The £20m all-action midfielder who Man Utd must make their first summer signing

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Manchester United have once again been linked with a bid for midfielder who could make all the difference for them next season.

There is a lot of work to be done improving the squad at Old Trafford this summer, but one of the areas in particular need of reinforcement is midfield – while Kobbie Mainoo shone in the second half of the season and Scott McTominay offered up his usual industry, it was otherwise a major weak spot for Manchester United and one that can’t be left unaddressed heading into the new season.

Unsurprisingly, United have been linked with quite a few midfielders as a result of that lack of quality and depth and one of the players mentioned is a name many fans will remember from last summer – Monaco’s Youssouf Fofana. Now all but certain to leave the club at last after declining a new contract offer, the 25-year-old has been one of the standout players in Ligue 1 over the past couple of seasons and could be exactly what United need.

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For those unfamiliar with Fofana’s playing style, he’s a box-to-box midfielder and a genuine all-rounder with very few apparent weaknesses, the stamina to get from one end of the pitch to the other and back again repeatedly, and the technique to provide an effective platform for attacks.

One of the issues with United’s midfield was that McTominay was really the only midfielder able to bridge between a deep-lying defence and a high attacking line with regularity – but Fofana can do that too and his work supporting the attack is getting better by the year. He is always looking for killer final balls and generates far more shooting chances for his team-mates than most nominally ‘defensive’ midfielders – throw in the fact that he’s a strong ball-carrier who can break the lines himself when called upon, and you get a player who could easily mesh well with the direct style of play inculcated by Erik ten Hag.

His production is improving too – he scored four Ligue 1 goals last season and set up four more, both career highs, and the volume and quality of chances he generates is only going up. Just as McTominay offers up the ability to force turnovers and quickly support the attack effectively, so does Fofana, although he doesn’t have genuinely express pace, which is one of the few downsides to his game.

His tackling is rock solid and he reads the game well, generating plenty of interceptions and turnovers and offering a good platform for springing counter-attacks. If United play in a remotely similar style next season – and given the uncertainty over who will be managing them, that is admittedly far from certain – then Fofana looks like precisely the kind of player they need.

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To sweeten the deal even further, Fofana, who has 18 caps for the French national side and is a part of their Euro 2024 squad, may well be available for a cut price deal – reports from France imply that around £20m will be needed to secure his signature, a fee reduced to a bare minimum because he has just one year left on his current deal at Monaco.

That, of course, means that other clubs will be keen as well, and Arsenal’s name has been mentioned in dispatches as they look to find a long-term midfield partner for Declan Rice. It’s also worth noting that the links with United are mostly based on the fact that they were sniffing around him a year ago, and nothing more concrete has emerged since – but there will be few midfielders of such quality available at such a low price point this summer, and it would be astonishing if they didn’t at least make some enquiries.

United have a lot of key signings to make, but if Fofana really is available for just £20m, then that’s an open goal that United can’t afford to miss. He offers them so much of the drive, work ethic, technique and quality that they were missing thanks to the decline of Casemiro and the disappointment of Sofyan Amrabat – and getting him in the door at the first opportunity looks like the smartest things United could possibly do this summer.

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