Why Are United Targeting Another Centre Back?

Iwan Lehnert  |  22nd June 2018

One wonders what Jose Mourinho is thinking when he looks at Manchester United’s array of centre backs. It’s not like his side is blessed with an indestructible, world class quintet of options, of course, but given how the Portuguese boss has seemingly decided to prioritise yet further central defensive reinforcements during this summer transfer window, you can’t help but wonder how long it’ll be before United can field an entire XI of middling to decent centre backs that have all lost their manager’s trust at least once.

Not that the options that the club have been linked with wouldn’t improve United; far from it. Toby Alderweireld is a fine defender, but the task of sealing the 29-year old’s signature was always going to be a tall order when Daniel Levy was involved. The Tottenham Hotspur chairman is reportedly asking for £75m for the Belgian, a price that United appear to have wisely baulked at, and with Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng reportedly available for the much more reasonable fee of €50/60m, perhaps United will welcome a world class former City player into their ranks?

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Of course, that doesn’t answer the question of what Mourinho is supposed to do with his current plethora of centre back options, as there hasn’t been a hint of any transfer news for any one of Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo or Chris Smalling since United’s FA Cup final defeat in May. Lindelof and Bailly should surely be exempt from any talk of departure, given their limited time at Old Trafford, but what of Rojo, Smalling and Jones? Beyond that, the Argentine was given a new contract just last season, and despite presiding over the aforementioned defeat to Chelsea, Mourinho still seems to favour Jones and Smalling when given the opportunity to use them. That surely calls into question how legitimate the manager’s need to strengthen his options is.

It smacks somewhat of the former Real Madrid boss’ habit of ejecting his toys out of the pram when he doesn’t get what he wants. Lindelof and Bailly might not have fully excelled since their arrivals in 2017 and 2016 respectively, but surely have shown enough that with time, trust and a run of games that they could form a useful partnership. Bailly is clearly United’s most talented, capable and commanding centre back, and Lindelof showed plenty of signs for encouragement during the club’s European fixtures to suggest that he simply needs space to settle into English football. Yet Mourinho seemed happy to keep both out of his plans as United’s season stumbled to a close, excusing himself with some half-baked theory of wanting to pick the players most likely heading to Russia for the World Cup. Someone must have forgotten to mention to him that Lindelof’s Sweden are currently in it, then…

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If Boateng, or even Alderweireld arrive at Old Trafford this season, then they’d surely improve United’s defence, and offer some improved solidity in front of David de Gea. But if Mourinho keeps freezing players out that he himself has brought in, then where will it end? What message does that send; do as I want or you’re gone? Few United fans argued when Henrikh Mkhitaryan was sold barely 18 months after Mourinho purchased him from Borussia Dortmund, and the Armenian was drowning in a United shirt by the end, but this cannot become the norm. The Portuguese cannot be allowed to think that frequently replacing his own buys when they don’t fulfil his exact needs after barely a season at the club is a viable long-term strategy.

Ultimately, the issue of United searching for yet another centre back speaks more of Mourinho’s impatience, and his own struggles to get the best out of his current options than any glaring need to add another body in that area of the pitch. Few fans will grumble should Boateng or Alderweireld sign for the club this summer, but United’s hierarchy must be cautious of Mourinho’s tendency of signing players for the now, and not working with what he has in every area of the pitch, not just defence. If they don’t, then his predecessor could inherit an exceptionally messy squad when The Special One departs Old Trafford.

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