Manchester United have included Netherlands under-21 international Justin Kluivert on a shortlist of transfer options.
The Ajax forward joins Thomas Lemar, Malcom and Christian Pulisic as options to add a natural winger to Jose Mourinho’s squad.
The son of retired Netherlands striker Patrick, the 18-year-old Kluivert broke into Ajax’s first team in January. With just a season and half remaining on a contract that the Eredivisie club have struggled to lengthen and improve, Kluivert would be a relatively low-cost upgrade for United.
Mourinho’s admiration for the player is long-standing with the Old Trafford manager making a point of personally complimenting Kluivert on his debut campaign in the immediate aftermath of United’s Europa League Final victory over Ajax in May.
The winger is represented by Mino Raiola, whom the English Premier League club have dealt with on several recent transfers.
United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward recently indicated that a budget in the region of €90million would be made available to Mourinho to improve a squad that has won 13 of 18 Premier League fixtures, yet lies 11 points adrift of record setting leaders Manchester City.
Although the Portuguese coach publicly stated his desire to recruit a forward “who can play through the wings to give me more attacking options” in the summer window, United were not prepared to commit the financial resources required to secure one. As a result, Mourinho has divided wing duties between Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial – two forwards who prefer to attack centrally – or used wing backs to provide attacking width so far this season.
Of the other wingers under consideration, Lemar would be the most expensive. AS Monaco accepted a club-record offer of €95m from Arsenal ahead of the August 31 transfer deadline only for the France international to refuse the move. Liverpool also bid for Lemar in the summer and have continued to work on the deal to take the forward as a replacement for Philippe Coutinho, who is once again pushing to join Barcelona.
The left-footed Malcom is comfortable playing anywhere across the second line of attack, scoring seven goals and being credited with four assists in 18 Ligue 1 appearances for Girondins Bordeaux this season. Signed from Corinthians after winning the 2015 Campeonato Brasiliero, Malcom agreed an improved four-season contract in September and is expected to cost at least €30m.
Pulisic’s status as the rising star of the United States national team is of considerable commercial appeal to United. The 19-year-old is in his third Bunesliga season with Borussia Dortmund and has considerable Champions League experience, but would be more expensive to recruit than Kluivert or Malcom and is right-footed.
Although Mourinho generally avoids recruiting in January, he feels that clear residual shortcomings in his squad – coupled with the readiness of direct rivals to invest heavily this winter – make it sensible to bring forward at least of next summer’s planned reinforcement.
“I’m not a big defender of the January market, but there are players and situations that sometimes you have the chance to do and you shouldn’t lose the chance,” said Mourinho last week. “I don’t like the January market just to buy – that no. But if you can buy in January a player that you would buy in June, July, and you have the chance to get him a few months before, then great.”
Left back and central midfield are two further areas in which Mourinho would like to strengthen next month if the right deal can be put in place. United’s preferred option for the long-term problem position of left back is Alex Sandro. The Brazil international is also coveted by Chelsea and Manchester City, but has been pushing Juventus to be allowed to move to England.
As in every window since his May 2016 appointment, Mourinho has opened the door for under-utilised and performing players to leave United. It understood that offers would be considered for Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian, Daley Blind and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose form has declined in recent months.
“That’s my approach as a manager in case of the club advises me,” he said. “I think every player has a price. And if a player is not happy and if a players brings with him the request with the number that we consider is a good number for us, like it happened last season with Memphis [Depay] and Morgan [Schneiderlin], I would never say no.