The German machine rumbled on, even at 5-0. While the rest of the world used the halftime interval to catch its breath, with Joachim Low’s team having blown Brazil’s World Cup dream apart in 30 astonishing minutes, the new tournament favorite prepared to finish the job.
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 has only conceded twice during the World Cup while Hummels has been on the pitch, with both goals coming in the wild 2-2 draw against Ghana. Otherwise, he has helped to keep Portugal, the USA and France at bay and Brazil were kept off the score sheet 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 has been a reported admirer 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 rebuilds under Louis van Gaal.
Their 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 center 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 center 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 center 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 forward without investment in 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 defense.
Hummels does. In an era rich with forwards but short on genuinely world-class center backs, you can count on one hand the number of players at a similar age that compare with the German. His signing would represent another huge step in United’s attempt to return to the summit of European soccer.