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02nd Aug 2019

Manchester United must avoid turning Paulo Dybala into the next Angel Di Maria

Wayne Farry

A swap deal with Romelu Lukaku appears to be happening

If Paulo Dybala completes a shock swap move to Manchester United, the fan base will be sent into raptures at the prospect of a European superstar coming to Old Trafford.

If that move sees Romelu Lukaku – a player who clearly wants out of a spell at Old Trafford that has highlighted the obvious flaws in his game – then the delight will be doubled.

At the same time as the deal is being announced however, the club’s official Twitter account is more than likely be inundated with the predictable replies like ‘Can he play centre-back?’ and ‘ANNOUNCE MAGUIRE/UMTITI/ANY DEFENDER’.

While this sort of supporter reaction has long-passed the point of tedium, it is pertinent to consider what problems Dybala will actually fix at Manchester United.

Is he a quality player? Absolutely. Will he be an upgrade on Romelu Lukaku? Undoubtedly. His mobility level alone renders him a much more natural fit for the sort of system that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to play.

Dybala only scored five league goals last season –  his lowest career total since scoring the same amount during a season spent in Serie B in 2013/14 – having scored 22 during the 2017/18 season one.

Many will probably put this enormous drop down to a certain Portuguese striker, and liken his sacrifice in front to that of Karim Benzema during his time as Ronaldo’s teammate.

Like Dybala in 2018/19, Benzema scored just five league goals during Ronaldo’s final season at Real Madrid.

Last season he scored 21.

Freed from the looming shadow of Ronaldo, Dybala could prosper at Manchester United, but only if they address their key problem areas. Without doing that, they run the risk of turning the Argentine striker into the next Angel Di Maria or Alexis Sanchez.

While their situations are not exactly mirror images of each other, there are some noticeable parallels between the signings of Sanchez and Di Maria and the potential arrival of Dybala.

Sanchez and Di Maria’s moves to United came off the back of underwhelming seasons with their own clubs, where they increasingly found themselves marginalised.

In the distance each witnessed the lights of Old Trafford, dimmer than before but alluring nonetheless. Both players were deemed solutions to problems at Old Trafford; Di Maria a logical fix to the lack of creativity under Louis van Gaal and for Sanchez replace “Louis van Gaal” with “Jose Mourinho”.

Once there though it became clear that the club had failed to to truly think through the logic behind their new signings. No footballer, regardless of their skill level, can succeed within a vacuum, and that’s what Manchester United was.

Indeed, it’s what Manchester United still is today.

The signing of Dybala will fix one problem, that’s not up for debate, but for a team so filled with debilitating holes that simply isn’t enough.

So far this summer they’ve signed Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka; the latter’s arrival significantly more urgent than the former’s.

Should Dybala sign, the club would still be lacking a centre-midfielder to help free up Paul Pogba to do what he does best, as well as a centre-back to try and prevent Chris Smalling and Phil Jones from doing what they do best.

The need for a new centre-back was always there, hence the club’s interest in Harry Maguire’s big head, and the news of Eric Bailly’s expected absence through injury has only forced the issue.

A well-run football club would certainly address these areas of concern, but it is a legitimate worry that United will sign Dybala – a big name by all parameters – and leave it at that. It would not be unusual for the club’s owners to feel that a Hollywood signing should be enough to appease supporter unease for half a season at least.

If the club does that, and fails to give Dybala the supporting cast he needs to succeed at Old Trafford, there’s every chance his name will be synonymous with those of Di Maria and Sanchez sooner rather than later.