Barcelona are out of the race for Eliaquim Mangala and have moved on – one wonders whether the Catalans will ever sign a centre-back again – leaving Manchester United and Chelsea as the standout destinations for the French international.
Manchester United’s need is greater. After seeing both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand depart the club this summer, as well as having to witness the frustratingly sluggish development of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, the club are in need of at least one new addition to the back line who can go straight into the team.
There is a decent safety net at United in the form of Jonny Evans. The centre-back hasn’t been helped by injury, certainly at the back end of last season, but he is good enough to be a constant in the team’s defence; Evans’ consistency may only warrant one centre-back purchase for this summer.
Here’s the sticking point: is Eliaquim Mangala worth it? Porto reportedly want £36 million. Manchester City have also been quoted a similar price in the past. Following David Luiz’s £50 million transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, and Thiago Silva and Marquinhos’ moves to the Ligue 1 side last summer, Porto are well within their right to demand a fee as extravagant as that for the 23-year-old. And, it shouldn’t be forgotten, Porto are ruthless negotiators, largely due to the issue of third-party ownership.
Mangala is a good athlete. He has all the physical attributes to be a success in the Premier League. But two games into France’s World Cup, he’s yet to make an appearance. Though in fairness, Laurent Koscielny has also been overlooked, with Didier Deschamps preferring Mamadou Sakho, who has hardly been assured in his performances over the past year with Liverpool.
Another issue is his current location in European football. Porto have an excellent recent history, both domestically and in European competition, but the Portuguese Liga is a tier below what are considered the top five leagues in Europe. Will he successfully handle the step up?
Mangala also had a relatively poor season this past term, with Porto as a whole struggling. He’s young at 23 and Louis van Gaal is said to have concerns over the player’s temperament. Due to the youth of Jones and Smalling, shouldn’t United be looking to replace the leadership qualities they lost through Ferdinand and Vidic’s departures?
Ultimately it comes down to the fee. Chelsea are well-stocked with options, even following David Luiz’s move. Kurt Zouma will arrive this summer after being signed in January, while John Terry and Gary Cahill have at least one more season as the club’s first-choice centre-back pairing. With Cesar Azpilicueta a natural right-back, Branislav Ivanovic is also an option in the centre of defence. Do Chelsea need to spend that much on Mangala?
For United, it’s a matter of using that reported £200 million budget wisely. There’s a sizeable rebuild that needs to take place at the club. Mangala’s age places him in the bracket of long-term building blocks, but he’s not the only option, nor does he stand out from other possible candidates to address the shortage of centre-backs at Old Trafford.
United make the most sense for Mangala over Chelsea, but I’m not entirely convinced that he’s the club’s best option this summer. Van Gaal’s Netherlands side are impressing at this World Cup. If United want another youthful addition, there are good options in that squad. As for experienced figures, they can come much cheaper than the reported £36 million on Mangala’s head.