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Moussa Dembele & Man Utd: Why he's 'suddenly' on Solskjaer agenda

COMMENT: It's no secret now. Every agent with a decent stable are banging on their door. Manchester United want a new No9 - and they want him in January. The only question is: does Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stay the course, or veer off for a short-term hit...?

...because that's what is in front of United's manager today. Offers are now coming out of the woodwork. Mario Mandzukic, the Juventus veteran, has been on the table since the summer. Thomas Muller, now resigned to ending plans of a one-club career, was offered to Solskjaer. But just like Mandzukic, the feedback for the Bayern Munich striker's reps has been positive, though not enthusiastic. Basically, the door's not shut, but 'don't hang your hopes on us'.

It's why Mandzukic's minders are also speaking to both Milan clubs. This isn't about the Croatian, who'll be 34 before the end of the season, rejecting what Solskjaer's selling. It's more to do with the hesitant response coming from Old Trafford.

Which should be exciting for United fans. Learning that Mandzukic is negotiating with other clubs. That the chance to take Muller off Bayern's hands has - thus far - been resisted. It all suggests that United are making some headway working through their prime shortlist of attacking targets. For the moment, the word down from Carrington is 'we stay the course'.

It's why Muller has been given 'wait and see' instructions from United intermediaries. At 30 - and despite his fallen status at Bayern - in a different era and involving a different manager, Muller would expect to be welcomed with open arms at United. But the club's market approach has now radically changed. The big fees. The big wages. They're going towards players expected to hit their peak in four, five, even six years' time. The belief now - at least inside English football - is that Muller's best days are behind him.

As rough as that sounds, again for United fans, it should be music to their ears. This new No9 the club are working to bring in will be about the here and now - though his best will still be well ahead of him.

A month ago, this column blew it. Again addressing Solskjaer's plans, we went with our tip off - though with one exception. We name-checked Timo Werner, of RB Leipzig, Bournemouth's Callum Wilson and Solskjaer's protege, Erling Haaland at Salzburg. But we swerved a fourth name. Simply because his chairman had not only no reason to sell, but also had assured his support that he wouldn't - for this season at least.

But given the state of Olympique Lyon at the minute, the line is all bets are off. Come January, anything can happen - including the sale of Moussa Dembele.

The place is a mess at the moment. The mirror image of the current United. Okay, okay, those inside OL insist they're not that bad. But they're running United pretty close. A change of manager. A run without a win not seen in 24 years. This wasn't in the plans of Jean-Michel Aulas when the club's chairman told those interested (you'll soon see whom) to forget about Dembele in August.

"OL is not interested in offers concerning Moussa, who is one of the symbols of the new project of OL. Neither Manchester nor Juventus will take him. This is a question of principle, no price!" declared Aulas, having just made a fortune selling Tanguy Ndombele to Tottenham and Nabil Fekir to Real Betis.

But today, this "new project" is flailing. And it's the players, including Dembele, bearing the brunt of the backlash from fans. New coach Rudi Garcia, having replaced Sylvinho, the former Arsenal left-back, during international week, kicked off his stint with a drab 0-0 draw against Dijon on Saturday. And in the stands there were protests. Not so much against Aulas or the board, but the players. One banner reading: "Players: a shameful derby, two coaches in 6 months. And you're not the problem?"

It's against this backdrop that United - and Dembele - spy their chance. The player has let it be known he's keen on the move. But United will have to make all the running. Despite his bitter split from Celtic and all the previous with the now Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers, Dembele isn't one to rock the boat. His reaction this season to Sylvinho's baffling rotation policy impressing United recruitment staff as much as his six goals in nine games.

But this is no sudden attraction. United's interest in Dembele dates back to the Sir Alex Ferguson era. The former United manager being tipped off about an ambitious young lad coming through the system at PSG. However it was Huw Jennings and Fulham which beat United to the punch almost five year ago.

But it's those subsequent years - both at Craven Cottage and Celtic Park - which has Dembele's name on Solskjaer's shopping list. He's effectively a young, 'British' player. One who's succeeded at each level he's been thrown into. Indeed, we understand there's been some debate regarding Dembele being a better big money bet than Solskjaer's favourite, Haaland. The question raging now inside Carrington is whether he is worth the €70m Aulas will demand in January.

But for the moment, Dembele is definitely in play. And United fans should be pleased. In terms of transfer policy Solskjaer and his team are staying the course.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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