Manchester United and Jose Mourinho’s desire to sign a centre-back is well-documented after the so-called ‘Special One’ failed to land any player, including Harry Maguire, from a target list as long as an arm in the summer.
Harry Maguire Leads List of Targets
A slow start to the 2018/19 Premier League season, including a shock loss down in Brighton and a devastating home loss to Tottenham, has been characterised by glaring defensive mistakes. Those dreadful performances, along with United’s slip out of the projected top four on Sporting Index has further reinforced the fact that United must sign a quality centre-back, or possibly even two, if they are to return to the summit of the Premier League.
Mourinho could do a lot worse than to sign a multiple Champions League winner, who also became part of a World Cup-winning squad during the summer. The cut-and-thrust nature of the Premier League, along with the wider range of realistic title contenders, will likely restrict Varane’s ability to play the ball out of defence. Yet, his great speed and expert anticipation off the ball would be an asset to any team, and right now, United cannot put a price on the restoration of the club’s fear factor.
While he is one of the less ‘vocal’ defenders in the game at the top level, his physical presence makes him the complete defender when on form. What United need more than anything is someone who knows what it takes to calm a defence when under pressure. The Tottenham game is a particularly good (or bad) example of how United folded under pressure, with Lucas Moura’s marauding runs acting as a decoy for Harry Kane to make his lethal runs into the box. The Varane of 2018 is near-perfection, and with the added bonus of the Frenchman winning every one of the ten finals – for club and country – that he has played in, this is an opportunity not to be missed.
Should Real Madrid not yield to a stratospheric bid for Varane, Mourinho could still go to Real’s biggest rivals for a resounding import from La Liga. Varane’s partner throughout France’s revival as a cup-winning nation, Umtiti also has a very topical history of changing the fortunes of clubs he plays for. Prior to his arrival at Barcelona, the Catalan club was fragile in defence, and struggling to cope with life after Carles Puyol.
Umtiti’s approach to remedying this was simple, with the Frenchman using his physicality and ability on the ball to create space, and a vital extra second of reaction time for his teammates. Like his countryman Varane, Umtiti’s composure makes the job of every other player in the squad infinitely easier. United are in dire need of a ‘back to basics’ approach, and Umtiti’s ability to control the tempo of matches during fraught phases will enable the Red Devils to do so without compromising on creativity or attacking endeavour.
The rumoured transfer of Leicester’s most prized centre-back to Old Trafford was one of the hottest stories of the summer. Though the England international ultimately chose to stay put, people must always assume that every man has his price in the money and ego-driven spectacle that is modern Premier League football. Only Maguire himself knows what bubbles under the surface, as he continues to do his best, in a team that is seeing the last remnants of its title-winning class of 2016 gradually decline.
Maguire still has at least ten years of good football in his wake for club and country. Leicester teammate Kasper Schmeichel has already asserted his belief that Maguire can become the best defender in the world, and while some would say that reeks of bias, Maguire undoubtedly came into his own during the 2018 World Cup. The Leicester man has already nailed down a place in the default England line-up for the foreseeable future, and the coaching resources at Old Trafford would represent the step up Maguire needs to make the most of that.
Fortune favours the brave, and ultimately, Mourinho’s best bet is to go all out for a player-plus-cash deal in the case of Maguire, getting rid of Rojo or Lindelof in the process. On current form, the latter man would certainly not be missed. Thus, with Maguire in the squad at a reduced price, the additional arrival of Varane or Umtiti would give United’s backline a coveted blend of aerial prowess and on-the-ball composure. The process of ‘gelling’ notwithstanding, it would questionably mark an improvement on the status quo.