Unfortunately for Manchester United supporters, rumours linking their club with the £4 million acquisition of Aston Villa’s Dutch centre-back Ron Vlaar refuse to go away. Louis van Gaal, it seems, has a real interest in signing the 29-year-old - even at the risk of embarrassing his current employers.
Van Gaal, before any other quality, likes players who suit his philosophy. If they don’t, they can forget about playing for the Red Devils under his management. This is why the veteran Dutch coach surprisingly pulled the plug on deals to sign Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas on arrival at Old Trafford. But Van Gaal seems convinced that Vlaar, an average Premier League defender, is the centre-back his side are crying out for.
Vlaar now an Oranje hero
It would be understandable if Van Gaal had an over-inflated opinion of Vlaar’s ability after watching, at first hand, the defender’s impressive performances for the Netherlands national team at this year’s World Cup finals in Brazil. The Aston Villa player became something of an Oranje hero thanks to his heroics at the showpiece international tournament, but there’s a reason why he has never made it to a top European club.
Vlaar began his professional career with AZ in Holland before moving on to Feyenoord, where he spent six years. It wasn’t until 2012, at the age of 27, when the 6ft 3in central defender secured a move to the Premier League - to Aston Villa for the modest fee of £3.2 million.
While he’s been fairly decent in the Premier League, it would be a stretch to say he’s been impressive. Villa have performed poorly over the past two seasons, and Vlaar’s name has not been so much as linked with any top European clubs, for obvious reasons.
Vlaar may have suited 3-4-1-2 system
That all changed in the summer, when it was widely reported that Manchester United would try to sign Vlaar before the transfer window closed on September 2. Van Gaal, looking for an experienced defender to replace Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, identified Vlaar as a potential signing but, for reasons currently unclear, either opted against doing the deal or failed to get it over the line.
Because Van Gaal was desperate to implement his 3-4-1-2 formation at Old Trafford - the formation used throughout pre-season, to good effect - the idea of United signing the current flavour of the month for his three-centre-back system sort of made sense.
Vlaar not good enough to play alongside Jones
But now that he’s scrapped it in favour of a more conventional 4-1-2-1-2 formation, it seems utterly bizarre why Van Gaal would still be interested in signing Vlaar - even if it means paying the small price of £4 million.
It’s clear that United require a top-level centre-back to partner Phil Jones, who has been the Red Devils’ most impressive defensive player this season. Doubts persist over Chris Smalling and Phil Jones - and not only because of their inability to stay off the treatment table - while £16 million signing Marcos Rojo seems better suited to left-back than he does central defence.
Tyler Blackett has impressed but may lack the required quality to become first-choice at Old Trafford; Paddy McNair is still raw, although he has made an impact on his two appearances for United, and Tom Thorpe has a long way to go before he establishes himself as an option under Van Gaal. Daley Blind, meanwhile, is not a centre-back - contrary to popular belief that he can play in that position - and will never be considered by Van Gaal to play that role.
United need Ferdinand/Vidic replacement
Replacing Vidic and Ferdinand was always going to be difficult, perhaps even impossible, but Vlaar is not the answer to Manchester United’s defensive problems. He performs well when camped back inside his own area - making last-ditch tackles, blocks, that sort of thing - but his passing leaves a lot to be desired, as does his heading ability.
United require a defender capable of bringing the ball out of defence and playing a pass - like Ferdinand used to - combined with the Vidic-style qualities that Vlaar possesses. Jones is a mix of the two, but having someone with a little more class and a little more experience next to him would leave United with a formidable defensive line.
Potential options and missed opportunities
Mats Hummels is the obvious choice, but Borussia Dortmund will do everything in their power to keep the German World Cup winner at Signal Iduna Park. Mehdi Benatia, the Morroco international who left AS Roma for Bayern Munich in the summer, would have been a fine acquisition, while Eliaquim Mangala would have been an interesting signing, too. The France international still looks a little raw, but has already produced a couple of wonderful performances for Manchester City.
This is the type of defender Manchester United must aspire to bring to Old Trafford when the transfer window opens in January. Vlaar might be a cheaper option - but he’s cheap for a reason.
United are better off using what they have, rather than buying the average of Vlaar, whose signing would be a serious low point in the Red Devils’ recent history.