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Despite Louis van Gaal ending his first pre-season in charge of Manchester United with a perfect six wins from six games (albeit one on penalties), it seems as though the Dutchman is intent on further strengthening his squad before the start of the Premier League campaign.
"We have won in spite of [the fact] we have played our worst game," the 62-year-old said on Tuesday evening after an uninspiring 2-1 victory over Valencia, the manager's first game at Old Trafford. "We made a lot of wrong choices, wrong passes and we didn't press too much."
With the former Netherlands coach already casting doubts over Luke Shaw's fitness to play the left wing-back role in his new 3-4-1-2 formation, and with both Patrice Evra and Alexander Buttner having departed the Theatre of Dreams, investment down the left flank is vital - and it seems as though Van Gaal has sounded out Marcos Rojo for that job, with numerous media outlets reporting that United have tabled a £16 million bid for the Sporting defender.
However, he is also capable of playing in a back three and could perform more of a central role.
Rojo signed for Spartak Moscow on a five-year deal in 2011, but the move was an unhappy one as he lasted just a season in Russia before moving on to Sporting, who finished runners-up to Benfica in the Primeira Liga last season. He scored four goals in 25 appearances for the Portuguese side in 2013-14, and went on to shine at the World Cup for Argentina, attracting interest from Southampton in the process.
The 24-year-old formed part of a lean back line that conceded just three goals in seven games in Brazil as they finished runners-up to Germany, with Rojo playing in six of those games. He only missed the quarter-final victory over Belgium through suspension, with coach Alejandro Sabella placing faith in his tenacious approach to the game.
The Sporting player showed in Brazil that he likes to battle for the ball, and has the pace and fitness to slot into Van Gaal's pressing system down the left. The real draw for United is that Rojo can play at either left-back or as a left centre-back; if the Dutch manager were to play both Rojo and Shaw together on the left side of his defence, it would allow him to overload opponents down that flank while still retaining solidity given the duo's ability to get back quickly.
Rojo impressed both offensively and defensively at the World Cup: the 24-year-old scored one and created nine chances in his six appearances, 44.4 percent of which came from deep left wing. The Sporting star completed all three of his attempted take-ons in Brazil, and his ability to beat a man to get into advanced positions will have enticed Van Gaal, who needs his wide men to support attacks as well as tame opposition wingers.
The Argentinian won 17 of 27 tackles (63%), eight of 14 aerial battles (57%) and showed discipline in only giving away seven fouls, while winning seven free-kicks of his own. Rojo was in the thick of it for long spells as well, making an average of seven defensive actions per game, with 26 clearances and 15 interceptions in the tournament. At 1.87 metres, Rojo is certainly no pushover, and would add valuable height to a side that has lost both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in one summer.
As seen on United's pre-season tour, Van Gaal is attempting to implement a possession-based game with quick, intricate passing and movement fundamental to the team's success. In this respect, Rojo could slot in well, achieving a passing accuracy of 80% at the World Cup, with 59.9% of those 191 successful passes going forwards.
It must be remembered, however, that Rojo was certainly not Van Gaal's first choice: Thomas Vermaelen opted to join Barcelona for lower wages than United were offering him, and the chase for Mats Hummels appears to be over with Borussia Dortmund naming him their new captain.
Time, and options, are running out for both Van Gaal and Ed Woodward as the new season fast approaches, and United do not currently have a squad to rival the summer business of Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, or even arguably Tottenham. Daley Blind is also being targeted, though given that he can also play at left wing-back, centre-back or defensive midfield, the manager appears to be fairly concerned with his back line's fitness issues.
Another potential sting in the tail is Rojo's attitude to United's interest: reports suggest he has handed in a transfer request and refused to train for Sporting in a bid to force through a move. That will work in United's favour, but may be a point to remember should the defender thrive at Old Trafford and later attract interest from the likes of Real Madrid or Barca.
United fans have fond memories of a former Argentinian left-back given Gabriel Heinze's full-blooded approach towards opponent's ankles, and Rojo follows a familiar pattern - he was booked eight times for Sporting last season and sent off twice. With competition for places across the back set to be strong given that United have no European football to offer, suspensions will be more easily mitigated next term, though Van Gaal will be hoping that he can give Rojo a more disciplined edge to stamp out his current penchant for collecting cautions.
Despite the potential pitfalls in targeting Rojo, a deal for around £16m looks to be a smart one from the club: at 24, he has the experience of numerous leagues and a World Cup final run under his belt, while he is affordable without being too much of a gamble. The defender would retain a good sell-on value should a move to the Premier League prove problematic, though the player's statistics and attitude suggest he could thrive in England.
Rojo is affordable, has the talent, and crucially, wants to play for the manager and the club at a time when more illustrious targets are turning their noses up. Such desire is priceless, and should United land their man, the fans may well have a new South American hero to cheer on into thunderous tackles down the left flank.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manchester United
- Louis van Gaal
- Marcos Rojo