Erik ten Hag will have quite the in-tray when he arrives at Manchester United in the summer but one of the most pressing issues will be his midfield.
The Red Devils have looked hapless without the services of a top-class central midfielder as they struggle to even finish in a European spot this season. Fred and Scott McTominay have been the preferred combination but their impact has largely been willing but limited.
It is no surprise to see reports that a defensive midfielder is being courted with Declan Rice the top choice, especially after he turned down a contract at West Ham. The England international has his sights set on the next level while Chelsea and Manchester City have also been linked.
But United’s need for a player of that ilk might see them throw more cash at the problem than their rivals. However, ten Hag will have his work cut with plenty of other positions that will need reinforcing – particularly up front where transfer fees tend to skyrocket.
It means that the Red Devils might have to look at cheaper alternatives and there might not be a better option than one that they already have on the books. James Garner has quietly become an integral part of Nottingham Forest’s squad – who are pushing for a spot in the Premier League this season.
Under Steve Cooper, the 21-year-old has developed brilliantly – largely playing as a central defensive midfielder – for his second spell at the City Ground. But this year, he has added a more offensive side to his game – particularly his ability to pick out a pass – and he has eight assists in all competitions.
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It has drawn comparisons to Michael Carrick – a player that is adored by United fans and regarded by many at the club as one of their most important players that allowed the forwards to strut their stuff.
Garner has broke back into the England Under-21 fold as a result of his fine form while Forest sit fourth in the Championship and can safely assume they will get a chance to get promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs.
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United have always been a club where the academy has been well thought of and Garner could be the latest in a string of top stars to graduate at Carrington. For Ten Hag, his progress will also be a mark of his own coaching – one that he has fine experience with.
One of the Dutchman’s top traits at Ajax is his ability to bring through the youth with the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Sergino Dest and Donny van de Beek.
Indeed, Garner will look at this summer as the perfect chance to start his career at United properly after two fine years in Nottinghamshire. Pre-season will be integral while Ten Hag might just find that he can save some money by utilising one of the top talents from the club’s academy.