Home » Opinion: Ben Mee or James Tarkowski to bolster Man United’s defence?

Opinion: Ben Mee or James Tarkowski to bolster Man United’s defence?

Burnley duo are available on free transfers

by Matt Johnson

Whenever a club is relegated from the Premier League, a number of players depart as clubs look to lower their wage bill accordingly as a result of dropping into the Championship. This will certainly be the case with Burnley, where captain Ben Mee and fellow centre back James Tarkowski are set to leave the club this summer.

Centre back was a problem area for United in the 2021-22 season as they conceded 57 goals, comfortably the most of the top seven and more than double the number of the top two of Manchester City and Liverpool. Eric Bailly is set to leave United this summer, while there are regular injury concerns over Raphael Varane and Phil Jones.

In addition, Victor Lindelof and captain Harry Maguire have both been unconvincing at times, so it is highly likely new manager Erik Ten Hag will be looking to sign a centre back in the summer. On the face of it, signing a player who has just been relegated may not seem like the most appealing idea, but recent history shows it can work.

In 2017, Liverpool signed Andrew Robertson from a Hull City side that had just suffered their second relegation from the top flight in three years. However, Robertson has since emerged as a key player at club and international level, captaining Scotland to their first men’s international tournament for 23 years.

It was also Hull City from which West Ham United signed Jarrod Bowen. The difference in fortunes between the two sides following the transfer on deadline day in January 2020 speaks volumes about his impact. Following the sale, Hull’s form massively declined as they went from being in contention for a play-off spot to being relegated to League One, only winning two more matches for the remainder of the season.

By contrast, Bowen has become a key player in a West Ham side that has just finished seventh in the Premier League and gained European football for the second successive season, having reached the semi finals of the Europa League this season. His form has also earned him a first call-up to the England squad. He made his debut in Saturday’s defeat to Hungary in the Nations League.

While the season just finished proved to be a disappointing one for Burnley, as their six year stay in the top flight came to an end and they sacked popular manager Sean Dyche, in 2017-18 Tarkowski and Mee were key players in the side which finished in seventh and qualified for the Europa League. Tarkowski played 31 games that season, with Mee playing 29. 

In the four seasons since, Tarkowski has only missed eight league games, playing between 37 and 42 games in all competitions across those campaigns. Since playing every game in 2018-19, Mee has played 32, 30 and 21 Premier League games each season. This would suggest injuries would not be as much of a concern for United as they are with some of their current centre backs.

A deal would also make financial sense for United and provide low risk compared to some more recent deals. Bailly and Lindelof both arrived for around £30 million, while Maguire cost £80 million, a world record fee for a defender. With Tarkowski and Mee both out of contract, both would be available on free transfers.

Much has also been made of how much United’s wage bill has been reduced with the departures which have already been announced this summer, while Bailly leaving the club would free up another £87,000 a week, or £4.5 million a year. One of the Burnley duo would represent a further reduction in wages.

Mee is currently Burnley’s top earner on £73,000 a week, while Tarkowski is on £70,000 a week with Dwight McNeil the only other player currently earning more. Even if United were to match their current wages, that would still represent a reduction and save money which United could use elsewhere in the squad, or on improving other areas of the club.

At United’s peak they had the likes of Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher who were not necessarily regular starters, but could always be relied on when needed. Even if Tarkowski or Mee would prove to be more of a Brown or O’Shea than a first choice, there is always something to be said for having players like that around.

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