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A 'practical' solution? Why Ten Hag & Man Utd should consider Championship talent for Cristiano January replacement

COMMENT: Erik ten Hag knows it. As does his staff. Get beyond the noise. The spite. And Manchester United are going to be left in January with the one big problem they've wanted to avoid - replacing Cristiano Ronaldo...

That's it. It's over. Ronaldo has played his last game for the club. Indeed for Ten Hag, Ronaldo's last public connection to United should be that second part of his interview with Piers Morgan. Legal wheels are in motion. Discussions have been held. And United will back their manager to the hilt. Ronaldo will never again wear the club's shirt in a competitive fixture. And if Ten Hag does get his way, Ronaldo won't set foot inside the club's Carrington training centre for the foreseeable future.

So that line's been drawn. And there'll be plenty of drama and angst to come from it. But beyond all the bluster, there's the practicalities. Ten Hag is now a centre-forward down. Even it was simply a needs-must relationship, the Dutchman was willing to go to the end of the season with Ronaldo. He needed to. But with the Portuguese blowing everything up, Ten Hag and Richard Arnold, the club's chief exec, are now having to put their heads together and find a practical solution to filling this void.

And for the moment, it will have to be practical. The centre-forwards Ten Hag, Arnold and technical director John Murtough have on their shortlist, simply won't be available in midseason. Indeed, even for those inside Carrington lobbying for Aleksandar Mitrovic, they've accepted Fulham are unlikely to come to the table, no matter what sort of offer Arnold puts in front of them.

So it'll have to be a bridging signing. One to satisfy the needs of Ten Hag's system and get United to the end of the season. Seeing the Dutchman throw Harry Maguire up front as they chased a second goal in San Sebastian said it all about where the manager feels his squad is short. And that Europa League win at Real Sociedad was weeks before Ronaldo's meltdown.

Of course, Ten Hag has already shown his hand. As we've been discussed here. He will be practical when shopping. The Dutchman isn't Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He will work from his B, C, even D list to fill a hole. The August attempt to reach a deal for Bologna's 33 year-old striker Marko Arnautovic was proof of that. It's an approach this column supports. And it's what will be discussed in the coming weeks as United plan to strike early in January.

As we say, Mitrovic's name has been raised. Though we've also been told it's more likely they will look to the continent to find that short-term deal. Think Henrik Larsson and those special three months during the 2006/07 season. There's a belief inside United that they can pull off something similar in the New Year.

But for this column, Murtough would do well to convince Ten Hag to look closer to home - specifically the Championship. As Mitrovic has shown this season, that goalscoring talent in the second tier can often adjust to the demands of the Premier League. The right players around them. The right system. And there is a better than evens chance of success. And for what Ten Hag would define as success at this stage wouldn't need to get anywhere near close to Mitrovic's numbers so far this season.

Teemu Pukki, of Norwich City, is one who has shown he can score at the top level. If not for his loyalty to the Canaries, it's likely the Finn would already be tied to a Premier League rival this season. Six goals in the Championship and with his contract up in June, he's one who could do a job for United over six months before things are reassessed.

Unlike the 32 year-old Pukki, Ben Brereton Diaz is at that other end of the scale. At 23 and proven at international level with Chile, Brereton Diaz is likely to seek something more secure than a six month deal. But again, with his contract running down and for his current form and the type of centre-forward he is, going local and raiding Ewood Park should be a considered option for United. As Ten Hag showed with his Arnautovic attempt, he's not seeking a world-beater. He wants a practical solution. And for the performance and potential Brereton Diaz has shown these past 18 months, he is worth a serious look.

And what about a second chance for Oli McBurnie after his famous Milk Cup victory alongside Marcus Rashford, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay? Again, at Sheffield United, he's another to come off contract at season's end. And perhaps, when you consider Ten Hag's past centre-forwards like Lassina Traore and Sebastien Haller, he's more the prototype of what United's manager will be seeking. Nine goals in 17 games. A player who's shown he can live in the Premier League. Strong in the air. Can lead the line. Courageous. A good dressing room character. He's not Arek Milik or Patrik Schick. But he doesn't have to be. Not for this problem. Instead the qualities are there. McBurnie would be a practical, realistic solution.

Look closer to home and there's options for United. And options which won't demand huge money. With a replacement for Ronaldo now needed, a Championship compromise would not only be the most practical solution, but could also be the best.

It would surely be better than throwing his captain up front when chasing a late goal...



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Chris Beattie

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