Manchester United this week tied down Nemanja Matic to a new contract, extending his contract until 2023.
This is half a fix for Manchester United’s defensive midfield position. Matic is very important to United’s team right now and is expected to be next season.
By time Matic’s contract expires, it is very likely he will have been phased out and replaced by a younger player.
One question is whether Manchester United already have that player in James Garner.
Future still undetermined
Garner, 18, made his Premier League debut last season at just 17. He has gone onto make four Europa League starts this past season.
Yet he is yet to play a first team minute in 2020, and United’s plans for the young midfielder appear uncertain. Perhaps it would have been best to let him go out on loan in January.
Over the past month, Garner has been training with United’s first team squad. He is waiting for an opportunity.
Garner may need to leave on loan to get regular playing time. Teammate Dylan Levitt certainly does. Garner’s prospects are a little more unclear.
Good news or bad news?
Whether Matic’s new deal is good or bad news for Garner depends on Manchester United’s transfer activity this summer.
Defensive midfield is one of the positions United could strengthen this summer. Players like Boubakary Soumare (Lille), Denis Zakaria (Moenchengladbach), and Ismael Bennacer (AC Milan) are possible targets.
If United sign one of these players in addition to keeping Matic for another three years, then it is bad news for James Garner’s prospects.
Yet it is entirely in keeping with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s strategy as manager, that he is creating a pathway for Garner through Matic.
United could choose not to sign a new defensive midfielder, similar to the way the club chose not to sign a striker last summer as replacement for Romelu Lukaku, which smoothed the path for Mason Greenwood’s progression.
Providing Solskjaer is convinced of Garner over the next few weeks, the teenager could be promoted to a more prominent role next season and start sharing game time with Matic more.
This new deal for the Serbian could be good news, with Garner eventually taking over and pushing him aside, even if it takes a couple of seasons.
If Garner is sent out on loan, it is still possible this happens. It will just take longer, and there could be extra competition too to get past in the shape of a new signing.
Where is Garner’s best position?
It is not cut and dry that defensive midfield is Garner’s best position for Manchester United.
While billed as a Michael Carrick style player, Garner has added real attacking intent to his game this past season, which began with his goal with his first kick of a friendly match against Perth Glory a year ago.
This season Garner has scored nine goals for the under-23 team, showing a drive to get into the final third.
It may be that Garner starts competing more with Fred and Scott McTominay for more of a box-to-box role at United, than becoming a specialised defensive midfielder like Matic.
It is all up for grabs, and Matic’s deal does not necessarily make Garner’s future any clearer.
But if he does seize any opportunities he gets over the next few weeks, the Matic deal could become a big win for him, if he can do enough to convince Solskjaer he deserves a regular role.
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