Louis van Gaal, it is gradually dawning on us all, is not a foolish man. He is the kind of man who decides to bring on a substitute goalkeeper in the last seconds of extra time, and watches him win a World Cup quarter-final shootout. He is the kind of manager who can change his formation on the eve of a World Cup and get it to work. He is the kind of man who looks reporters in the eye and tells them they have asked a stupid question. And they don’t answer back. He is even the kind of man who can inspire Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben to pass the ball to each other.
He is also the kind of man who has taken a brief look at Manchester United’s midfield options in his fortnight in charge and decided that for him to achieve the seemingly simple task of improving on David Moyes’s miserable seventh place last season he needs to improve their “broken” squad. And by that he means improve their broken midfield.
This time last year Moyes was easing himself into the Old Trafford hotseat that he never quite seemed to sit in comfortably and having the same thoughts. In his perhaps-now-a-little-bit-questioned wisdom Moyes decided, as most managers do, to raid his former club for a few familiar faces and although Leighton Baines decided to stay on at Goodison Park where he was playing quite nicely every week and cementing the England left-back slot, he did manage to persuade his former employers to part with Marouane Fellaini for the small matter of £27.5m.
Many people at the time, felt that was money that could have been spent a little better on another central midfielder, in fact another central midfielder who was also playing for Everton: Ross Barkley.
A year on, Fellaini has had such a bad 12 months he has even decided to shave his trademark mop off in an attempt not to be recognised as “the chosen one’s chosen one” and may just scuttle off to Napoli this summer if they will have him. Barkley, on the other hand, had such a breakthrough season for Everton he also broke through into England’s World Cup squad, not that that was the best way to spend a summer, as it turned out.
Moyes is warming up for a few punditry slots (if they will have him) while Van Gaal is looking at the same hole in midfield and wondering, despite the arrival of Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao, just how he is going to fill it.
And he is not a foolish man. So stumping up the £79m required to sign his injured compatriot Kevin Strootman from Roma does perhaps not look like the best option.
Not as good as tempting the 20-year-old Barkley down the East Lancs Road anyway, even if United would still have to part with the best part of £50m and possibly send Chris Smalling the other way. Or maybe even Fellaini. United’s main problem – as it has been for the last few years – is the fact that noisy/richer/better neighbours turned reigning champions Manchester City have also sounded out Barkley’s availability and see him as the long-term successor for Yaya Touré. Let the bidding war ensue ...
Meanwhile a little further south, a player Everton would very much like to sign permanently, Romelu Lukaku, is spending the summer the way he usually does, wondering why he never gets a game for Chelsea and where he should play next season.
He had wanted it to be Liverpool, but it appears the Chelsea hierarchy are not too happy about letting the club who finished second last season have one of their best players and Tottenham have emerged as leading contenders to take him. Despite Lukaku’s pleas for a permanent deal and going to a club in the Champions League, White Hart Lane is a destination that interests the Premier League’s loan specialist.
Mauricio Pochettino is another new manager who is ready to crank up his summer spending, and with his former Southampton favourites Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez set to join him in north London, he wants to make himself even more unpopular at St Mary’s and hijack their move for the versatile Argentina international defender Marcos Rojo.
Southampton, having realised they are in danger of starting the season struggling to fill the five-a-sides in training, are ready to move in the other direction and Ronald Koeman is sniffing around a season’s loan deal for Arsenal’s teenage starlet Serge Gnabry.
With QPR’s Loïc Rémy having seen his dream move to Liverpool fall through, he may settle for a less-than-dream-but-still-not-too-shabby switch to Newcastle United, where he spent last season on loan. But this may depend on Newcastle denouncing any interest in Mathieu Valbuena, who Harry Redknapp sees as the perfect midfield foil and French-chatting team-mate for Joey Barton. Parfait.