It would be no exaggeration to suggest that Manchester United have been crying out for defensive stability, particularly in the centre back area, ever since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. His last era of title winning sides home and away were centred on the nigh-on impregnable centre back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Where Ferdinand would mop up with an almost arrogant, casual composure, Vidic would snarl, attack and destroy any striker or ball heading his way.
It was always going to be a complex proposition to replace that legendary duo but, in pale contrast, United have had a few years now of defenders who have seldom threatened to touch those heights and it has been hard to watch. From the current crop of contenders, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones continue to be the butt of all jokes and, let’s be honest, have had more than their fair share of opportunities without realising the potential expected when Ferguson earmarked them as heir apparents. Marcos Rojo is more famed for his inability to get that lovely golden colour every toast maker strives for than turning heads on the pitch. We were promised a destroyer, bruiser, no nonsense Argentine in the mould of the hero turned villain Gabriel Heinze, the reality is that has only translated to a reckless red card waiting to happen.
It has not all been a total abomination though in the heart of defence: Victor Lindelof has grown immensely in stature and, if he stays fit, there is certainly a player in Eric Bailly. In diamond definitions, you would say the Ivorian is unpolished, but with vast potential to shine.
At the time of writing, Sky Bet make Harry Maguire, AKA Slabhead, a mere 1/20 to join United. United’s interest has certainly polarised opinion but, for mine, Maguire would be a very welcome addition. Ignore the fees mentioned, 1) it’s not hitting your current account and 2) how long have we been crippled with our American leaches depriving us of mass funds to spend? Them putting their hands in their pockets for a proven Premier League defender cannot be grumbled at.
Irrespective of whether Maguire makes the move or not, there is an expectation from me that academy graduate Axel Tuanzebe will feature prominently for United this upcoming season.
Fresh from penning terms on a new three year deal, there has been much excitement surrounding Tuanzebe’s development. He debuted for United at right back at the Emirates, back when a certain Alexis Sanchez was actually putting in top rate Premier League performances. He gave a taste of his qualities in an admirable display, United lost but Tuanzebe did not: Confidence, pace, power. For those unaware of Tuanzebe, these are his standout features.
He has enhanced his reputation playing centre-back at Aston Villa for the past two seasons and there was strong talk of a third stint before he impressed on tour. If I were to hazard a guess, this is where Tuanzebe will forge a long and successful career. That said, Jose Mourinho saw enough in him to trial him in the defensive midfield role towards the end of his first season, I remember him starting there at St Mary’s in a drab pre-Europa League final encounter.
You can be sure questions will be raised again regarding another loan spell if Maguire arrives. Honestly, and perhaps optimistically some might think, I believe Tuanzebe will play enough games even if slabhead breaks transfer records: United will be spinning four plates this campaign, including some sure to be monumental, energy sapping Europa League trips. Rotation and having a vast squad will be key criteria for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer so I predict Tuanzebe to at least clock up 15 games this season.
Some might say that will hinder his development while we still have Smalling, Jones and Rojo on the books, but this should be the start of a phasing out process of that trio. Learning from the likes of the senior pros here, Victor Lindelof and a world class keeper in David de Gea can only be seen as a good thing. Imagine a centre back group of Lindelof, Maguire, Bailly and Tuanzebe – not bad at all is it?
Let’s be clear on something, United have a heck of a promising player here in Axel Tuanzebe and he can definitely go to the very top with us, starting with a role to play this season rather than another loan.