The Germany centre-back has starred at the World Cup and is reported to be a target for the Red Devils in the transfer market this summer
Such was Germany’s dominance that the substitution of Mats Hummels went almost unnoticed, but the Borussia Dortmund star’s fitness is Low’s one big concern ahead of the final against Argentina. The 25-year-old has been suffering from tendonitis in his knee throughout the tournament, managing the problem up until this point; he has missed only the second-round match against Algeria due to illness.
Germany have only conceded twice during the World Cup while Hummels has been on the pitch, with both goals against coming in the wild 2-2 draw against Ghana. Otherwise, he has helped to keep Portugal, USA and France at bay and Brazil were kept off the scoresheet in the 45 minutes he played in Belo Horizonte.
Add to that goals against Portugal and France - the latter a match-winning header - and an already in-demand player could become the subject of intense interest from Europe’s elite clubs this summer. Hummels has never asked for a move or looked to run down his contract as others in Dortmund have, but his form this summer may convince potential suitors to force the issue.
Manchester United have been reported admirers for some time. The era of the Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic partnership is now officially over, with both players having left the club this summer, and Hummels would seem to be the perfect replacement - experienced and proven at the top level, but with his best years still ahead of him as United rebuild under Louis van Gaal.
The player and coach’s paths nearly crossed once before. Bayern Munich sold Hummels less than six months before the Dutchman took charge of the Bundesliga club in 2009, and it is interesting to wonder what might have been had the centre-back stayed.
Living up to his reputation for placing trust in young players, Van Gaal gave Thomas Muller and Holger Badstuber the chance to nail down first-team places and reinvented Bastian Schweinsteiger as a deep-lying central midfielder. It is not difficult to imagine Hummels enjoying similar success - though being taken on by Jurgen Klopp has not done his career any harm.
Van Gaal, of course, has United’s own homegrown players to think about. “We have two players there in [Chris] Smalling and [Phil] Jones who have looked very comfortable playing at centre-back for Manchester United at a young age,” former United defender Gary Pallister told Goal.
“Obviously with Vidic and Ferdinand being there they’ve been moved around to right-back and midfield, but if you watched them when they first came to the club as young centre-halves they were outstanding.
“It’s very difficult at that age to get moved around and expect a player to come back in and excel in his natural position. I think Phil and Chris can prove themselves to be more than capable. It’s about giving them time and minutes in that position to get a feel for it and understand it.”
The imminent departure of Patrice Evra on top of Ferdinand and Vidic, however, would make it a big risk for Van Gaal to move forwards without investment at the back. Some of his reliable Dutch soldiers, such as Stefan de Vrij and Ron Vlaar, have been linked but neither has the pedigree to become the immediate leader of a Manchester United defence.
Hummels does. In an era rich with forwards but short on genuinely world-class centre-backs, you can count the number of players at a similar age that compare with the German on the fingers of one hand. His signing would represent another huge step in United’s attempt to return to the summit of European football.