One big money European transfer that looks almost certain to happen is the departure of Valencia’s Argentine international, Nicolas Otamendi. The rugged 27-year-old has already made it quite clear that his future belongs away from the Mestalla and has informed the club of his desire, leaving the door open, it would appear, for two of Europe’s heavyweights to battle over his signature.
Currently away on international duty for the Copa America, when Otamendi returns to Europe, Manchester United and Real Madrid look to be the most likely destinations.
Who is Nicolas Otamendi?
Born in the town of El Talar in the Province of Buenos Aires, Otamendi spent his youth split between the football pitch and the boxing ring until he was snapped up by Velez Sarsfield and entered their academy. His powerful fighting physique quickly saw him rise up the ranks in Liniers and at the age of twenty he made his debut in a 2-1 win over Rosario Central. At this point, Otamendi was still a squad player but when Ricardo Gareca took over for the 2009 Clausura, the youngster established himself as first-choice centre-back alongside Sebastian Dominguez.
Otamendi played in 17 of the 19 league matches as Velez lifted the Clausura trophy and newspaper El Pais voted him in their South American team of the year. The poll taken by journalists across the continent described Otamendi as ‘one of the revelations of the year’ and so it was little wonder Diego Maradona gave him his international debut in April of that year.
Despite his inexperience Maradona named Otamendi in his 23-man squad for the World Cup in South Africa and he impressed in the final group game against Greece and the last 16 victory over Mexico. However, an ill-judged switch to right-back for the quarter final against Germany, saw Otamendi overrun and brutally exposed during the embarrassing 4-0 defeat.
Many young players might have had their confidence shattered after such an experience and certainly it stalled his Argentina career in the short-term but he had no time to dwell as Andre Villas-Boas’ Porto side paid €4 million to Velez that summer. The fee would be for just 50% of the ownership and another €4 million was due later, but it proved to be money well spent for the Portuguese giants.
A goal scoring debut was just the start to a period of huge success. The first season brought a league and domestic cup double in addition to the Europa League and Porto went on to retain the league trophy in the two subsequent seasons prompting Valencia to fork out €12 million in February 2014.
Immediately upon arriving in Spain, Otamendi was sent on-loan to Brazilian side, Atletico Miniero as Los Che needed to make room for their Argentine in their squad. After the six-month spell in Brazil, Otamendi returned to Valencia and made his debut in the 1-1 draw away to Sevilla on August 23rd.
Otamendi was an almost near-constant in the Valencia side as they regained Champions League football for the first time in four years by finishing fourth. His powerful performances at the heart of Nuno Espirito Santo’s defence caught the eye as did his winning goal against Real Madrid, ending their 22-match unbeaten run, and as a result he was the only Valancia player to be named in the La Liga team of the year.
His dominant displays also prompted a return to the national side as Gerardo Martino showed no hesitation in naming the 27-year-old in his side for the Copa America. Continuing to impress for La Albiceleste in Chile has done no harm to Otamendi’s burgeoning reputation.
So what next? Where will Otamendi end-up?
When Otamendi was quoted as saying: “I spoke with Valencia and they know very well what I want” there was appeared little ambiguity left as it came in the midst of intense transfer speculation. Manchester United identified the Valencia defender as a top defensive target after Louis van Gaal achieved his objective of qualifying for the Champions League and knew that his side must strengthen if they are to push-on and challenge for honours.
If rumours are believed, a €35 million offer from United arrived at the door of Valencia president, Amadeo Salvo but it was flatly rejected with the Spanish club maintaining that until their valuation is met, the player would go nowhere.
Salvo told reporters: “If he wants to go, he will have to come to the club, not an agent, and the buying club will have to pay what Valencia decide he is worth, which is €50 million at least, and with the payment structure that Valencia decide.”
Salvo and Valencia appear in no mood to play and with the injection of funds from Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, they do not need to. However, with Otamendi continuing to enhance his reputation in Chile with Argentina and now the news that Real Madrid will compete for his signature, Manchester United might be more willing to increase their offer.
Both clubs will have no problem with finding the funds to sign Otamendi but it is undoubtedly United who are in more need of a defensive enforcer. Madrid have a wealth of central defenders and so the assumption would be if Otamendi were a genuine target then new boss Rafa Benitez did not have faith in those currently available.
What will Otamendi offer Manchester United?
United’s need is far more obvious after a summer of heavy investment in other areas of the pitch left them woefully short at centre-back during the 2014/15 season. Injury hampered United and even without the added strain of European football, Louis van Gaal was often forced to field reserve players or out-of-position players in his defence.
Otamendi would slot straight into the United backline, as you would expect from a €50 million rated defender and his no-nonsense, powerful style would appear perfect to marshal a Premier League defence. At six foot (183 cm) Otamendi is not the tallest of central defenders, but he remains strong in the air and is a commanding presence at the back.
Bullish in the tackle but comfortable on the ball, it is easy to see why Otamendi has quickly captured attention and enjoyed success throughout his career. The 27-year-old is not the quickest defender and as such would not want to left exposed against a pacy attacker or winger but in the correct system, with the right defensive colleagues, Otamendi is a huge asset.
In addition to his presence, Otamendi will bring a nastiness to United’s defence that has perhaps been missing since Nemanja Vidic left for Inter Milan. Someone willing to put his head in where it hurts and carry out the less appealing side of the game is vital in a solid defence in any league in world football.
Alongside another quicker, ball-playing centre-back, Otamendi could forge an impenetrable defence to lead United that step further and rechallenge for the Premier League crown.
Written by Peter Coates
Follow Peter on Twitter @golazoargentino
You can check out more of his excellent work on Argentinian football through his website, Golazo Argentino
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