No doubt, Everton’s John Stones is a supremely talented young footballer.
Not only has he proved himself more than competent defensively – hugely improving the Toffees’ results last season after returning to the starting XI from a lengthy injury spell – but he’s also the only English centre-back to show that level of drive, confidence and quality going forward since the days of a very, very young Rio Ferdinand.
That’s seen him linked with a move away from Goodison Park this summer. Manchester City and Manchester United are both known long-term admirers, whilst Premier League champions Chelsea saw a £20million bid knocked back this week.
I’m sure the 20 year-old has the talent to be a success at one of the Premier League’s top clubs but as is often the case with young and promising England internationals, Everton are only willing to sell for an extortionate price. In fact, according to Mirror Football, they want a fee that will smash the Premier League’s record £32million spend for a defender – currently held by City’s Eliaqum Mangala.
With Chelsea and United both keen on bolstering their backlines this summer, however, it might be time to consider some cheaper alternatives. And thus, we give you a list of FIVE – the criteria being young centre-halves with enormous potential and not so enormous price-tags.
Jores Okore famously turned down the chance to sign for Chelsea in January 2013, leading to plenty of excitement when finally turned up in the Premier League with Aston Villa a transfer window later.
The Danish international missed almost the entirety of his first 18 months at Villa Park due to an ACL injury in his right knee, but really came into his own towards the end of last season amid Tim Sherwood’s mini-revolution of the Birmingham club.
Indeed, from Okore’s 23 Premier League outings, the Villains conceded more than twice on just four occasions and more than once on eight occasions, whilst recording five clean sheets.
Most impressive, however, for a defender of the 22 year-old’s linebacker frame is his quality on the deck, last term boasting a pass completion rate of 86.2% – the best return of any Villa player to make more than seven Premier League starts last season.
He’s still a little behind the performance levels John Stones has shown over the last two seasons, but certainly won’t require a record-breaking transfer fee.
Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti is best famed for his sensational Europa League strike against Tottenham Hotspur during the 2013/14 campaign, shown in the video above.
Indeed, the 21 year-old boasts a sound technical game, having first emerged as a left-back option in the Lyon first team and often demonstrated a desire for careering up the pitch with the ball at his feet.
But Les Gones moved the France U21 to the heart of defence last season and he hugely impressed, making 35 appearances as they recorded the third-best goals conceded record and the third-most clean sheets in the division.
Along the way, Umtiti averaged 1.6 tackles, 1.8 interceptions, 6.4 clearances and 1.2 successful aerial duels per match, whilst being directly dribbled past on only 17 occasions.
The 5 foot 11 defender has already been linked with a Chelsea move this summer with Jose Mourinho believed to be particularly fond of his versatility. But they or Man United will have to act quickly; according to The Daily Star, he’s about to sign a four-year deal with the Ligue 1 runners up.
Juventus have a number of exciting youngsters within their ranks and centre-back Daniele Rugani is undoubtedly amongst the most promising.
He’s spent the last two terms with Empoli as part of a 50% ownership agreement and hugely impressed, playing a pivotal role in firstly their promotion to the top flight and secondly their successful survival bid last season – featuring in every single minute of their 15th-place league campaign.
Italy is renowned for its ability to produce world-class centre-halves and the 20 year-old appears to be the next on the conveyor belt, having already represented Azzurri at youth level on 45 occasions.
The 6 foot 2 starlet has already been linked with Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, with the Gunners’ reportedly rating him at around £10million. Having acquired his full playing rights only in February this year, however, Juve will be reluctant to sell.
Antonio Rudiger is yet another young defender Chelsea have already been linked with this summer, in no small part due to his £7million release clause, allegedly only accessible to only Europe’s top clubs – which Man United would assumedly qualify for as well.
And in addition to being available for ridiculously cheap, the 22 year-old is also a very talented, incredibly physical centre-half; measuing in at 6 foot 3 but blessed with blistering pace for a player of such formidable size.
Rudiger is certainly still a little rough around the edges but now has 66 Bundesliga appearances under his belt and is beginning to make a name for himself within the Germany fold, picking up six caps since his Mannschaft debut in October 2014 following a strong record at youth level.
The Stuttgart star seems like an ideal fit for the physical demands of the Premier League, but his ability on the ball does leave a lot to be desired.
Inigo Martinez has been regarded as one of La Liga’s more exciting defensive prospects for some time and at the age of 24 is the oldest player on this list.
That, however, means plenty of experience and indeed, Martinez boasts 129 appearances in the top flight, a cap for Spain and an U21 European Championship title from 2013.
He’s not the biggest of defenders, measuring in at just under 6 foot, but is agile, speedy and blessed with a fantastic reading of the game – which has often seen him likened to Barcelona legend Carlos Puyol.
Much like the former Spain star, a lack of height hasn’t affected the Real Socieded defender’s capacity to compete in the air, last season averaging three successful aerial duels per match alongside 1.7 tackles, 2.3 interceptions and 6.9 clearances.
After three successive campaigns at the heart of the Sociedad first team, Martinez seems ready for the next level. His contract includes a £21.7million release clause.