Manchester United let the summer go by without signing a central midfielder. The position remains as the glaring imperfection in the Red Devils’ impressive squad.
In the summer of 2020 United did make a strong play to try and sign a midfielder, attempting to land Birmingham City wonderkid Jude Bellingham.
United brought Bellingham in for a tour of Carrington, but were unable to close the deal. The teenager chose to sign with Borussia Dortmund instead, for what looks like a bargain fee now of £30 million.
It is hard to argue that Bellingham made a bad career choice. He saw the rise to prominence enjoyed by Jadon Sancho at Dortmund and chose to follow suit.
He was rewarded with a regular place in their XI. He played 2,821 minutes across 46 games in all competitions.
Bellingham is now an England regular at 17 and starred in the Champions League for Dortmund last night, scoring one goal and providing one assist in a 2-1 away win over Besiktas.
Manchester United’s ‘What If…?’ moment
While Bellingham probably would not have played in 46 games last season for United had he signed in 2020, he would have been given opportunities.
The Standard reported in May 2020 that United wanted Bellingham to immediately compete for a first team spot.
If Bellingham had signed for United last summer, the fanbase would not have spent the summer lamenting the lack of a midfield signing. Bellingham would have been a near perfect addition.
The wonderkid is a box to box midfielder with the elegance of Paul Pogba who can score and create goals, while also doing the untidy defensive work.
He led Dortmund in Besiktas with the most tackles won (3) and a WhoScored.com match rating of 9.29. To be bossing Champions League away games at just 17 shows how his potential is truly scary.
A report in The Sun in January 2020 dubbed Bellingham as England’s biggest talent since Wayne Rooney. It seemed over the top at the time, but it may have been accurate.
Had Bellingham joined United in 2020/21, he would be settling in as a regular in United’s midfield in 2021/22.
The way the situation stands, United will have to wait until 2022 to fix the team’s midfield, with the past summer transfer window spent addressing other areas of the squad.
Is there still a chance to sign Jude Bellingham?
There is considerable transfer interest in Jude Bellingham, with The Star reporting Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City are all keen on his signature.
Manchester United’s 2020 transfer miss will look even more painful if he signs for a competitor and spends the next decade there.
Bellingham is unlikely to be sold next summer though. Dortmund are preparing to lose Erling Haaland in 2022 and won’t want to lose a second key player in the same year.
It is more likely Bellingham is sold in 2023, with his current contract running until 2025. Two years left was when they sold Jadon Sancho this summer.
By this point United may re-establish interest, but he would cost big. Bellingham will likely cost in the region of £90 million, triple the fee Dortmund bought him for, and he will still only be 19.
United have a chance. The earlier interest will stand the club in good stead, while his friendship with former teammate Jadon Sancho could prove productive. Even more so if Erling Haaland heads to Old Trafford too. He will also know players from the England set up.
But it is frustrating to be having to consider it. Bellingham was so agonisingly close to signing for the Red Devils two years ago. If United had managed to get the deal done, we would have a complete squad right now and be set up for success in midfield for the next decade.
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