Should Manchester United go all-in on centre-backs?
Background image: Daniel, CC BY-SA 2.0
To say Manchester United finished the season in a timid way would be putting it kindly. When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as interim manager, he got off to a flying start. The Norwegian won 14 of his first 19 games. After he got the job permanently and Rio Ferdinand shouted, "Man United are back" on BT Sport, all has gone downhill.
In the time since Solskjaer signed a long-term deal, United's win percentage dropped from 73.7% to 20%. This dip in form already had some fans calling for him to get the sack. Ed Woodward has a knack of getting himself into sticky situations. Solskjaer was initially given a contract till the end of the season, with the club announcing a full-time replacement would be made this summer.
Back then, United were in a sweet spot between an interim manager who seemed somewhat invincible and a certain Argentine named Mauricio Pochettino. The Tottenham Hotspur boss looked increasingly likely to leave north London come the end of the campaign.
Due to the hype surrounding United's former number 20, Solskjaer was handed a three-and-a-half year contract - a decision that Woodward may now be regretting. Either way, the summer transfer window is in full swing and if the Red Devils harbor hopes of success next season, they must make some serious investment into the squad.
First, Man United should look in the market for a new center-back. This season, their back line conceded 54 goals, the most by a United team since the Premier League's inauguration in 1992. Unsurprisingly they have been linked with a plethora of talent.
The latest of which is Matthijs de Ligt. The 19-year-old has proven a revelation this season, not only in his defensive prowess but his leadership skills as well, something United have been sorely lacking. If his Ajax captaincy isn't proof enough, the Dutchman's recent speech at Eredivisie title celebration should be.
Man United's interest in De Ligt could be in vain, however. Their lack of Champions League football may throw a spanner in the works. Moreover, with Barcelona rumored to be waiting in the wings, the Red Devils' chance is getting slimmer by the day.
An alternative is Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly. Serie A bosses have come under scrutiny in recent times for failing to punish racist behavior by fans. With Koulibaly experiencing the same not too long ago, the Italian FA's lack of action may prove to be the catalyst in sending the Senegalese into United's welcoming arms.
One stumbling block could be Napoli's asking price. They are thought to be holding out for a figure over the £100-million mark. United, having reportedly had a £96 million bid rejected yesterday, may be reluctant to go that high. Though given their defensive state this season, they should do everything possible to land Koulibaly.
Man United were willing to dish out £100 million last year for Real Madrid's Raphael Varane. It's strange they wouldn't do the same for Koulibaly, who is arguably of the same quality as the Frenchman. Woodward seems to have an obsession with signing players that are marketable over ones that are functional. That must change quickly if his recent comments about helping United return to the top are to be taken seriously.
Either way, a new center-back seems certain to arrive at Old Trafford this summer. If that man is De Ligt or Koulibaly, it would surely mean a more defensively stable Manchester United next season.