As Louis van Gaal heads into what could be a make-or-break week as manager of Manchester United, the club are to pursue a £60m deal for Borussia Dortmund forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang this summer, regardless of who is in charge next season.
United, who travel to League One Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday night fresh from last Thursday’s humiliating Europa League defeat to Danish minnows FC Midtjylland, are determined to bolster their attacking options, having failed to score in 10 of their 39 games in all competitions this season.
Van Gaal’s team, who are struggling to qualify for the Champions League for next season, face a return leg against Midtjylland on Thursday and Arsenal in the Premier League on Sunday. There was further speculation linking the former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho with the Old Trafford job over the weekend and Van Gaal has admitted that the club’s poor showing this season means that they have now lost the fear factor for opposition teams.
Efforts have already been made to move United into pole position in the race to sign Aubameyang, who is also a leading target for Arsenal.
The 26-year-old has scored 31 goals in 34 appearances for Dortmund this season, with the Gabon international edging out Yaya Touré to be crowned as African Footballer of the Year last month.
While United have previously been reluctant to sign African players owing to the prospect of losing their services for up to six weeks every two years to African Cup of Nations commitments, the club is now ready to widen its net to ensure every possible target is considered.
With Aubameyang’s status growing both in Africa and Europe, United have stressed their ability to develop the France-born forward’s image and commercial power should he move to Old Trafford.
Sir Alex Ferguson on Jose Mourinho
Sir Alex Ferguson on Jose Mourinho
1/13 January 2005, after the Carling Cup semi-final first leg
"I think Mourinho has opened a can of worms for himself. We remember what happened in Porto. Look back a couple of weeks to the penalty decision that went their way against Liverpool and how Rafael Benitez handled that. But then Drogba reacted by grabbing Quinton Fortune by the throat, so I wonder whether the FA's compliance unit will be thinking about that."
2005 Manchester United
2/13 December 2006, after Mourinho suggested a five-point gap was only two as the teams had to play
"I'm trembling. It's good that I know we've lost the game in April, because we can have a rest that weekend. I'll put my reserve team in that day [April 14]. The first team can save their energy for the next game. Hopefully, we'll be 20 points ahead by then!"
2005 Manchester United
3/13 December 2006
"We will only be in trouble if we listen to Jose too much. I won’t be letting the players fall into the trap of thinking it’s won because all we have done is given ourselves a foundation. There are many hurdles to be navigated in the run-in. To win the league, you have to have great consistency, particularly around March and April. Historically, we have done okay at that time of the year."
4/13 March 2007, after Mourinho claimed Man Utd got decisions from referees
"His football club have been involved in so many things about referees over the years. It seems to me that, if you contest something at Chelsea and they don't get their own way, then something happens. Either referees or players are threatened and things like that. It's an incredible club. I think he should button his lip now for the rest of the season. I may be only just beginning because there is plenty for me to talk about with Jose and referees, and Chelsea and referees. I've got a catalogue of them, a big file, in my office if you want me to bring it out. But we'll leave that for another day."
2006 Manchester United
5/13 April 2007, after Mourinho again complained about referees
"Mourinho seems to be on some sort of personal crusade. I am surprised no action has been taken. It's calculated. We have four games to go now. If we get a penalty against us, Mourinho wins that war. That is wrong. It is a rant all the time now. I don't think it is fair to the game."
6/13 September 2007, after Mourinho was sacked
"It is a disappointment for the game. He was terrific for football and terrific for Chelsea. I enjoyed the competition with him. He was something fresh and new to our game. I don't know what I will do with my wine now. I wish him well."
7/13 March 2009, ahead of first leg clash with Inter
"I think that when Jose came that there was a great upsurge in Chelsea's position in the game. It happened suddenly. He came in, he uttered those words, 'I'm the special one,' and it seemed to galvanize the whole club."
2009 Manchester United
8/13 March 2011, in an interview with Sports Illustrated
"He's at the top, there's no doubt about that. You have certain criteria in terms of top management, and that is longevity of success—which is very difficult today—and what you win. You have to regard his achievements as really first-class."
9/13 April 2011, after Mourinho was linked with Mourinho under pressure at Real Madrid
“I am great friends with Jose and we often speak about his future. I can understand his desire to come back to England. There is more freedom from media attention for a manager here, you don’t have Marca and the radio programmes at midnight that he gets constantly in Madrid. But it’s a difficult one for me to tell him when this position will become available.”
10/13 December 2011, in a new book titled Jose Mourinho, The Secrets of his Success
"I look at Jose and I see myself reflected in many of the things he does. In the first year at Chelsea when I saw him running along the touchline at Old Trafford, he reminded me of my first years at Aberdeen jumping, raising my arms, celebrating. We're only human. We can't hide our emotions. They're always there, they're part of who we are, of our character."
2013 Manchester United FC
11/13 December 2012, in an interview
"He can manage anywhere, absolutely. I'm not going to put any forecasts on what is going to happen at this club. I won't last forever, but José can manage anywhere, there is no question about that."I would never think a guy who hasn't played a game could be a top coach but then you've got to look at his personality. He's got a marvellous, strong personality and that bridges that gap. I remember his first press conference [at Chelsea, in 2004] and I thought: 'Christ, he's a cocky bastard, him'. He was telling the players: 'Look, I'm the special one, we don't lose games'. Bloody hell, coming to England, he is only a young man and saying he is the special one! But it told all the players to have the belief they were going to win the league."
12/13 December 2014, speaking to Clare Balding
"It is unfair really. He’s good looking, he’s got that sort of George Clooney bit in his hair now. But I think he is a great example, he can speak five languages or whatever he can. He goes and becomes an interpreter for Bobby Robson, follows him to Barcelona, works under Louis Van Gaal; he is learning all the time. He has got a determination, he wants to be a coach. He never played the game, by the way – you tell me how many presidents would give a manager a job who has never played the game? None. But he has done it. Then he goes and manages a small team in Portugal, then goes to Porto and wins the league, wins the Uefa Cup, wins the European Cup, goes to Chelsea and wins the league. Goes to Inter Milan. That is an example to anyone who wants to do well, you shouldn’t let the barriers get in your way if you want to get there."
13/13 December 2015, 10 days before Chelsea sacked Mourinho for the second time
"He has sacked so many coaches... that I am sure he has learned by it. He has to trust and have confidence Jose can turn it around. There is no point in sacking one of the best coaches of all time. He's won the European Cup twice; he's won the league in each country he's managed in, he's won the big trophies. It would be foolish to take that step to sack him. That would be bad management; it's poor leadership, that. It's the first time he's been confronted with non-success. If you look at his whole career it's been nothing but a rise all the time, so for the first time in his life he's had to deal with bad publicity, adversity, and that's a challenge but there are signs he is getting back to a balanced level even though they lost on Saturday... For Jose, all good leaders will eventually find a solution. He will find a solution... It's not looking great at the moment, but I know the guy and work he has done in football and I can't see it lasting long."
2015 Getty Images
Growing doubts over the future of Van Gaal will not affect United’s interest in Aubameyang, however, with the club accepting the need to make progress on summer recruitment before a decision is made on the Dutchman.
United laid the groundwork on deals for Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera before Van Gaal was appointed as David Moyes’ successor in May 2014 and, although any manager will have the final say on transfer signings, the chief scout Jim Lawlor has been left to press ahead with plans to identify summer signings.
With Wayne Rooney facing six weeks out of action with a knee injury and Van Gaal sanctioning the departures of Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Javier Hernandez at the end of last season, United’s attacking options are now reduced to teenagers Anthony Martial and Will Keane, with winger Memphis Depay and midfielder Marouane Fellaini set to be considered as emergency forwards.
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