Earlier today, we covered a story from The Sun which stated that Manchester United will decide upon whether to sign Toby Alderweireld next week – after the Belgian centre-back has played in Saturday’s Champions League Final against Liverpool.
The interesting element to this story, however, is that it is being reported that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would prefer to work with his current defensive options as opposed to bringing in someone of the quality of Alderweireld.
With Tottenham facing the prospect of losing Alderweireld on a free transfer, a contract was agreed with the ex-Atletico Madrid player to keep him at the club beyond this Summer. However, this contract included a clause which meant that a bid of £25m could be enough to snare the Belgian away from North London.
It is clear to many supporters of United that the defence needs regeneration. Rumoured interest in Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly has apparently resulted in figures being quoted in excess of £100m. Similar overtures for Ajax’s colossal young Defender Matthijs de Ligt are being entertained by his notorious agent Mino Raiola, but in an apparent attempt to secure a better deal from prospective new employers Barcelona.
A deal for a defender with the ability, experience and leadership of Alderweireld for a cut-price £25m should be too good to turn down, especially given his qualities are those which appear to be severely lacking at Old Trafford.
It is admirable that Solskjaer would prefer to work with what he’s got. However, the clubs centre-back options are Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo and the returning Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. It has been clear for some years now that the majority of these players are not up to the standard required to compete for the major honours at the elite level of the game.
It would be fair to say that United may have to take one step back to take two forward as the club needs to rid itself of the culture of the individual in the dressing room. Working with the current group and developing them does have some merits, but it seems clear that some of the current incumbents may be beyond improvement from their current level. The likes of Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly may well be moved on this Summer. Many United supporters would say that Smalling and Jones should join them, however, new contracts would suggest this may not be the case.
In working with and developing Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah, Solskjaer would more than likely receive support from the Old Trafford faithful, but it is stark that defensive reinforcements at the heart of the defence (as well as at right-back and possibly left-back) are required. A cut price deal for Alderweireld would solve many issues. An approach for Harry Maguire would also, in my opinion, be a very shrewd move, especially given the shift towards targeting younger, hungry, British players.
The fact that the club and Solskjaer appear to be on different wavelengths is an extremely worrying sign and a continuation of the problems encountered by Jose Mourinho last Summer and Louis van Gaal during his tenure, when he stated he could not sign the players he wanted.
The club is in desperate need of some joined-up thinking, which is why a new Technical Director, or Technical Team has apparently been targeted by the club, with names such as Darren Flectcher, Rio Ferdinand and Quinton Fortune mentioned to install an Ajax-style structure in the recruitment process and to implement the correct culture. A move which apparently has the backing of Solskjaer, Mike Phelan and Sir Alex Ferguson.
The fact that this re-structuring has not yet been implemented, and that Executive Vice-Chairman, Ed Woodward, is still the man dictating the transfer policy would suggest that Solskjaer may not be able to re-shape the club and the squad the way he wants going forward. In the case of Alderweireld, this may well be a good thing if the club decides he would be a good fit, but in the long-term, you have to worry whether the same old mistakes will end up being repeated at Old Trafford.