When Louis van Gaal spent more than £15 million on Matteo Darmian in 2015 he was hoping that he had found Manchester United the consistent, quality right-back they have been missing since Gary Neville’s retirement. But less than 18 months and one manager on, the Red Devils are still looking for somebody to truly nail down the spot as their own.
After a bright start in the United red, Darmian soon tailed off in his first season in the Premier League, and since the arrival of Jose Mourinho he has been afforded only one unconvincing Europa League appearance this term. With converted winger Antonio Valencia and youngster Tim Fosu-Mensah now firmly ahead of the Italian in the pecking order, United are once again in the market for an every-day right-sided defender.
Valencia shone during the 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Monday, but Mourinho’s insistence at his United unveiling that he wants specialists punctuating his squad rather than multi-functional players means the pursuit could soon be on for a new long-term number two. So who could they look to either in January or at the season’s end?
There has been much talk regarding the pursuit of Monaco full-back Fabinho, but the principality club’s €40m valuation has sated United’s interest somewhat. The Ligue 1 outfit could lower their asking price next summer, but that would mean sticking with Valencia as first choice longer than Mourinho would ideally like.
Fabinho will turn 23 on Sunday, meaning that United would have the benefit of time on their side should they pursue their interest to a positive conclusion. And while Mourinho has warned that adaptability is not his priority, the Brazilian can also play in midfield if necessary thanks to his quality on the ball and marauding attacking style. Standing at over six feet tall, he also has the kind of commanding presence which would make him a valuable addition to the back line.
Seamus Coleman’s name has been linked with Man Utd before, with David Moyes having been keen to bring his former Everton charge with him to Old Trafford, and he is once again on the radar following continued impressive performances for the Toffees.
While he has quickly become a huge advocate for Ronald Koeman’s revolution at Goodison Park, the 28-year-old is said to have been a United fan as a youngster and could well be open to a dream move. And with the kind of consistency and leadership he has shown for the Republic of Ireland, he has even been compared to United legend Denis Irwin by current Ireland assistant boss Roy Keane.
“The fact I’m talking in the same breath as Denis Irwin tells you what I think of Seamus. I don’t do that with many players, not in terms of comparing them to Denis,” added the former United midfielder.
On Thursday, United will be reunited with Robin van Persie, a player they managed to prise away from Arsenal to memorably glorious effect. If they could do the same with Hector Bellerin, they may find it an even better move in the longer term. The 21-year-old has grown and grown in recent months, leading Arsenal team-mate Santi Cazorla to insist that the club needs to move quickly to tie him down to a longer contract.
“For Arsenal it would be a mistake to let him go,” the midfielder told IBTimes. “It is obvious that many teams want him. There has been talk about Manchester City and Barcelona. He is a player with great potential and I am sure he will also be a key part of the future of the Spanish national team.”
It would take a big offer and a lot of clever talk for Arsenal to sell to a rival but if United are in the market for a non-stop full-back with quality in both halves of the field, they could do worse than attempt another coup from under Arsene Wenger’s nose.
United have not had much success in persuading Real Madrid players to swap Spain for M16 in recent years, but a transfer tilt for Dani Carvajal might just work for all parties. Spirits are high amongst Old Trafford’s Spanish enclave at the moment thanks to the form of David de Gea, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, with various misfortunes under Van Gaal nothing more than a bad memory.
And with Carvajal having found first-team football more difficult to come by since the arrival of Danilo from Porto in 2015, there may well be a thread for United to pull if Mourinho fancies raiding his former club. The 24-year-old remains first choice for the time being, but may see a Premier League move as a good chance to cement himself in a starting shirt once more.