After years of worrying about Manchester United’s midfield, it seems we were all looking the wrong way.
This season has confirmed the major problems lie further back on the pitch. Injuries have compounded the problem but it’s clear that United need to sign at least one centre-half, ideally as soon as January. Here is one player who should be under consideration by Van Gaal and Woodward before the next transfer window.
Ezequiel Garay | Club: Zenit St Petersburg
If you believe half of what you read, United have signed the commanding Argentinian defender four or five times already. In reality, despite being linked with him for more than 12 months when he was performing with impressive authority and influence for Benfica, he ultimately felt like the one who got away. In a move that surprised many, he joined Zenit St Petersburg on 25 June 2014, mid-way through the World Cup and before Van Gaal had the opportunity to consider and identify his own targets.
It would have been interesting to see if he drifted into Van Gaal’s thinking last summer had he remained at Benfica until later in the transfer window. It seems likely that he would have and, on reflection, it feels like an opportunity missed. With Vidic departing, there was a pressing need to recruit a muscular and imposing centre-half in his stead.
Garay not only fits the bill in that respect but he fulfils certain key requirements too. He is the ideal age to bolster United’s ranks – at 28, he is approaching his peak and possessing the composure and experience (he has 25 caps for Argentina) that could immediately reinforce United’s youthful defence.
Crucially, he possesses the leadership skills of which United are currently bereft and his all-round game seems perfectly suited to the Premiership: quick, powerful and aggressive, he would relish the physical nature of the Premier League. He has impressive ability on the ball too, a trait that Van Gaal ranks highly as the centre-halves are fundamental to the possession game he craves.
In the debit column, he lacks genuine recovery pace when he has been turned by an attacker. It’s a weakness that Vidic shared though and one that he was largely able to combat. A few years ago, the Glazers would have shied away from him, as he falls outside of their ideal age category for recruitment but the acquisitions of Van Persie and Falcao in recent years have signalled a shift in their thought process.
What are the chances of signing him?
Normally, you would say very little. Garay has only been at his new club for five months, but there are persistent rumours he is unhappy, and he wouldn’t be the first player to leave Russia after a short spell. If United do come calling – and, unsurprisingly, they have been linked with a move – then it’s likely a deal could be struck, even as soon as January. The price shouldn’t be prohibitive either – Garay only joined Zenit five months ago for £17.6 million, and while the Russian club may seek a profit, you would still expect the fee to be in a similar bracket.