by Jorge Costa
If there is something that we can all agree on, it is the fact that Manchester United desperately need to sign a new centre-back. Sure, there are many positions that the Red Devils need to fix this season other than that- the full-back situation needs to be monitored, since Antonio Valencia is leaving, Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw are shifty and Diogo Dalot, quality aside, might be too young and inexperienced to be in charge of that job. Ashley Young is, definitely, not young anymore and although the coach Ole Gunnar Solskjær has said that the player is irreplaceable, we are not very keen on that argument. He lacks the speed to compete with the pacy Premier League oppositions. There is talk of United trying their best to sign Aaron Wan-Bissaka to fix this problem.
Anyway, that sums up why United’s defence is in a difficult situation and therefore it is no surprise they had such an underwhelming season and ended up 6th place. Looking at the current state of affairs, United have less chances to compete for the Premier League title than Atlanta Falcons to win the NFL Super Bowl.
How does one rebuild a team that has almost no decent full-back option and whose starting back-line almost always features either one of Phil Jones or Chris Smalling, with Victor Lindelöf the only reliable option? The truth is Manchester United needs at least one player that, besides being a top-quality centre back, has the ability to become a leader on and off the pitch – like Ferdinand and Vidic were under Alex Ferguson.
There are a few options to consider for that position and here we look at the top 5 choices that Ed Woodward should consider to rebuild United’s back-line.
5 – Kalidou Koulibaly
We start with the most unlikely and expensive options. Unlikely not because Koulibaly wouldn’t be keen on a move to Manchester United, but because Napoli president De Laurentiis is known to be a tough cookie when it comes to negotiating transfer fees for his players. Therefore, if United want to sign the Senegalese centre-back, they will need to splash the cash and accept the conditions imposed by the Italian chairman. Is it worth it?
Apparently, the Red Devils have already made a move of €95M, but De Laurentiis categorically said that Koulibaly is not for sale and he has refused the offer. So, if United want to sign Kalidou Koulibaly, who will be with Senegal this Summer in the AFCON, they will probably have to wait until 2023, when his contract expires to move away from San Paolo. That option is for another time.
Besides that, even though the 1.95 m defender would be an imposing figure, his stats aren’t exactly that high. He has better numbers than Smalling, Jones and Lindelof – but who wouldn’t, to be honest? Compared to the other names on this list though, he might be a name we are willing to cross.
4 – Matthijs de Ligt
The 19-year-old starlet is one of those kids who every world class team is trying to fish this summer. So, in a river filled with sharks, Manchester United might not be able to compete, owing to the fact that they haven’t qualified for the Champions League. De Ligt has won the double with Ajax this season and was a semifinalist in the Champions League. He scored 7 goals in 55 appearances: a decent record for someone who plays as a centre back. Plus, he was a runner up in the Nations League with Netherlands, starting alongside Van Dijk and scoring against England in the semi-final.
Quite a year for the young man, who most definitely won’t stay in Ajax. PSG, Barcelona and Juventus have allegedly bided for the Dutch youngster. Should United get into the fight or is it not worth the money? Well, de Ligt’s stats are similar to that of Koulibaly’s, though the Senegalese averages more tackles per game – 1.8 against 1.2. We should keep in mind that the Dutch International is 19, while the Napoli defender is 27, so if United are considering opening their wallet, the young man from Ajax is a more reliable option. However, recent reports suggest that De Ligt has clearly made it known to United that he does not wish to join the Red Devils.
3 – Raphael Varane
Raphael Varane hax been on United’s radar for a while, according to rumours. The current Real Madrid athlete still has a contract with Los Blancos until 2022 but seemed keen on the move, after Ronaldo’s departure last season. However, Zidane’s return seemed to be have halted any potential move away from the Bernabeu. It will now be difficult for United to take the French man to Old Trafford.
Varane is 26 years old and would be a player who could possibly assume the leadership role that the Reds of Manchester definitely need. Defensively, Varane has a higher number of clearances per game than all United centre backs – 4.7. The stats are also higher than that of Koulibaly’s and De Ligt’s, although Raphael makes only 0.9 tackles per game and 1 interception, inferior stats than the ones previously mentioned.
With Madrid eyeing a huge Summer, having already bagged Hazard, Jovic and Militão, it will be difficult to convince them to let go one of the backbones of their defence. Although, if the interest of Zidane in Pogba is real, then United might try to put Varane in on the deal.
2 – Harry Maguire
Now we look at two of the strongest and most realistic options for Woodward to look at. First of all, we start with English International, Leicester defender Harry Maguire. Links between Maguire and United have been going on for a long time now, as rumours between both parties were already alive last Summer. Mourinho had allegedly demanded for his services as reinforcements and the board’s refusal to commit might be one of the reasons why he fell out with the board.
Harry Maguire has the advantage of knowing the Premier League and being acquainted to it and has proven already that he can be a leader too.
Defensively he has similar stats to Varane, also averaging 4.5 clearances per game. To get him, however, United would have to drop at least €90 million, a number that sounds absurd, if we were not paying attention to the transfer market nowadays. That would make him a higher purchase than Van Dijk was for Liverpool, which seems hard to fathom. It’s up to Manchester United whether they want to take a gamble and go all in for the English man.
1 – Ruben Dias
Probably the wisest move to make at the moment would be putting in a bid for Benfica starlet Ruben Dias. The Portuguese centre-back has just won the Nations League, with a world class performance in the final, that granted him the MOTM award, proving that he is worth the big jump.
If you doubt the quality of Portuguese players and the league’s market in general just pay attention to how Wolves have been promoted and achieved 7th place in their first season, just by buying cheap underrated Portuguese players – like Rui Patricio and Moutinho, but also rising stars like Neves and Jota. However, be aware that Ruben won’t come for cheap, as there are already some teams looking at the possibility of signing him.
With a price tag established at around €60M, he would be slightly cheaper than all the options listed before. Ruben averages 1.4 tackles and 3.8 clearances per game. He is 22 years old and he played a crucial role in Benfica last year– after replacing veteran Luisão. He never lost his place and was vital for the team reconquering the title this season. Of course, it will be important he adapts to the fast paced Premier League, but Ruben proved during his stint with the national team that he is ready to face highly rated oppositions. Your move Woodward!