Since the departure of legendary defensive pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United have been heavily linked with some of the most renowned centre-backs.
The start of last summer’s transfer window was dominated with stories of Sergio Ramos’s seemingly inevitable move to Old Trafford, until he angered almost everyone at United when he performed a sensational U-turn and opted to stay at Real Madrid. Additionally, rumours about Man United’s supposed interest in Mats Hummels still continue to surface, despite neither party confirming their interest publicly.
These two options would be dream acquisitions, signings that would be the envy of all your friends if you bought them on FIFA career mode, where one or both are the missing piece to your already well assembled team and you win all there is to offer.
Nevertheless, these acquisitions are not feasible options and the Red Devils would benefit by looking at alternative targets available for next summer; one of which should be Southampton’s impressive centre-back Virgil Van Dijk.
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Despite being less glamorous than the likes of either Ramos or Hummels on paper, Van Dijk would be an exceptional signing for any of the top Premier League team. Since his arrival from Celtic this summer, the 24-year-old has made quite an impression in the Premier League, with a series of good performances at the heart of the Southampton defence, alongside Jose Fonte.
The only blip he has had thus far is when he faced against Man United’s Anthony Martial, which isn’t so bad.
But since that day the Dutchman has gone from strength to strength, displaying his full array of defensive abilities for the Saints. He is a threat at the other end too, scoring two goals in his seven games so far this season.
Van Dijk is a powerful presence at the back, standing at 6ft 4in and for a big man is very quick across the ground able to keep up with any pacey striker the Premier League has to offer. In addition to his impressive physique, the Netherlands international has thus far demonstrated his great technical ability that belies a man of his stature; accompanied with his awareness defensively, he has the full repertoire.
So what would Van Dijk add to Man United? First of all he would add a more physically imposing presence alongside Chris (Mike) Smalling compared to Daley Blind, who has performed admirably since being moved to centre-back but can often be exposed by stronger and faster opponents.
Moreover, Van Dijk has enough technical ability to adequately replace Blind’s calming demeanour in possession and in van Gaal’s system, often starts attacks and is always an outlet for his team. Van Dijk has illustrated he has more than enough intelligence to occupy this role within the team. This, alongside his traditional centre-back physicality, would make him an upgrade in that position to Daley Blind.
The Southampton man also has far more composure on the ball than Phil Jones, whose erratic nature can often bring unnecessary nervousness to the United defence.
Nevertheless, the real question lies in how the Dutchman will be able to make the transition to the vigour of playing for a club of Manchester United’s stature, where every performance is intensely scrutinised. Other former Saints stars have struggled when they have moved on to bigger teams, with one notable example being Dejan Lovern, who in his debut season, was nothing short of superb for the Saints.
But when his performances earned a move to Anfield the following summer, he has since struggled to replicate that form for Liverpool. Could the same happen to Van Dijk if he earns a move to a big team? This will remain a question until he does make a move, but if he continues to perform well for both the Saints and his national team, a big move will happen sooner rather than later.
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