There seems to be a trend in modern football. The Premier League has exposed it, the World Cup gave us a few hints and pundits are banging on about it week in, week out. The art or defending is dying, with goals coming thick and fast in the top leagues across Europe, while every ‘emerging starlet’ appears to be either a ‘tricky No. 10’, a ‘goalscoring sensation’ or a ‘wing wizard’.
Gone are the days of 0-0 Champions League knockout games of the mid to early 2000s in which John Terry, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini, among others, marshalled their backlines to provide fans with tactical thrillers, with mad scoreline increasing normal. Goals are exciting and capture the highlight reels, but the one commodity needed above all other right now is top class centre-backs, of which there are few.
Yet there is one player stands out above all others currently, with his name in the transfer gossip columns on an almost weekly basis. I am of course talking about Mats Hummels, the Dortmund and Germany enforcer. Both Manchester United and Arsenal are the English sides being most strongly linked with the star defender, as reports suggest that Arsene Wenger has made him his top target ahead of January, while Louis van Gaal is keen to revive the Red Devils’ failed move for him over the summer.
Hummels has given no indication that he wants to leave BVB – in fact, he’s stated the opposite – but things change quickly in the fickle world of football, so it would not be a major shock to see the 25-year-old’s name crossing Sky Sports’ yellow ticker in early 2015.
But which suitor should he choose? Presuming United and Arsenal are the only two ‘big players’ in for him, he will have a serious decision to make…
A prime example of United’s failings so far this season under Van Gaal is the shocking 5-3 loss at Leicester City. The result against the Foxes summer up the problems at Old Trafford – albeit they lost at the King Power Stadium – with attacking flair and defensive solidity completely imbalanced. 3-1 up with half an hour to play, the Red Devils needed to coast to three point, yet a backline with Tyler Blackett a key man was ruthlessly exposed.
We don’t need to tell the rest of the story – Jamie Vardy tore United apart with his pace and movement – to make it clear that a top class defender like, let’s say Hummels, may well have eased them over the line for a routine win.
The German would surely be the bedrock of the United team should he make the move, with Van Gaal in desperate need of a player to command his backline and impose some sort of authority. Hummels could do so, while bringing his top-notch ability on the ball to the fore to help build attacks.
The cash is there to offer Dortmund around £30m and give the player himself a massive pay hike, making such a move a ‘no brainer’ for United. Hummels himself may have some reservations due to the uncertainty of Champions League action at Old Trafford, however.
Unlike United, Arsenal can virtually guarantee Hummels top-level European action for the foreseeable future, such is Arsene Wenger’s penchant for landing fourth place. This would likely appeal to the Dortmund star, as would the presence of a number of his international team-mates, including Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil – albeit the futures of the latter two are unclear.
Hummels would probably be used as a replacement for the aforementioned Mertesacker to play alongside Laurent Koscielny in the Gunners’ back four, which has the potential to be a solid partnership. The competition of a top class player fighting for his role may, however, be a drawback.
There’s little doubt that the Londoners need another capable defender after letting Thomas Vermaelen leave. Wenger’s decision to neglect obtaining – or failure to sign – a replacement has been exposed by injuries already, with young Calum Chambers forced from right-back into the heart of the defence.
Hummels would appear to be an ideal fit given his ability with ball on the deck as well as his power and pace, yet funding may be an issue. Arsenal are understood to have £20m at their disposal for January, which is the sort of sum United would simply smash out of the park.
This is a tough one as both clubs are blessed with fine histories, great managers and some of the best stadia around. Arsenal can offer top level European action, while United have the financial clout to make even PSG blush. It would appear that becoming the future of the Red Devils’ backline could be tempting, and with money not just talking but screaming at the top of its lungs in the modern game, they look to be the more convincing suitors. Or he could just stay at Dortmund…