How many people in this world can snap their fingers and receive their heart’s desire?
Vladimir Putin is effectively Russia’s President for Life after the recent referendum in that country. Donald Trump apparently has what amounts to secret police snatching Portland, Oregon protesters off the streets and is allegedly considering sending Customs officers without badges (insert your Eli Wallach joke here) cruising around Chicago in their unmarked minivans. Between that and trying to stop voting by mail, the Donald seems intent on eliminating as many Democratic voters as he can by 3 November. Unfortunately, he’s alienating much of his Republican support in the process.
In film, things worked out well for Thanos in the short term but then Tony Stark snapped back and it didn’t end well for either.
In football, there’s Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and, after the Court for Arbitration of Sport’s ruling on Manchester City’s two-year European ban, Pep Guardiola. The rest of us must grind it out and hope for the best. Manchester United supporters baying for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to sign an elite centre-back in the abbreviated summer window should keep that in mind.
It’s easy to ignore that United are joint-second (with those cerulean-clad bastards) in Premier League defence, surrendering 35 goals in 36 games and that the self-same lynch mob now lighting torches and murmuring ominously about their captain and his Swedish sidekick formed outside the Stretford End towards the end of Jose Mourinho’s 2017-18 campaign despite Chris Smalling and Phil Jones partnering at the heart of a rearguard that yielded only 28.
As well, we’d all prefer to turn our gaze away from City fans who question Pep in similar fashion. Who wants to be like them? Still, their Catalan boss has spent nearly a half-billion sterling on defenders but still fields a backline as vulnerable to exploitation as a hopeful actress in Harvey Weinstein’s office.
Another tough pill to swallow? Defending in the current climate is much more difficult than in bygone days. More and more clubs believe in attacking in relentless waves. No rest for the wicked.
Can we all at least agree that, if Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof aren’t everything we hoped, they’re at least a level above Alias Smalling and Jones and better buys than John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, Benjamin Mendy and Joao Cancelo?
That isn’t to say we should stick by them as blindly as we have David de Gea. But the hard truth is, when it comes to central defence, there isn’t a potential saviour on the club’s books who just happens to be backstopping a Championship side to the top half of the Premier League table (doff that cap, Dean Henderson). Nor is there an elite, shut-down defender available in the current transfer market.
Jan Vertonghen and Thiago Silva top the list of centre-halves whose contracts expire at season’s end but the Belgian is 33 and the Brazilian 35. The best either can do is stand in a younger player’s way for a season or two. That said, both are available on a free and would be upgrades over Jones and Eric Bailly as backups to Lindelof and Maguire.
Silva appears on his way out at the Parc des Prince. Paris Saint-Germain Sporting Director Leonardo is understood to have told Silva he would not be extended beyond the current campaign, although his current contract was lengthened to make him available for Champions League play in August.
Meanwhile, Vertonghen recently hinted to reporters that he was seeking pastures new despite manager Jose Mourinho’s desire to keep him in the Tottenham dressing room. Vertonghen suggested he might go to La Liga or Serie A but “will keep all options open.” He also noted the leverage COVID-19 provides.
“I’m free, of course, and many clubs don’t have the money to do transfers. Transfer-free players like me are even more coveted in the coronavirus crisis.”
To date, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer only showed interest in a stop-gap player when he could not land a centre-forward in the January window to back up Anthony Martial. With no other overtures welcomed, he took Odion Ighalo on loan from Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua. It’s possible, should no other opportunities materialise, the Norwegian might move for Vertonghen or Silva.
Sergio Ramos’ name jumps out among defenders whose deals end in 2021. Of course, the club reportedly sought his services once before with the Real Madrid captain using their interest to coax an extension with the Bernabeu outfit. At 35, Ramos is also a short-term solution, assuming both parties are intrigued this time around. In addition, he would command a fee from the newly crowned Spanish champions, likely a hefty one as Los Blancos manager Zinedine Zidane surely values his captain.
Working on the assumption Ed Woodward and Solskjaer are happy with their £80 million investment in Harry Maguire but would like to provide more competition for Victor Lindelof, Borussia Monchengladbach’s 26-year-old right-side CB, Matthias Ginter, is a player whose tyres might be worth kicking. United like to play from the back and the German overwhelmed the Swede in virtually every related category this term, proving more of an asset in Gladbach’s buildup play and in the final third. Marco Rose’s outfit were also the Bundesliga’s third-most resilient side.
Ginter’s contract is up in 2021, as is that of his partner on the left side, Nico Elvedi. Transfermarkt values both at around £25 million, roughly £15 million less than RB Leipzig’s less experienced 21-year-old sensation Dayot Upamecano.
The Frenchman typically plays on the left when manager Julian Nagelsmann deploys a four-man backline and in the middle for a three. At 32, Nagelsmann is rather young himself, but the trust he placed in Upamecano during his first year in charge at the Red Bull Arena is telling. It paid off with a third-place finish and Champions League football. Did I mention that Leipzig’s thriftiness in their own third was only bettered by Bayern Munich?
United might be interested in whether the youngster can play both sides. If so, the extra money he commands might be worth it. Ole is building a young, talented squad for the long term, after all.
For those fans slavering over elite defenders such as Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, 29-years-old, valued at more than £50million and chained to the San Paolo through June 2023, I’ll say it again. The days when Manchester United could snap their fingers and sign any player they desired are in the past.