Manchester United are looking for a new midfielder in 2021 to work with club captain Harry Maguire in the long term and take the developing squad to the next level.
Victor Lindelof will remain a good group player to have as a back-up, but the Swede has consistently shown that he lacks top class level in important areas needed to be an elite Premier League defender.
Victor Lindelof does not have enough to be a first-class defender of Soccrates Images / Getty Images
Lindelof is intelligent and conscious, but he lacks the pace, strength and dominant presence to be the complementary partner for Maguire that United need.
Refreshingly, the players the club are chasing and are usually lined up for all fit similar criteria, marking a targeted approach to addressing the specific weaknesses of the backline. That in itself is a big step forward from the rather scattergraph recruitment policy that frustratingly defined the first six years after Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
United identified Villarreal and Spain star Pau Torres as a big target towards the end of 2020. There was also interest in Dayot Upamecano at the time, but it quickly cooled down when it became clear that he would join Bayern Munich, which has since been confirmed. .
Dayot Upamecano was a target until he started leaning against Bayern Munich Boris Streubel / Getty Images
Jules Kounde in Sevilla effectively replaced Upamecano along with Torres as one of United’s two preferred goals, although the growing uncertainty about Raphael Varane’s future at Real Madrid has created a potential opportunity there. Wesley Fofana has also recently been linked with United among suggestions that they keep an eye on him in Leicester.
Wesley Fofana is the least proven but probably most expensive Malcolm Couzens / Getty Images
At just 20, Fofana is younger than the other midfielders who have been on United’s radar. It has its ups and downs in that it offers a long-term investment, but is also a more raw and unpolished opportunity. He has been hugely impressive for Leicester considering his age, but what United want is to go up another steep step again and it’s a bit more of a game.
In terms of style, Fofana is known for both his headline ability, with a strong share of air battles won during his final season in France, and also his anticipation that allows him to go in front of attacking players to make interceptions.
It could allow United to play further on the pitch and defend more on the front foot, which has been a critique of the Maguire-Lindelof partnership up to this point.
A major disadvantage is the potential price. Fofana is under contract in Leicester until 2025 and United know that the foxes are tough negotiators and will not be pushed around. Claiming £ 80 million, more than twice as much as they paid for him and matching the Maguire sale, would not be surprising.
Raphael Varane has won everything and is considering a new challenge Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno / Getty Images
Varane is easily one of the best midfielders in the 2010s, a decade that made him win four Champions League titles with Real Madrid and the World Cup with France. He even had a real chance to win the Ballon d’Or 2018 as the only player to win both the Champions League and the World Cup that year, and probably should have finished higher in the final vote.
Varane is a shorter alternative. But despite his wide range of career achievements, the Frenchman will still only be 28 at the beginning of next season. This means that he should at least have a four-year contract in his legs before his career can begin to end.
United would take less games with Varane because he has been there and done so. His contract situation at Real Madrid, which appears to be at a point where he does not intend to extend beyond 2022, also provides a rare opportunity to sign a world-class player at a not ridiculous price.
The latest reports on Varane quoted 60 million pounds, which is 20 million pounds less than United paid for Maguire when he was only two years younger. It has also been suggested that Old Trafford officials try to negotiate a figure that is still lower than that.
His style would complement Maguire’s well and he has the pace that both Lindelof and Maguire lack. It gives United a little extra insurance on the back that has not been there.
Pau Torres has had a rapid rise | David Ramos / Getty Images
Torres was the player that United’s staff first decided on last year as an ideal midfielder. His rapid rise has been impressive, from a loan in Malaga in Spain’s second division to gain experience in 2018/19 to a start for the national team in the autumn of 2020.
The 24-year-old came through the youth rankings in Villarreal and 2020/21 is just his second season of top football, which may be enough to make him notice something of a late flowering.
Torres fits the profile of a modern midfielder. He has good speed for his impressive physical size and his awareness and anticipation make him similar to other goals on this list. Perhaps most striking is his ability as a ball carrier, which means he can move into midfield in possession and help launch attacks for his own team, as well as repel them from opponents.
Torres could potentially be the cheapest of the four options. His release clause is around £ 52m – £ 56m and it has been rumored that Villarreal could even sell as low as £ 43m under the right circumstances, just over half of what United paid for Maguire.
There may be a reason for that. After only playing top football for two years, he lacks experience for his age, he has not yet played in the Champions League and has never won a trophy. They are not deal-breakers but there is still something to think about and weigh up.
Jules Kounde won the Europa League with Sevilla last season Octavio Passos / Getty Images
Where Torres lacks top-level experience, Kounde has it and is also younger. The 22-year-old played regularly for Bordeaux in Ligue 1 2018 and has taken his game to the next level with Sevilla since 2019, winning the Europa League and reaching the Champions League knockouts.
With this in mind, Kounde offers perhaps the best balance between long-term potential for development, age and experience of any of the most likely goals.
The Frenchman has a release clause that is believed to be around 68 million pounds, which is rumored to be more than United are willing to pay. His current contract also runs until 2024 and there is therefore no immediate pressure on Sevilla to sell, as it would be with, for example, Real Madrid and Varane.
Stylistically, Kounde is a more conservative type of defender. He is a reader of the game and will try to force attackers by mistake through his positioning before he has to commit to a tackle. It could enable Maguire to be the aggressor in the partnership.
The important thing is the balance, this is where Maguire and Lindelof currently suffer because their respective strengths do not hide each other’s weaknesses and vice versa.
Ole Gunnnar Solskjaer will be part of the decision-making process Pool / Getty Images
There will probably need to be some compromise in United’s search. All four midfield options have the same style and it will be the best or most suitable deal that determines which way they go.
Fofana is too expensive, especially in this economic climate, and is probably just a little too young at this stage. Varane, although not really too old, can be considered not young enough.
Negotiating a lower fee for Kounde seems to be the best solution, but it does not seem very feasible and it may therefore be that Torres is the one who crosses enough of the boxes at an affordable price without a noticeable remission of quality.
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