Are two ex-Man United targets pushing midfield whizkid towards Old Trafford?

Living up to expectations at Inter doesn’t seem to be getting any easier for Mateo Kovacic.

Matters haven’t gone well for Inter since the departure of Jose Mourinho following an historic treble-winning campaign that now seems a distant memory.

Budget downsizing, key sales, an ageing core and changes at the helm have all seen the club largely in upheaval - add in a change of ownership a few months ago, and it’s clear just how much the boat has been rocking.

In just over a year at San Siro, Mateo Kovacic has seen each of these phenomena first hand, a lot to adjust to for a teenager brought in to be the future of the Nerazzurri last winter.

With €13m in former club Dinamo Zagreb’s coffers and Wesley Sneijder’s vacated no. 10 shirt on his back, the Croatian set out on the task of ushering in a new era from January 2013 - only he hasn’t gotten very far to date.

Kovacic has found limited space under new boss Walter Mazzarri, not exactly acclaimed for his integration of young players at Napoli, even feeling the wrath of the Italian tactician after Inter’s listless defeat to Juventus early last month.

Since, the 19-year-old hasn’t set foot in the first eleven - just eight stats to his name all term - and looks increasingly more of a fringe figure rather than a young luminary at Appiano Gentile.

And two figures at least in part responsible for Kovacic’s difficulties breaking into Mazzarri’s midfield are Fredy Guarin and Hernanes - recognisable as a pair of reported January targets for Manchester United.

Guarin looked on his way out the door in January only to be subject to a rather bizarre transfer saga that culminated in his being dropped from the squad - then passed on by Red Devils boss David Moyes, reintegrated and now rewarded with a contract extension confirmed on Monday.

Hernanes, meanwhile, was tipped for a move to Old Trafford from Lazio ahead of Juan Mata’s eventual arrival, sold on deadline day to Inter instead as a star signing from a direct rival.

The restoration of Guarin’s stature as well as the Brazilian’s capture have severely stunted Kovacic’s prospects, with Ricky Alvarez, Esteban Cambiasso and others all in the midfield mix as well to add even further competition.

The Croatia international himself has been repeatedly linked with United amidst his struggles for minutes, and it seems that the pair of ex-targets could indeed be pushing him closer to the door.

Moyes’ side is in drastic need of reinforcements in the centre of the park and Kovacic’s versatility and dynamism - able to slot in as a deep-lying playmaker - makes him an intriguing option.

The Italian media remains divided over whether Inter will be willing to part with the youngster this summer, yet his situation looks only to be deteriorating under Mazzarri with his senior team-mates held in higher regard.

It’s unclear how much Inter would require to part with what could still be seen as a prize asset, but if Kovacic is inclined to force through a move, United could have a real opportunity on their hands to add a long-term solution in an area of dire need.

So perhaps it is Hernanes and Guarin that will prove the keys to a Red Devils revival in midfield - from afar, of course, by monopolising the space a starlet tipped for great things needs in his current environment to fulfil his largely untapped potential.

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