Nigel De Jong – 29 Years Old
De Jong is one of those players whose age seems a little surprising given the fact he’s been around for so long, still not in his thirties, there is plenty left in the tank. Perhaps one of the more underrated players in his position, he has been a consistent performer across Europe for his clubs as well as one of the more important players in the Dutch national side. Combative and tenacious are often the words used to describe De Jong, many remembering his karate-esque challenge on Xabi Alonso four years ago, but those characteristics alone are only half the story. Yes, he is a player who loves to get stuck in with tackles and as a result is often committing the odd foul in a game, which led to him receiving nine yellow cards in Serie A this past season. However, De Jong is a very smart footballer, and in a position made famous by Makelele, it is that intelligence on the pitch that makes De Jong so effective. Able to read the game extremely well, it allows the player to intercept passes regularly, breaking up the opposition play and whilst he may not be a Paul Scholes with his distribution, he is a very assured passer completing over 91% of his passes in Italy this past season.
De Jong’s experience in the Premier League is an added bonus, there would be no bedding in period to get accustomed to the football in the league nor would he have any problems in Manchester given his time spent at City.
Where would he fit in?
Given the tactical flexibility of Van Gaal, there are a number of formations or roles that De Jong may be asked to fill. Generally it will be the anchor in midfield whether in a two or three man midfield, but there is the option to play him a little further ahead in a more traditional central midfield role, and there is also the potential for De Jong to act as a third centre back should Van Gaal opt to go for a three man defence, similar to a role that Daniele De Rossi performed for Roma at various times in the past. United lack a holding midfielder in the mould of De Jong, Michael Carrick can perform the duties but he is more valued for his passing contribution as opposed to his defensive security, which De Jong would no doubt provide.
Chances of Signing?
Not many clubs can boast such a drop in form over the last twelve months as United, but AC Milan are one of those. Managerial changes, player troubles and board issues all combined last year to leave the Italian giants in 8th. With no European football to offer De Jong, the lack of it at United would not represent a sacrifice on the player’s behalf. Louis van Gaal again linked with a player that he has managed, demonstrates the positive relationship so many have with the new manager and his presence will again be a factor if the club are to pursue De Jong with serious intention.
Juan Cuadrado – 26 Years Old
The dynamic Colombian came into his own towards the back end of the 2012-2013 season for Fiorentina. It allowed the Viola to depart with stars Jovetic and Ljajic without feeling their losses due to the performances of Cuadrado. Electrifying speed and the desire to beat the opposition defender makes Cuadrado a real handful, over the course of the last season the player averaged 3.6 successful dribbles per game. In comparison, Eden Hazard who led the Premier League in the same department only averaged a slightly higher number with 3.8 dribbles per game. It is not only with the ball that Cuadrado is a danger, his smart timed runs off the ball, in behind defenders mean that full backs have to constantly look over their shoulder and be wary of his runs, which look to exploit the space in behind the defence and stretch the field of play.
Cuadrado’s performances at the World Cup cemented his growing reputation in Serie A, along with compatriot James Rodriguez he was Colombia’s standout performer and led the assists charts in Brazil with four in his five games, as well as adding a goal to his tally, in an impressive summer which continued a productive season for Fiorentina in which Cuadrado ended with eleven goals and five assists.
Where would he fit in?
Most modern players tend to be relatively versatile but in Juan Cuadrado’s case he is certainly a jack of all trades. In the past season for Fiorentina he has played from right back to left wing. Making appearances in the centre of midfield as well as playing as a false nine for the club when strikers Rossi and Gomez were left injury ridden. Considering, Van Gaal’s tactical versatility mentioned earlier, Cuadrado would be an ideal player to have around that could fit in a variety of systems, in a variety of positions.
Chances of Signing?
Fiorentina this summer paid for the other 50% of Cuadrado’s rights when purchasing it from Udinese in a move that seemed to suggest one of two things: They wanted to keep Cuadrado, or they wanted the full transfer fee if he was to leave. Fiorentina themselves have been reluctant to rule out a move, suggesting that it will be the player’s decision. Cuadrado himself has made it clear he is happy to stay at Fiorentina but should one of Europe’s big clubs go in for him, the temptation may be too great and force a move out of Florence.