Manchester United have been linked with an unlikely €80m (£68.4m) summer pursuit of Atletico Madrid midfielder Marcos Llorente, with one report in Spain even claiming that the Old Trafford club have already made an offer.
Llorente is a top player whose goals and assists from an attacking midfield role have helped Atletico climb to the summit of La Liga this season and give themselves a strong chance of winning only their second Spanish title since 1996.
Someone of his quality would improve most teams in Europe and he famously put Liverpool to the sword in the Champions League last season with two goals and an assist at Anfield.
The 26-year-old has been linked with United before, but AS suddenly now claims that there is a potential deal on the table worth up to €80m (£68.4m) to Atletico, who paid city rivals Real Madrid around half that amount to buy him in 2019.
It is alleged that United would be willing to double Llorente’s salary and that Atletico are tempted because of the financial impact the coronavirus has had on the club. It would, however, be their preference not to have to sell him.
On paper and in normal circumstances, Llorente could be a good fit for United to boost a thin squad that has generally lacked depth. As well as primarily taking on attacking roles over the last 12 months, he was originally a deeper, more defensive midfielder.
Yet these are not normal circumstances and this one feels like a non-starter for unavoidable reasons.
United do still need quality reinforcements almost all over the pitch. But despite coping with the financial impact of coronavirus better than most thanks to a strong commercial arm, the club has still not been immune from the crisis and revenue is down on what it should normally be.
There is a major knock-on effect from that which cannot just be ignored.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently warned that United will not have the power to spend freely this summer and that every decision will have to be made carefully, also hinting that the club will look inwardly to the academy ranks to help fill gaps in the first-team squad.
“There are going to be less and less transfers happening with all these changes. The lack of income, the finances has affected everyone. We have to be realistic and responsible in the way we do business on and off the pitch,” the boss said.
United have to strictly prioritise recruitment this summer. The most important signings to be made are at centre-back, where the club has narrowed it down to Pau Torres or Jules Kounde, and an attacking addition, whether it be Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland or someone else.
Neither of those will be cheap and being able to afford close to £70m on Llorente on top is just plain unrealistic. It might be different were there a market to sell other players, but Paul Pogba is more likely to sign a new contract that leave and Donny van de Beek’s value has fallen sharply.
Besides, with Bruno Fernandes, an improving Scott McTominay, a fit again Pogba and the possibility that Van de Beek could yet come good with a full pre-season under his belt, midfield is the one area of the pitch that United can probably afford to leave in the short-term.
Why United are an easy draw when it comes to press speculation about transfers. But, this year, any major signing that isn’t a centre-back or forward is going to be out of the question.