8th March 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
It seemed a near certainty, if reports were to be believed, that Benfica defender Victor Lindelof would join Manchester United in the January transfer window. And when no such deal had emerged by February 1, the Portuguese press instead assured everyone that the Swedish international would make Old Trafford his new home at the end of the season instead.
However, with the news last week that Lindelof has penned a new contract with the Portuguese champions, increasing his buyout clause to €50 million, it is looking increasingly likely that the 22-year-old will be staying at the Estadio da Luz beyond the summer.
If United manager Jose Mourinho is determined to add a new centre-back to his squad, then he will have to look at alternatives to Lindelof.
Here are five central defenders who the Red Devils should consider making a swoop for when the transfer window re-opens.
Thought to be a long-term target of Mourinho's dating back to his time in charge of Chelsea, Roma's Kostas Manolas is regarded as one of the finest and most complete centre-backs on the Continent.
The Greek international is blessed with tremendous pace which aids him in recovering whenever he is caught out of position or tasked with tracking a speedy striker, while also comfortable in possession and strong in the air.
It was rumoured that both United and Arsenal were interested in signing the Serie A standout last summer, but the fact that the Giallorossi would have owed half of any fee they received to the player's former club Olympiacos, made any such deal unlikely.
However, that clause from the €15 million deal which took Manolas to the Stadio Olimpico back in 2014 has now expired, meaning Roma will be entitled to retain 100 per cent of any fee they are offered for their star central defender, in turn making any sizeable bids a far more lucrative prospect for them.
Inter Milan are already believed to have begun discussions over signing the 25-year-old this summer, so any club hoping to hijack that move will have to act quickly.
Stefan De Vrij
Signed from Feyenoord for just €7 million after starring for the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup, Stefan De Vrij was rumoured to be a target for United before joining Lazio.
The 30-cap Dutch international was a vital part of the back three which powered Louis van Gaal's Oranje to the semi-finals in Brazil, and when the veteran coach took charge at Old Trafford it seemed almost a forgone conclusion that he'd want to take De Vrij with him especially considering his minimal price tag. It wasn't to be, however, and the 25-year-old overcame a shaky start to life in Rome to establish himself as the Biancoceleste's rock at the back.
A serious knee injury ruled him out for all but five games of last season, but he has since made a full recovery and picked up right where he left off, putting in some impressive displays for Simone Inzaghi's men this term.
Also believed to be a target for Chelsea, De Vrij would likely set any prospective buyer back around £35 million.
Virgil Van Dijk
Another Dutch defender seemingly on every top club's radar is Southampton's Virgil van Dijk.
The classy 25-year-old centre-back is thought to be on the wanted list of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, with a transfer fee of as much as £55 million being mooted in the press.
Van Dijk so impressed in his first campaign in the Premier League after moving south from Scottish champions Celtic in the Summer of 2014 that he was voted the Saints' player of the season and rewarded with a bumper new six-year contract.
Equally impressive so far this season although injury has ruled him out of action in recent weeks van Dijk has become arguably the most wanted defender in Europe.
At 6ft 4ins, he is powerful and commanding in the air, while also blessed with searing pace and outstanding technical ability when in possession.
In the modern game centre-backs are expected to be able to construct attacking moves from deep in addition to their traditional defensive duties. In this respect, van Dijk is the complete package.
Juventus centre-back Daniele Rugani, along with AC Milan's Alessio Romagnoli, has been earmarked as a future stalwart of Italy's backline for several years now.
However, the 22-year-old has been starved of game time in recent seasons, a victim of the Bianconeri's wealth of quality and experience at the back. Rugani has played just 16 games in all competitions this term, stuck behind the likes of Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli in Massimiliano Allegri's pecking order.
Having signed from Empoli in 2013, Rugani was loaned back to the side from provincial Florence where he starred for two seasons before returning to his parent club.
The gifted and intelligent young defender's progress has been hampered by the fact that he has only appeared sporadically for the Old Lady.
Juventus would be reluctant to part ways with such a talented young player who is seen as a potential long-term successor to Bonucci. But, having signed 22-year-old Mattia Caldara from Atalanta in January, they could be tempted to cash in on Rugani if a significant offer is received.
A Roma team-mate of Manolas, Antoinio Rudiger is perhaps not as technically proficient as his Greek colleague. But the former Stuttgart man has all of the physical tools to develop into a top central defender.
Like De Vrij, Rudiger has bounced back from a serious knee injury which prohibited his participation in last summer's European Championships to rediscover his best form.
Fast, athletic and powerful, the 6ft 3ins defender is a match for any attacker. And, at 23, he still has his best years ahead of him.
Strongly linked with both United and Chelsea earlier in the season, a Premier League move could soon be in Rudiger's future. If he continues to impress alongside Manolas in the Roma backline, the Giallorossi can reasonably expect to demand a fee in the region £30 million for the Berlin-born powerhouse.
Five Centre-Backs Manchester United Should Target
8th March 2017. By Ryan Baldi.