One key position that Manchester United need to reinforce ahead of the 2016/17 season is a centre-back. Chris Smalling established himself as first-choice for both club and country after a stellar season, but questions still remain over the identity of his partner.
Daley Blind filled the gap and played well under van Gaal, but he is definitely not a CB for clubs looking to win the title. Phil Jones can’t be trusted to stay fit for an entire season (but would be a more-than-handy squad option), while Paddy McNair is still relatively untested at the highest level.
Jose Mourinho has always had strong centre-back options at his clubs- think of Terry/Carvalho, Varane/Ramos, and Lucio/Samuel at Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Inter respectively.
United have been linked with many CBs over the transfer window (Manolas, Bailly, Garay), but once CB who has constantly been linked is John Stones – but would he be a good signing?
- Mourinho admires him. A long and protracted transfer saga took place last summer (completed with John Stones ‘accidentally’ handing in a transfer request), as he was earmarked as the next John Terry. A backline of Zouma and Stones would have been quite formidable, and would definitely have been the long-term at Stamford Bridge.
- He is a quality ball-playing centre-back. Stones is arguably the best ball playing English CB since Rio Ferdinand, and when in form, can look like a Rolls-Royce of a defender. Comfortable on the ball in pressure, always happy to receive the ball, Stones would be ideal for United looking to replicate the Ferdinand/Vidic style of two defenders complementing each other.
- He is young, and needs to step up to the next level. Unfortunately for Stones, he has been tarred under the coaching of Roberto Martinez at Everton, where the manager did not really coach the defense well. This should not be a problem under Mourinho.
- Is he actually what Manchester United need? Some might argue that United need to replace Vidic first before the Ferdinand part. Stones still has a lot to learn as a defender- he still relies on his skill on the ball to get himself out of trouble. This was something that annoyed Everton fans (when he pulled off Cruyff turns inside his own box), as they wanted a no-nonsense, kick it into Row Z type of defender.
- The price tag. Everton showed they were no pushovers last summer by rejecting a 40M deal for Stones, and United would have to pay around a similar fee if they want to land him. However, this shouldn’t be a problem for the club- it is more whether Stones can cope with dealing with such a high price tag.
- Coping with being a Manchester United player. The pressure under Mourinho and playing for Manchester United, coupled with a high transfer fee, could be daunting for young players. We haven’t really seen any evidence to show that Stones performs well under adversity.
Having taken all of this into account, I still believe Stones would be a perfect fit for United. By securing him, it would allow Smalling (not the best on the ball) to focus more on his defending (and also get rid of his habit of grabbing/pulling players). Stones would therefore take responsibility for playing the ball out of the back, while also learning how to refine his game from one of the best managers in football.
A Stones/Smalling combination would be the long-term future for both club/country as well, and they would learn each other’s game inside out. Stones’ inexperience would also mean that Phil Jones still plays enough games as third-choice CB/first reserve CB, while McNair/Blind could be used as other options.
However, one other possibility is quite feasible – Stones being signed, as well as a physical no-nonsense CB (Manolas). It would mean there are plenty of options/variety at the back, and would also provide squad depth. There are many clubs keeping an eye on Stones though, so it is no guarantee he would move to Old Trafford.
However, if he did, it would be a great signing for Jose Mourinho as he builds his team at Manchester United.
Written by Vishakh Chandrasekhar
Follow Vishakh on Twitter @VishC24
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