Reds miss out on Varane but blessed with options in abundance

As RC Lens president Gervais Martel confirmed this week, Manchester United made an official, if ultimately unsuccessful, approach for 18-year old centre back Raphaël Varane. Lens has initially rebuffed United’s offer and Varane’s skills seem certain to be on parade at Real Madrid next season. Perhaps it is for the best. After all, signing a second young centre-back this transfer window would have left manager Sir Alex Ferguson with a huge number of central defensive options.

Space in Ferguson’s squad is likely to be made first through the departures of Wes Brown and John O’Shea. Alex McLeish’s Aston Villa seems the most likely destination for Brown, while Sunderland manager Steve Bruce will follow-up interest in O’Shea, despite the Irishman playing over 30 games last season and only signing a new contract last October.

Though both are regarded with affection among United fans, moves away from Old Trafford are not especially surprising. The rationale behind moving older players on to make way for youth and re-development is hardly an alien concept at United, particularly under Ferguson. The list of remaining senior options encompasses six recognised defenders, some of whom will look towards rosier futures than others.

Embarking on what must be his last attempt to forge a United career, Ritchie De Laet will depart on loan again, although this time at Premier League side Norwich. De Laet has shown hints of ability in six first team appearances to date but being farmed out on loan suggests he may not truly feature in Ferguson’s plans. A good season for De Laet at the Premier League new-boys will only encourage the club to let him go next summer; an excellent season though, and Ferguson may yet reconsider the youngster’s future.

Another centre-back whose United future appears much more assured is Chris Smalling. A brilliant début season, unexpected by seemingly everyone bar Ferguson and his backroom staff, speaks for itself. Regular stints filling in for Rio Ferdinand offer Smalling the chance to form a solid defensive partnership with Nemanja Vidic, which looked unbeatable at times. While Jonny Evans’ rapid decline, after a similarly impressive first two seasons at the club, implores a sense of caution when anticipating Smalling’s bright future. Yet, all signs so far suggest the former Fulham man will be a top quality United centre-back for years to come.

Conversely, the career path of the man Smalling so often deputised for last season seems much less predictable. Ferdinand demonstrated, towards to back-end of last season, that he still has the quality to be one of the best in the world in his position. Once again fitness was Ferdinand’s biggest concern last season and there will be no shortage of competition if the former West Ham United man struggles to maintain a long run of games.

Alternatively, as with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes in recent years, Ferguson may choose to use Ferdinand ever more sparingly in a bid to ensure the defender is fit for big games at home and in Europe. Either way, the coming year could be a defining one for the 32-year-old defender, particularly in determining whether Ferdinand will still be part of the Old Trafford setup beyond next summer or not.

Meanwhile, Evans’ future appears to be balanced even more precariously than Ferdinand’s. After a year of underwhelming performances, coupled with the acquisitions of Smalling and Phil Jones, the Northern Ireland international appears to have lost his place in the manager’s plans. That Ferguson countenanced a bid for Varane should concern Evans even more.

It was all so much brighter after an excellent first senior season, including outstanding performances in games such as the 3-0 league victory over Chelsea – where a formidable Didier Drogba was kept uncharacteristically quiet – prompted Ferguson to state that Evans’ “United future is assured.”

The defender’s past exploits should be enough to buy Evans another season at the club. Though older than Smalling or Jones, Evans is still young at 23, with plenty of time to develop. After all, Vidic was playing at Serbian SuperLiga level at the same age. While these factors may work in Evans’ favour, it is still likely that opportunities will be intermitent in the coming season; he will need to grab them with both hands.

Jones’ acquisition is partly responsible for prompting the state of minor panic regarding Evans’ future. The England under-21 player arrives from Blackburn Rovers with natural talent in abundance, and was described by Harry Redknapp as “a future England captain” in the aftermath of Tottenham Hotspur’s failed bid to lure the 19-year old to White Hart Lane.

Ferguson admitted that high levels of interest elsewhere forced United to sign the youngster a year earlier than he would have preferred, suggesting that for this season at least, there is no obvious gap in the team for Jones to fill. Jones can also play in front of the back four though and considering the lack of tenacity present in a midfield, which desperately missed Darren Fletcher for much of last season, the 19-year old may well find opportunities there.

Evans position is in stark contrast to Vidic’s role at United. Viewed by many as the best centre-back in the world, the Serbian should have at least four more years to offer the club. He recently confirmed he plans to stay at United too.

Indeed, Varane may have earmarked as Vidic’s eventual successor. Aged 18, the 6’3” defender was an important part of Lens’ team last season, making 23 first team appearances in a tough season for the French club. Lens also received offers from both Paris Saint-Germain and a successful bid from Real Madrid, underscoring the high-quality talent United has missed out on.

Even without the French youngster the club’s defensive prospects for the season ahead – indeed the next ten after – are promising. Ferguson is blessed with top quality full-backs in Patrice Evra, Fabio and Rafael da Silva, an inspirational captain in Vidic and the current England U-21 pairing of Smalling and Jones. If the manager is able to get the best out of Ferdinand and Evans, he has two more players of certified quality.

Certainly, the decision to bid for another centre-back raises questions about the roles of some players within Ferguson’s team. Slight in build but good with the ball at his feet, it is viable that Evans’ future could be at full-back. Indeed, Evans could become United’s new utility man, accomplished at playing across the entire back four; a natural successor to O’Shea for comparatively low wages.

Alternatively, Ferguson could Jones as United’s future as a midfield powerhouse, and not at centre-back, particularly if United is unsuccessful in securing a big name to bolster the central midfield this summer.

Yet, it is instructive that Ferguson is unlikely to seek out another defender in the wake of Varane’s snub. After all, Varane’s talent, available at good value, was a temptation and not a solution to a real problem at Old Trafford. In the short-term at least if United’s failure to capture Varane results in an extra €10m being spent on improving the side’s midfield then it may be a blessing in disguise.

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Comments

  1. Steve says

    I watched a bit of the u-21 championship and it was evident how much Smalling has improved by playing with good players.

    You mention Jones has a possibility of a midfield position and I can see that happening. But a few of the pieces I read stated that Varane was a possibility for that “holding” role. I think it is painfully obvious to all united fans though that potentially 50 million spent(including De Gea) and yet we haven’t strengthened either the first 11 or more importantly, central midfield. My only hope is that the new Chelsea manager doesn’t fancy Modric and we find a way to do a deal with Spurs while not getting porked on price as we were with Berbatov.

    On a separate note, got a cracking joke yesterday

    “Breaking news, Andy Carroll has been arrested. He will be charged with fraud and conning an aging Scotsman out of 35 million”

    Crap but amused me.

  2. Michael says

    Did O’Shea really sign a new contract in October? I thought that was a rumour that was never confirmed.

  3. Bill says

    The way it stands at the moment these are the probable movements. These aren’t totally like for like.

    Kuszcak out Lindegaard in
    Scholes out Young in
    Gibson out Cleverley in
    Bebe out Welbeck in
    Brown out Jones in
    Van Der Saar out De Gea in

    We seem to be buying for the future constantly. Like Arsenal, but instead of stockpiling good young foreign players, its good young English players.

  4. Brown says

    There is enough competition already for the English youngsters at center back, i don’t see any immediate need for Varane. Lets work with what we got, Vidic, Ferdinand, Smallings, Jones, Evans, Oshea.
    Doesn’t make any sense disposing Oshea this soon, his experience will be greatly needed, in the sense that Ferdinand and Vidic might be injured at some stage which i don’t pray for, but trusting two inexperienced centerbacks in the C.L, F.A cup, P.l will be a big gamble.
    Oshea should stay.

  5. squigs says

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    what fuckwits think vidic is the worlds best defender

    He would be the best central defender in the world by a distance. Partly down to no other truly top class rivals.

  6. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    apart from the one who plays next to him and leaves him looking useless against any nomark with pace when he isn’t around

  7. squigs says

    Rubbish if you think the current Ferdinand is better then Vidic.

    Maybe the Ferdinand of 3 years ago but no way now.

  8. fazal says

    Our midfield has thus become a dump…to be filled by under performing defenders and strikers!! Vow this should help us defeat Barca!! So more of the same this year: defence plays ball to midfield, midfield plays ball back to defence, defence hoofs it forward to strikers battling against 4 defenders. Sounds like ‘shit on a stick’ football to me!!
    Evans has been poor in his best position. How does this qualify him to a post at left back or midfield is bewildering!!
    We need midfielders proper…not sideshows!!

  9. ltel says

    squigs said:
    Rubbish if you think the current Ferdinand is better then Vidic.

    Maybe the Ferdinand of 3 years ago but no way now.

    i would say rio is better.. much better. if he sorts out his injury he is the best out there, makes everyone around him look twice the player too

  10. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    vidc commits about four yellow card offences a game against any no mark with pace when rios not around

  11. squigs says

    Yet outside of 3 games against Liverpool always gets away with comparatively few bookings. A proper defender and I really couldn’t care if he kicks the opponent into the stratosphere. His slight exposure to quick players is compensated by his good reading of the game, effective distribution, superb tackling and fantastic ability in the air.

  12. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    the west ham away game stands out as an easy example of him diving in recklessly and ended up being skinned but the ref letting him get away with it

    • MrKirie says

      Then again, he’s a tower in defence and his headers have cleared a few vital balls this season. I agree a fit Ferdinand is immense, but how long has it been since he was for an extended period of time? The thing that makes them the best is their partnership. They complement each other so well. Smalling and Jones will be the same

  13. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Bit of a silly debate if you ask me… two different approaches to their positions, different types of defender… both among the best in the game… excellent as individuals, but even better as a unit… they compliment each other perfectly.

  14. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    Then again, he’s a tower in defence and his headers have cleared a few vital balls this season. I agree a fit Ferdinand is immense, but how long has it been since he was for an extended period of time? The thing that makes them the best is their partnership. They complement each other so well. Smalling and Jones will be the same

    ^^^ what he said except for the Smalling/Jones bit… I don’t think Jones is here to be a defender… I don’t think he’d have joined United to sit on the bench, and as long as Ferdinand is fit, he’d be fighting just to be third choice… even if Rio is crocked or sold, I reckon he’d be behind Smalling…

    I think he’s been bought to play DM.

    • MrKirie says

      I was thinking a couple of years down the road perhaps, but yeah, at the moment it makes more sense for him to take Hargo’s role and I imagine he’ll do it very well. He could of course also fill in for any injuries in the back four. A very good purchase all around

  15. squigs says

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    the west ham away game stands out as an easy example of him diving in recklessly and ended up being skinned but the ref letting him get away with it

    Defenders can be turned by pace it effects nearly all defenders, I can remember Bellamy skinning Ferdinand in the 4-3 win over City the year before.

    Ferdinand is a top player but it’s hard to consider him the best in the world if he only plays 15 games a season.

  16. dozer says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    ^^^ what he said except for the Smalling/Jones bit… I don’t think Jones is here to be a defender… I don’t think he’d have joined United to sit on the bench, and as long as Ferdinand is fit, he’d be fighting just to be third choice… even if Rio is crocked or sold, I reckon he’d be behind Smalling…

    I think he’s been bought to play DM.

    He wont play much, Fergie bought him cause Pool were bidding.
    Ferdinand will not last beyond this season – it’s better for all parties if Jones is loaned out. Fergie can’t rotate his defence like he does other positions.

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