A clear focus on defence has been the focal point for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rebuild at Manchester United this summer. The £50 million signing of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace is proof of that. And judging from his performances so far during pre-season, he looks like a great signing for United. You could even dispute £50 million is a lot of money for a young English defender who is fairly untested as a professional but such is the inflated market these days. However when it comes to United’s pursuit of Harry Maguire, the price climbs dramatically with his current club Leicester City holding out for around £80m. Given that this is a player who only two years ago was playing for now relegated Hull City, the real question is can he really justify the £80 million price tag currently hung around his neck?
Harry Maguire is undoubtedly a great defender. His performances during England’s World Cup run to the semi-finals established him as one of the Premier League’s highest-rated and most sought after defenders. When Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic left in 2014, there was no doubt they had left some massive shoes to fill. Since then United have missed having a proven commanding defender – one who has the leadership skills, who can play the short and long game and is an aerial threat at both ends of the pitch. Maguire certainly fits that mould.
But so does former Ajax centre half Matthijs De Ligt who just transferred to Juventus for £65.5 million. That’s €14.5 million less than Leicester’s asking price for Maguire. De Ligt would have also fit Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s philosophy of young, hungry talented players. The impressive 19-year-old turns 20 in August; yet has proven himself immensely during this past season particularly in the Champions League where he captained Ajax in an impressive run to the semi-finals defeating the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid along the way. If United are willing to spend £80 million on Maguire, surely, they could’ve bid at least £66 million for De Ligt? Even the most devoted Maguire fans will tell you, £80 million is a lot of money for a defender playing for a mid-table club. Don’t get me wrong, Maguire would certainly strengthen United’s defence. But to put that into perspective – Matthijs de Ligt is viewed as one of the most sought-after defender in the world and hasn’t even hit his prime yet. In addition, the best defender in the world in many peoples eyes and a possible Ballon d’Or winner, Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk cost £75 million. Is Maguire better than both of these players? Probably not.
Should they fail to sign Maguire and prolong their desperate search for a new centre-back, a cheaper option and a player of higher quality to pursue would be Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. He ticks all the boxes of a strong powerful defender. He has the leadership skills, can play the short and long game and is an aerial threat at both ends of the pitch. Koulibaly also has Champions League experience and will no doubt be able to adapt to the Premier League from Italy’s Serie A. No disrespect to Maguire but The Red Devils would get a higher quality player in Koulibaly for less money.
Without Champions League football, this transfer window has proven difficult so far for United. While the acquisition of Maguire will be an upgrade, he is not the commanding centre-back United are seeking in an ever-increasing competitive Premier League. Particularly one as expensive as himself. Solskjaer should wait to see what other top clubs in Europe have to offer, as he may find a better centre-back for a lower fee. Someone like Toby Alderwield springs to mind. The tall commanding defender has long been linked with a move to Manchester. The 30-year-old only has a £25.5 million release clause (that runs out at the end of the month) – a reasonable amount and would inject some much-needed stability into United’s backline. All this said, United appear to have their sights set firmly on Maguire. Yes he is not a better defender than Van Dijk but right now, he is exactly what Manchester United need. World record fee or not, United need a strong commanding centre-back, and in Maguire, they could have one.
Post by Kevin Wong. Follow him here on Twitter.