Manchester United Fans Pick 1 Liverpool Player They’d Want at Old Trafford

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Mane and Salah were both mentioned as options.

Mane and Salah were both mentioned as options.ANTHONY DEVLIN/Getty Images

Manchester United and Liverpool have not conducted transfer business directly for a long time. While Michael Owen might have represented both clubs this century, he did not go from one to the other. And even the route he took was not enough to insulate him from criticism.

There have been nine players in history who have moved directly between the clubs—five from Liverpool to United, and four the other way. Names like Fred Hopkin and Tommy Reid hint at a bygone era.

The years in which those transfers happen confirm the hint. Phil Chisnall’s move from United to Liverpool in 1964 was the last. Before that it was 1954. Before that; 1938 (when the magnificently named Ted Savage and Allenby Chilton both made the move from Anfield to Old Trafford), 1929, 1921, 1920, 1913 and 1912.

Bygone eras indeed.

As Chisnall himself said, in Bright Red: The Liverpool — Manchester United Matches by Mark Metcalf, Tony Bugby and Leslie Milman (h/t the Daily Mail): “When I was growing up, there wasn’t the often-bitter rivalry which exists today in football. As somebody growing up in Manchester in the mid-50s, I was by no means alone in going to watch United one week and [Manchester] City the next.”

Now, of course, the rivalry between both Manchester clubs and between United and Liverpool is dripping in bitterness. The chances of the Red Devils buying a player from Liverpool, particularly a player Liverpool want to keep, are beyond remote.

Nonetheless, ahead of Saturday’s clash between the two sides, we thought it might be interesting to see whether there was anyone playing in all red who fans of the team in red shirts and white shorts would want at their club.

In general, the responses fell into five categories. The first, and biggest by quite a long way, were those suggesting Sadio Mane as the best choice.

Mane is, of course, injured for Saturday’s game. He was linked to a move to the Red Devils during Louis van Gaal’s tenure, but he opted to remain at Southampton instead.

Mane told Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph

“I was patient because I remember after the first year [in England] I knew it was better to focus on Southampton. In my head I thought I would be there a couple more years and prove something. I was convinced I still had to prove something, improve more and learn more before I moved to a bigger club. But then I knew when the right time was for me. The extra year helped me get better, and it is important for every player to go step by step.”

His decision has proved wise, at least in terms of his personal reputation. There was a collective reticence among United fans when he was linked with their club as a Southampton player, but fans of almost any club would now be glad to have him.

He has three league goals this season, but it is fair to say he has not been enjoying his best form of late. His 13 goals and five assists playing as a wide forward last season, though, speak to how useful he could have been to Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho’s setup. 

Indeed, one of the key arguments in favour of Mane being the Liverpool player to pick is that he would add something to United’s right flank that is maybe the one weakness in their current attack.

As Alex Porter, the deputy Manchester United editor at Manchester Evening News, said, “Pace, skill, a genuine winger who can play on the right wing.”

Mane would be my pick, too.

The second group were those suggesting Phillipe Coutinho would be the player to nab.

Coutinho does not solve a problem—or at least a half-problem—at United in the way that Mane does, but he is very, very good. The fact that Barcelona were prepared to make an ultra-expensive bid for him does not tell the full story of his ability on its own given the mitigating circumstances facing the Catalan club after Neymar’s departure, but it is a significant data point.

Kris Voakes, Goal’s Manchester United correspondent, said: “Coutinho is clearly their best player, and while United are fine in his position, he probably has the kind of bravery United sometimes lacked in tight games last season.”

As Voakes said, though, this is a problem that United have largely solved. While Coutinho is clearly a fine player, Mourinho’s side are well stocked for forwards who can play behind the striker. Would the Brazilian be a significant upgrade on Juan Mata or Henrikh Mkhitaryan? With Zlatan Ibrahimovic wearing the No. 10 shirt, it seems likely his return to the squad will see him deployed in that role at least occasionally.

The third group were those who plumped for Mohamed Salah. The Egypt international has just lived through what must surely be one of the most magical moments of his career, converting a 94th-minute penalty to send his national team through to the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 27 years.

He has hit the ground running at Anfield, too, with five league goals already this season. United do not need Salah, but he would be fun to have around.

The next grouping were those advocating for A. N. Other, often in the form of bringing across a young player to develop for the future. This might have been a better option were Louis van Gaal still in charge at United, but in truth, Mourinho still has questions to answer about how willing or able he is to do this. Marcus Rashford remains the exception to the rule in terms of Mourinho’s patience for the club’s younger talents.

Some of the contenders mentioned would offer interesting prospects, though. One desired young talent was Trent Alexander-Arnold, the 19-year old right-back who has played three league games this season. Right-back is a spot in which United are slightly light on cover. Developing Alexander-Arnold while using him as a back-up for Antonio Valencia would be a decent option.

Ben Woodburn has begun to make a name for himself on the international stage, in spite of Wales’ failure to qualify for the World Cup. He was not able to make the telling difference against the Republic of Ireland, but he added invention and directness when he came on in that game.

There were a few other options mentioned in the non-Mane, Coutinho or Salah contingent—Emre Can got a couple of shouts, and United are a bit light in the centre of midfield in terms of squad depth.

The final group—and they were not insignificant in number—were those saying they would not want any Liverpool players. This, essentially, is why no one has moved between the clubs since Chisnall. There are fans who can find an appreciation for the abilities of their rival’s players, but for some, it is a bridge too far.

In the buildup to a game between the two clubs, those feelings are at their most potent. Never mind which Liverpool player United fans would sign, what matters is beating them on Saturday.

       

Quotations obtained firsthand where not otherwise stated.

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