Having already completed deals for both Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, the attentions of Manchester United, and more specifically Louis van Gaal, have been turned to the gaping hole in the middle of their back-line.
As was always going to be the case, the departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have enforced a need for new central defenders to arrive at Old Trafford this summer, and the rumours claim to have identified the man who is closest to making said switch. Despite early suggestions inferring that it would be either Mats Hummels or Eliaquim Mangala would be acquired to help limit the damage caused by the respective exits of Ferdinand and Vidic, it would now appear the young Feyenoord defender Stefan de Vrij is poised to take up the mantle instead.
Whilst it’s safe to assume that Van Gaal has an excellent measure of just how talented the 22-year-old is, questions will inevitably be asked over his ability to make the transition from Eredivisie football to England’s premier division, and the lack of an experienced head provides genuine cause for alarm.
The need for a solid partner
Landing De Vrij for around £7million - as is the mooted fee - isn’t an altogether bad piece of business from Van Gaal. The Dutchman will likely remain unconvinced of the capabilities of the trio currently on his books (Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans) with regards to being certified first-team regulars, and so it’s a safe option to move for someone he knows and trusts.
With that being said however there’s plenty of room for improvement in De Vrij’s game, and whilst he remains an unfinished article he is a weak link in the United chain. In an ideal world one of United’s senior central defenders would be available to slot in alongside him and essentially aid him while he evolves into the player Van Gaal needs him to be.
Of course this isn’t an ideal world, and both of the club’s most experienced heads have moved onto pastures new.
The current crop
Unfortunately for United, Jones, Smalling and Evans find themselves in the same position as the aforementioned De Vrij. All three can be relied upon when partnered with a natural born leader who has pedigree at the highest level, yet none of them are overwhelmingly convincing when made the focal point of the defence.
Although De Vrij is vastly experienced in Holland - he has 135 appearances under his belt for Feyenoord and 16 caps for The Netherlands' senior side - there’s little to support the theory that he can handle the pressure at United if made one half of a partnership devoid of a recognised go-to-guy, and with this in mind Van Gaal must only bring him in if he’s going to get someone to bear the brunt of the responsibility.
It now looks almost a nailed on certainty that De Vrij is set to become the third United import of Van Gaal’s reign, with Feyenoord reportedly already having resigned themselves to losing him before too long. Yet if he’s going to succeed in the Premier League, and aid the Red Devils during their attempted march back to the division's summit, his signature is going to need to be followed by someone of more repute.
As already stated, it’s not that he’s not good enough to play for United, nor that he lacks the required potential to shine on the world stage in the future. However a centre-back combination of De Vrij and any of Jones, Smalling or Evans doesn’t install confidence, and with a tender Shaw possibly going to become a regular fixture on the left-hand side, as well as an unconvincing Rafael on the right, Van Gaal needs the heart of his defence to be unquestionably dependable.