Manchester United have had two bids for Harry Maguire rejected, according to Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, with the club reportedly looking for £80 million to secure the deal.
When you consider that the best player in the world at the time, Cristiano Ronaldo, left United for the same price just over a decade ago, it illustrates how crazy the transfer market has gone over the past few years.
Maguire is a good defender, someone solid, hardworking and experienced, but he’s nowhere close to the best in the world. But when you look at the fortune rivals Manchester City and Liverpool have spent in strengthening their defence, it’s little wonder that Leicester are holding out for a huge fee.
The problem for United is that they are so desperate they will likely pay it, given the need for a better defence.
Jose Mourinho was incensed when Ed Woodward made the choice not to respond to the manager’s request, which started his downward spiral on his way to the door. He knew then how badly United required improvements at the back, as did the supporters. The fact United went on to record their worst defensive showing for 40 years last season only illustrated Mourinho’s point.
There has been the unfounded hope for years that Chris Smalling and Phil Jones would one day step in to the shoes of legendary pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, but with every season that passes, it becomes more obvious that this won’t be the case.
Individually, Smalling and Jones have put in some great performances that give belief that they will make the grade. But these showings are usually closely followed by a lengthy injury or huge errors that cost the team. Despite this, they both signed contract extensions in the season just gone, signalling the club are fine with mediocrity.
The pair would likely be decent for a mid-table club and the worry is that’s exactly where United will end up if they don’t bring in someone better.
Toby Alderweireld was one of the players on Mourinho’s list last summer and is now being linked with Roma for as little as £25 million. Maguire was also on the list and his asking price has risen by at least £20 million over the past season, with his worth then still inflated by an impressive World Cup campaign.
The issue is, while both defenders would be an upgrade on what United currently have, neither are the world-class player United are crying out for. Maguire is a better option than Jones or Smalling, but there are better defenders than him out there, but United almost certainly won’t break the bank for them.
Another problem the club have is that it won’t be as easy to attract the top talent this window either. Last year, United had just finished second in the table, were in the Champions League and had a serial winner as their manager. This year they are hoping to improve on last year’s embarrassing sixth-placed finish, have no Champions League football to offer, and their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is a novice in the Premier League.
Matthijs de Ligt, for example, was within United’s budget but the young defender opted to sign for Juventus instead. He set the Italian club back £67 million, which is a relative bargain in today’s market, but had little interest in moving to Old Trafford.
Maguire wouldn’t be the perfect solution to United’s defensive frailties, but he would be a step in the right direction.
If David de Gea can be convinced to sign the massive contract his agent is currently thrashing out with the club too, United could at least hope to look more solid at the back than they did last season, even if it wasn’t the greatest by the ridiculous high standards set by the Spaniard.
But signing a centre-half is just the tip of the iceberg. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will hopefully solve the right-back issue, there are hopes Victor Lindelof can continue to improve at the rate he has done over the past few seasons, but the jury is still out on Luke Shaw.
If Paul Pogba stays, he will need to play more consistently than he did last season, which is unlikely given that his agent has repeatedly made it public that the Frenchman wants to leave. Solskjaer’s talk of making him captain might add some motivation but when a player isn’t happy it’s hard to imagine them setting the world alight.
Pogba isn’t the only problem in midfield though, as Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera have both left the club over the past few months and neither have been replaced. If United think Fred, Scott McTominay or Andreas Pereira are the solution, they will almost certainly be proved wrong sooner rather than later.
Next season is going to be a difficult one for Solskjaer and his team, with or without Maguire, and the fact it’s taking United so long to get the deal over the line just illustrates one of the many problems the club is currently struggling with. Lots more work needs to be done and most fans have run out of any optimism over this happening.