There is now no escaping the fact that Manchester United are in serious need of a new centre-back as a major part of the ongoing squad rebuild.
That was ever more clear on the opening day of the Premier League season alone when Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof were mercilessly exposed in a 3-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace.
Jadon Sancho, or an alternative right winger, remains the primary target ahead of October’s transfer deadline, but the club cannot ignore what is now a real weakness at the back.
With a range of potential price tags, stages of development and actual viability, here’s a closer look at six centre-back options United could try and pursue.
Current Club: Benfica
Potential Price: £60m-£70m
United were linked with Benfica’s Ruben Dias during Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Old Trafford, most likely owing to his knowledge of the Portuguese market. But the emerging centre-back has been tracked by Manchester City since then and has now become a target for Tottenham.
Dias effectively replaced Lindelof in the Benfica team in 2017 and been a key player ever since, as well as an international regular for Portugal.
His current contract, signed last summer, includes a €100m (£91.6m) release clause, which gives Benfica a firm starting point, but any suitor would hope to see that number significantly lowered.
Current Club: Monaco
Potential Price: £30m-£40m plus add-ons
Benoit Badiashile may still only be a teenager, but the Monaco starlet already has two seasons of first-team football under his belt. As such, he has started the new 2020/21 campaign central to the plans of coach Niko Kovac in the principality.
United wouldn’t reap the full rewards of having a player like Badiashile for several years because of his age, yet he is at least proven to be first-team ready even if he’s not reached his real potential.
It has been rumoured that a £22m bid has been made and rejected, with Monaco seeking a more lucrative deal – the type of which they sold a teenage Anthony Martial for in 2015.
Current Club: Villarreal
Potential Price: £45m-£68m
Despite just one season of top flight football to his name, Pau Torres has made a name for himself as one of Europe’s best emerging centre-backs, having been a near ever-present as Villarreal finished 5th in La Liga in 2019/20, a huge improvement on 14th the year before.
Torres’ rise has been somewhat meteoric, having been on loan at Malaga in the second tier during the 2018/19 campaign. Now, the 23-year-old is a Spain international and well-placed to succeed the retired Gerard Pique in La Roja’s squad.
Torres is both left-footed, an attribute that would bring better balance to United’s back-line, and extremely reliable when it comes to injuries, something else that hasn’t always been the case at Old Trafford. United have also done business with Villarreal in the past to sign Eric Bailly.
Current Club: Paris Saint-Germain
Potential Price: £90m-£110m
Gary Neville lamented United’s lack of a physically quick centre-back during the defeat to Palace – a player like Rio Ferdinand, Jaap Stam or Gary Pallister from years gone by – and Marquinhos appears to tick every box, while still young enough for long-term upside.
The PSG star has everything United need in a defender, with pace, strength, leadership and dominant in the air in both penalty areas. There have been no real life links, however, making this the ideal rather than the expected.
Chances are, PSG would place an enormous price tag on the Brazilian, who should be about to enter his peak years. That could mean paying a second world record fee in little over 12 months and the restricted finances all but certainly wouldn’t allow it.
Current Club: Inter
Potential Price: £75m
90min revealed in July that Inter centre-back Milan Skriniar had been the subject of an enquiry from United, as well as Chelsea and Manchester City. That is slightly more expensive than fellow Serie A defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who could move for £65m, but the Napoli man is four years older.
The £75m valuation didn’t put United off, yet equally there hasn’t been any formalisation or acceleration of interest since then – primarily because the position hasn’t been viewed as a priority compared to other parts of the squad.
Aside from Marquinhos, Skriniar is probably the only player on this list who could be considered ‘ready-made’, although he has still has long-term potential to improve and much more ‘gettable’ than the Brazilian.
Current Club: RB Leipzig
Potential Price: £50m-£60m (£38.5m in 2021)
Despite signing a fresh deal only last month, Dayot Upamencano’s contract only underlines that his long-term future will be away from RB Leipzig. That is because it is believed to include a €42m (£38.5m) release clause that becomes active next summer.
The young Frenchman will have a queue of suitors lining up to take him then if he hasn’t already moved on – Leipzig have insisted he won’t be going anywhere this year. To get him any sooner, it would take a major financial commitment to tempt the Bundesliga into a sale.
United have been linked with Upamecano, but the temptation of trying to secure a deal below £40m in less than 12 months’ time, even though it will come with stiff competition from others.