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Haaland or Werner? How Houllier could decide Man Utd's next No9

COMMENT: A player to shape his management? To define it? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is on record. We know his plans for January. Manchester United are shopping for a new No9...

Marcus Rashford is learning all about it this week. With Romelu Lukaku sold. Alexis Sanchez shunted. The pair now promising Inter Milan what they failed to do for United. Rashford is it. He's the focus. And in that No10 shirt, if the goals aren't flowing, you're going to be pulled apart.

Which is exactly what's happened during this international break. Without Lukaku or Alexis to share the burden. To ease the media gaze. Rashford has found himself front and centre for why United have stumbled these first weeks of the season. The boy wonder stuff is long gone. Now it's being raised whether he's even a natural striker. Is the central role for him? Is he actually good enough to lead the line of a team of United's status?

Of course, none of these doubts were mentioned after that two goal salvo and opening day performance against Chelsea. And at 21, despite the four years at this level, Rashford's game will continue to be blighted by inconsistency. But this is United. A money making vehicle for the media. No matter how trivial, how mundane, the club will always be on the running sheet of any panel discussion. And the crisis around their leading striker will forever be a topic on the agenda.

Solskjaer knows this. And as much for him and his selection options, he knows he's also left Rashford short, exposed, by failing to bring in a striker as he approved the departures of Lukaku and Alexis.

But that'll change come January - at least if he has anything to do with it. The United manager, just as his squad were breaking up for the international recess, making it clear that a new No9 - indeed a "young Ole" - was front of mind for the January market.

“At the moment we are creating, but of course you are always looking for someone to improve us and we did and we were looking," said the Norwegian last week. "And as I said on the way back from tour, we were still looking for one replacement for Romelu if he went.

“We are one down to be fair, but we didn't just find the right one. We didn't find the answer that we wanted."

The "right one"? A like-for-like replacement for Lukaku? Not exactly. Solskjaer admitting he's chasing a finisher. A player with pace and agility. Someone who can fit into the manager's system built around breakneck speed. A new Andy Cole. Or better yet, a new Ole.

Again Solskjaer, “I do like the one who scores scrappy goals in and around the box, a young Ole or something. It doesn't have to be a 1.95m centre-forward. It could be sometimes if we want to play with two up, maybe a different type to what we have."

As Solskjaer says, they have been looking. And at both ends of the scale. Vincenzo Morabito letting the cat out of the bag last week. The Italian intermediary, who helped broker Bobby Duncan's bitter split from Liverpool to Fiorentina, revealing United had pushed hard for the young Scouser for much of last season.

"The boy did not want to betray Liverpool and said no to United who insisted so much with him," stated Morabito, as he celebrated helping place Duncan at Fiorentina, where he's already drawing comparisons with Alvaro Recoba amongst coach Vincenzo Montella's backroom staff.

So if it's not to be Duncan, then who? Well, the obvious is currently tearing things up in Austria with RB Salzburg. Erling Haaland, the son of former Manchester City and Leeds United midfielder Alfie Haaland, has surpassed expectations in Salzburg. And there's already a resignation that he'll soon be moving on.

Bundesliga sister club RB Leipzig is the likely destination. That is, unless Solskjaer steps in. The pair are close. Solskjaer effectively Haaland's career mentor - even today. It was the United manager who gave Haaland, at 17, his first team debut with Molde. Now two years on, they're still in regular contact.

"He has been in my life and is still in my life," says Haaland. "He has helped shape me into who I am today. Even though I don't have him as a coach, I still want to pull things out of him."

So United next? It may come down to the opinion of Gerard Houllier, the former Liverpool manager. The Frenchman now runs football matters for Red Bull and you fancy he favours Haaland making the natural step to Leipzig - especially if they lose Timo Werner. Who, again, could yet be on the agenda at United.

At 23 and with a new buyout clause of £50m, Werner is effectively in play ahead of January. That he just hit his first Bundesliga hat-trick in victory over Borussia Monchengladbach will not have snuck by Solskjaer. And again, at 50 million quid, it'd be almost a sackable offense not to ask Werner the question around Christmas time.

Closer to home and Callum Wilsonhas been discussed by Solskjaer and his No2 Mike Phelan. Four years older than Werner and available for similar money from Bournemouth, United's brainstrust know it's now or never if they want the England international. A move next summer to Chelsea is on the cards when their transfer ban is lifted.

So there's options. Young and old. Local or foreign. It's all available to Solskjaer. But he needs to get this right. It could define his career.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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