Much has been said recently of Manchester United’s defensive troubles.
With the Reds conceding no less than 12 goals in their opening eight Premier League games, including five away to Leicester in what turned out to be arguably the most bizarre game of the season, many of the clubs supporters and media have been quick to criticise United’s failure to sign a specialist centre back during the summer transfer window.
The signing of Argentinian utility back Marcus Rojo eased some of the frustration but he was not the world class defensive replacement for Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic that fans were hoping for. United also signed Daley Blind but again, he is seen more as a utility player instead of specialist centre back.
There were strong rumours during July and August that United showed a lot of interest in Borussia Dortmund and Germany centre back Mats Hummels. This was real interest but in the end Hummels decided he would not be prepared to sacrifice Champions League football to become part of the Van Gaal revolution at Old Trafford.
Speculation at the beginning of the year linked us United to Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala but after the reds sent the then first team coach Phil Neville to scout him, he came back to Manchester with a very negative report so United decided not to pursue it any further.
The problem for United at the moment is, despite there being a number of world class centre backs playing within Europe, many are tied down to long contracts or are on the other hand at a club in which they are happy playing for and aren’t seeking a move.
Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett have both impressed when handed their chance at centre back but what United need is experience alongside them, not just to aid their personal growth but to aid the team.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have a tremendous amount of Premier League experience despite their age but with injuries frequently hindering both, it is now becoming a big priority that United do sign a strong, experienced centre back this January.
This then begs the question, who can realistically become United’s new defensive maestro? Here’s one player who could be the answer.
Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham Hotspur. Vertonghen came through the ranks at Dutch giants Ajax which is where Van Gaal also started his career and eventually made a name for himself as a coach. After progressing through the academy at Ajax, the man born in the small Belgian town of Sint-Niklaas in 1987 went onto captain the Dutch side at the age of just 24, some feat when you put it into perspective that that is still classed as ‘young’ in football.
Then in 2012, Jan made the £13.2m move to Spurs and made 34 Premier League appearances in his first season at the club. What makes him stand out is how diverse his talents are. Good with the ball, strong in the tackle and with an eye for goal, Vertonghen is almost the perfect modern day centre back. In the six years he had at Ajax in the senior set-up, he scored over 20 goals which, as a centre back, is almost unheard of in the modern era.
With his contract ending in the summer of 2016 and Younes Kaboul being selected as club captain ahead of him, there has been strong speculation that the Belgian could be heading out of White Hart Lane and as he has refused to sign a new contract, it points towards a potential exit for him.
The only thing that could be holding any clubs back from making a bid for him is his ankle problems. They’re not as major as they could be but it might still be a factor in why none of Europe’s big hitters have gone in for him.
The sooner the defence is sorted, the sooner United can actually start to mould a team of the future and Vertonghen could go some way as to help make that happen.