Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has Man Utds Paul Pogba replacement after pre-season transformation
Varane deal 'a sign of Man Utd's aims'
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There remains a chance that Paul Pogba could leave Manchester United this summer. That would leave Man United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a search for his replacement, perhaps without the knowledge that one is already waiting in the wings at Carrington in Donny van de Beek.
The Norwegian has conducted some superb business this summer — along with United’s contracts chief Matt Judge and head of recruitment John Murtough — to sign two of his top targets.
Jadon Sancho arrived in a £73million deal from Borussia Dortmund after a protracted 18-month transfer battle, while Raphael Varane is poised to complete his £42m move from Real Madrid this week.
Losing Pogba would resemble a blow with Paris Saint-Germain pondering a £50m move, and Solskjaer has been linked with Eduardo Camavinga and Ruben Neves as long-term replacements for the French playmaker.
But there are signs that Van de Beek could return from the cold to fill the 28-year-old’s boots this season.
Van de Beek endured a difficult debut campaign at United following his £35million move from Ajax in September 2020.
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He made 32 appearances in all competitions for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, but struggled to make an impact, making just four starts in the Premier League.
The 24-year-old spent the majority of his time cutting a frustrated figure on the bench, with the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba preferred by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Van de Beek’s season took a turn for the worse in June when a thigh injury ruled him out of the Netherlands’ Euro 2020 squad, capping a miserable 12 months for the midfielder.
There were murmurs around Old Trafford that Solskjaer would be looking to offload the Dutchman following his struggles during his debut season in England.
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Clearly, Van de Beek recognised that he had to change something to turn around his fortunes at Old Trafford.
And while Frank de Boer’s side suffered a shock exit at the hands of Czech Republic, Van de Beek was busy working in the gym to regain fitness.
In order to help himself get a headstart on pre-season, Van de Beek headed back to his native Netherlands over the summer to seek out a personal trainer and nutritionist.
According to The Athletic, the midfielder partnered up with FysioConcept to ensure he is in optimum shape ahead of the new season.
As part of the programme, Van de Beek has followed a strict nutrition plan and has worked consistently with a weights programme in order to help increase his muscle mass.
It was notable that when United officially returned to pre-season training in July, Van de Beek’s bulky figure was recognised by his team-mates.
The Dutchman was given a rare outing by Solskjaer in their friendly draw against Brentford at Old Trafford and he took the captain’s armband from Nemanja Matic.
Club captain Harry Maguire commented via his Twitter account, joking with Van de Beek by telling him: “Don’t stretch that armband”. His team-mate replied with a couple of ‘muscle’ emojis, showing how he maintains a good relationship with his team-mates.
But it was not long ago when Van de Beek was barely recognised at Old Trafford. He resembled a lonely figure looking out of place.
Solskjaer admitted that Van de Beek was not content with his situation in Manchester but understood that hard work would see him get his chance.
“I wouldn’t say that Donny is happy,” he said. “Of course, he wants to play more, but he gets about his job in the right manner.
“We are doing well and have got players who are playing really well in his position.”
The Man United boss even compared Van de Beek’s patience on the bench to his own time at the club under Sir Alex Ferguson, stating his belief he will eventually come good.
“I was the same with Sir Alex [Ferguson, former Man Utd head coach].
“When he left me out I understood and I was happy for the team to win – and Donny is that type of guy.
“He knows he is important for us and knows he is going to play many games.”
Now it appears Van de Beek is equipped and ready to take his chance.
Of course, it will take some effort to dislodge Scott McTominay, Fred and Pogba from the team, such were their importance under Solskjaer in 2020-21.
But Van de Beek is no amateur. At one stage in 2020, he looked poised to head to Real Madrid before the move broke down and has won titles at Ajax.
According to the Manchester Evening News, Solskjaer is planning to ditch his 4-2-3-1 setup and revert to a 4-3-3, playing with two ‘No.8s’.
That would certainly suit Van de Beek, who thrived in such a setup at Ajax when he played as a box-to-box operator and had the freedom to roam in between the lines.
Even if Bruno Fernandes would be afforded such a role as their main creator, Van de Beek may enjoy having an extra body in midfield to support him.
Taking the step from the Eredivisie to the Premier League is always a difficult leap — just ask Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech or Davy Klaasen, the last high-profile movers from the Dutch league who found life tough in their debut campaigns.
But Van de Beek has his best years ahead of him at 24 and clearly possesses the talent required to succeed at Old Trafford.
If Solskjaer is to lead the Red Devils to their first domestic triumph since 2013, he will need all his squad players to perform as they mount a title challenge.
And by bulking up, showing a valiant attitude and waiting for his chance, Van de Beek has proved he is ready to join the fight.
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