“Southampton have the best free-kick taker I have ever seen – or at least in the world right now.”
For a man who worked with and helped shape Lionel Messi on his record-breaking journey to immortality, there could have been no higher praise from Pep Guardiola as he lauded Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse during his latest trip to St Mary’s last month.
Guardiola did not stop there, either.
“He’s so good that maybe you miss a little bit of the football player. He’s a team player with great quality, without the ball and with the ball. He really understands the game but it’s his free-kicks, set-pieces and corners that people pay more attention to.”
With that glowing assessment, Manchester United might have been offered a solution to three glaring problems by the very manager who has helped to draw attention to them upon his relentless quest for perfection (and trophies) at neighbors Manchester City. Who would have thought it?
United are in desperate need of an upgrade in the engine room.
Virtually everyone in the game can see it and, finally, that appears to be the number one priority for key figures in the boardroom as they turn their attentions to next season. Declan Rice would be the ideal for many, but that does come with complications, financially and competition from other potential suitors.
Other names have been mooted. Too many to keep up with.
Indeed, had supporters started a midfield-themed bingo game at Old Trafford and beyond, those playing will have called out ‘full house’ countless times already. A high percentage of them are paper talk, of course, while the player who is eventually recruited could, conceivably, even come from left-field.
Step in Ward-Prowse.
Depending on where Paul Pogba is playing next season, there might be a need and desire for United to sign more than one midfielder this summer. One of them has to be a natural sitter, but the profile of a second option will give those in charge a more open-minded pursuit.
Pogba finished the Burnley draw as a solitary ‘defensive’ midfielder. That is by no means his role.
Scott McTominay has a place in the United squad moving forward and Bruno Fernandes is Bruno Fernandes.
A first-choice sitter is the priority, but further strength in depth is needed for United to challenge – so might a man they are set to meet next up at Old Trafford to give them those alternative qualities?
Specializing in an art taken to another level by Messi and David Beckham before him, Ward-Prowse has no such X factor, but as Guardiola points out, he remains alarmingly under-rated.
It’s not just about free-kicks and corners.
Heading into his prime at 27, the Southampton product has been well-schooled at that famous academy and has a sound technique from open play, not to mention leadership skills and a burning hunger to put the team first.
Those attributes used to come as a pre-requisite for being a United player.
Naturally, there are potential stumbling blocks – especially with Ward-Prowse being under contract until 2026 – but in the event United miss out on Rice and have to scout the European market for their first choice option, signing the Southampton captain would give them more than reliable back-up; starting as and when needed, too.
In past seasons, such options have been a fundamental part of United’s success.
Ward-Prowse ticks every box in that regard and then, of course, comes with an alluring A side from set-pieces.
You might have read an article on the Manchester Evening News website which took a closer look at (some bizarre) things that have happened since United last scored from a corner on January 27 in 2021.
Who should United sign next summer? Have your say in the comments section below.
It provided light-hearted respite from a particularly alarming issue for the Old Trafford giants to solve.
A more serious addition might have been to provide an in-depth look at what Ward-Prowse has supplied from such method in that same time-frame. You might need a calculator handy. Ultimately, though, there lies one solution.
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