With the services of Paul Pogba secured after a record-breaking deal worth £89 million, this summer is unlike any other that has gone before it for Manchester United. United may even spend more before the summer is out, with Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho thought to be interested in adding another central defender to his squad before the transfer window closes on August 31st.
Several names have been suggested to date but Mourinho is a man who is notoriously unpredictable when it comes to transfer dealings. Here are five potential centre-backs we could look at!
Jose Fonte, Southampton
This may come as a surprise to some but Southampton defender Jose Fonte has emerged as a shock target for Mourinho this summer. While the 32-year old centre-back may not be in the prime of youth, he has grown into an increasingly commanding defender during his time at Southampton and has the type of presence that Mourinho needs to augment his back-line.
Fonte, who has made 241 appearances since signing for Southampton, appears to be enjoying something of an Indian summer in his career and recently played a key role as Portugal won Euro 2016. He certainly appears to have several years left as a top-flight player, while Mourinho may also be able to negotiate a competitive fee given his age and relatively low-profile.
While Mourinho is renowned as a buyer of strength and experience, he has proven increasingly willing to invest in youth. He sanctioned the £30m purchase of centre-back Eric Bailly, for example, while he also unsuccessfully pursued former Everton starlet John Stones when at Chelsea.
With this in mind, the Portuguese may be tempted to invest in the services of the talented PSG defender Marquinhos. The 21 year-old centre half, who can also operate at right-back, has more than 100 career appearances to his name and has performed with distinction on the Champions League stage. A rare combination of youth and experience, he would represent a solid investment and one that would add diversity and depth to United’s back-line.
As a note of caution, however, Barcelona are also thought to be long-term admirers of the Brazilian. If the Catalan giants do come calling, it may be too big an opportunity for Marquinhos to turn down.
Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus
One of the stars of the Euro finals, Leonardo Bonucci is the archetypal Italian centre-half who would shine in the Premier League. Disciplined and quietly confident, he is powerful in the air and deceptively quick along the ground, while his experience makes him able to organise a consistently solid defensive line. He also boasts an outstanding range of passing from deep, and at 29 he is enjoying his peak years as a professional.
The attributes distinguish Bonucci as one the best defenders in the world game and one that Mourinho would surely like to add to his squad. The issue lies in the fact that the centre-back currently plies his trade with Juventus, where has served for six years and made 198 appearances. Given that the Old Lady of Italian football is already likely to sell Pogba to the Reds in the coming days, they will be loath to lose a player who forms the bedrock at the heart of their defence.
Even if it very implausible, why not talk about Bonucci eh?
Raphael Varane, Real Madrid
Another player in the John Stones mould, Varane is an exceptionally talented centre-back who has been compared favourably to Real Madrid legend Fernando Hierro. Despite making just 91 appearances for Los Blancos since signing in 2011, the 23-year old has showcased superb ability on the ball and fantastic technical ability, with many observers have also suggesting that Varane is far quicker and more defensively resolute than Hierro (who also operated as a midfielder) ever was.
Varane’s stock has fallen slightly during the last eighteen months, however, as injury and the return to favour of Portuguese centre-back Pepe have limited his first-team opportunities in Madrid. He also missed the Euros through injury, and while these breaks in his development have made the Frenchman a more attainable transfer target Mourinho may also be less inclined to spend heavily on the youngsters services at this time.
Aymeric Laporte, Athletic Bilbao
Finally, we come to one of the most coveted centre-backs in the game, and a player who is particularly sought-after by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. Aymeric Laporte is a French international who currently plies his trade with Athletic Bilbao, and at 21-years old he shown incredible consistency in La Liga.
His maturity and defensive stoicism are not his only qualities, however, as he is also exceptionally comfortable on the ball and even managed to contribute three goals in 23 outings. A player in the John Stones mould, he is arguably more defensively resolute than the recent Manchester City acquisition and would require less development as a centre-back.
Guardiola is unlikely to return for the French starlet now that he has secured Stones, and this could open a window of opportunity for the Reds. It is questionable whether Laporte has the physical qualities that Mourinho looks for in a central defender, however, while Bilbao are likely to hold out for an amount that United are simply unwilling to pay in the current window.
In terms of Mourinho’s and United’s needs, players in the mould of Fonte and Bonucci would appear to be the most suitable options. These are also the most attainable targets, so there is every chance that these deals could be completed if the Portuguese pursues them. For now we will have to wait, however, at least until Mourinho makes his intentions clear.