt.
United believe that any pursuit of the player that continues to the end of the transfer window will be purely for the purpose of suggesting that Barca have ambition – if not the resources.
Barca’s preliminary financial figures for the year 2017-2018 were published last month and show that the club made an operating profit of €31 million for that period, despite selling Neymar for around €198m – all of which was paid up front as his release fee.
The cost of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool and Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmunds is spread over the course of their five-year contracts.
With profits of €31m it begs the question what costs have swallowed up the remaining €90-€100m from the Neymar deal, with Barca, like Real Madrid, also struggling with a wage bill of around €400m annually.