There’s less than just nine days left of the summer transfer window and Manchester United are worryingly yet to address their problems at centre-back — an area José Mourinho has been keen for chief executive, Ed Woodward, to prioritise before the 2018-19 season gets underway.
Expect departures before an arrival
It’s been far too easy to be swayed by Man United’s superior defensive statistics over the past few years; statistics that have been heavily bolstered more by David de Gea’s sheer brilliance than the class of the players in front of him. United have seven first-team centre-backs at the club – Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelöf, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe – and Mourinho wants to add one more before the window slams shut on August 9, one day before the campaign kicks off against Leicester City at Old Trafford.
There’s no doubting the squad isn’t exactly thin on central defenders, but the fact Mourinho wants to add to his roster would strongly suggest we should expect at least one departure; Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling have been the two players linked with moves away the most during the close-season.
It’s also a substantial possibility that either one of, or both, Fosu-Mensah and Tuanzebe, who spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace and Aston Villa respectively, could once again have spells away to gain more crucial first-team experience under their belts.
Perfect timing for Alderweireld?
Plenty of centre-halves have been linked with The Red Devils, as you’d expect. But all summer long, one name that has been ever-present amongst the speculation is Tottenham Hotspur’s no. 4, Toby Alderweireld.
The Belgium international’s morale at Tottenham plummeted to an all-time low in the latter stages of last season as he was regularly snubbed of a place in Mauricio Pochettino’s squad. Alderweireld’s out-of-favour status has led many to conclude that he is now dead-set on a departure ahead of the new season; a move that might be attractive to Spurs, too.
Alderweireld will be available for just £25m next summer due to a clause in his contract so Spurs are thought to be keen to cash in on their star defender sooner rather than later, but United have baulked at his valuation, with Leicester City’s Harry Maguire also finding himself near the top of Mourinho’s defensive shortlist.
Alderweireld has the experience Mourinho needs
Maguire, 25, is four years younger than Alderweireld and although that means he may have more time in his legs, he’d only fall into the same bracket as Bailly, Lindelöf and Jones; players who can feature in the United defence for the long run, but just need an experienced figure next to them.
Smalling carries the experience but questions rightly continue to be asked about whether he’s really good enough to regularly feature for a club of United’s stature. The fact that he wasn’t even selected in Gareth Southgate’s England squad at the World Cup should be the biggest pointer to how much quality he actually has.
Aged 29, Alderweireld would be a clever acquisition in the same bracket as Nemanja Matić’s arrival from Chelsea last summer as he carries the experience, leadership qualities the United defence currently lacks. Moreover, his un-arguable class has earned him the reputation of one of the Premier League’s best defenders.
He has four years in English football under his belt and has impressed in the UEFA Champions League while at Spurs — a level of experience that Maguire, despite his eye-catching displays at the World Cup this summer, simply can’t boast.
It’d be stunning if United failed to sign a new centre-back before the visit of Leicester City in the top-flight curtain-raiser next Friday, but it’s high likely a deal will go through and it’d be a perfect fit if that deal was for Toby Alderweireld.