Liverpool’s woe could open door for Mourinho
Gone are the days when it was acceptable for Sir Alex Ferguson to intercept Roy Keane at the airport en route to Blackburn, Roberto Mancini to pester David Platt to join him at Sampdoria or player agents to meet secretly with prospective clubs in London hotels to discuss a move behind their client’s current employer’s backs.
The footballing authorities have this week made an example of Liverpool to aid their efforts eradicating ‘tapping up’ from the game. The fact Liverpool face investigation for something that, as one former agent put it this week, goes on in “every transfer to some extent”, is somewhat embarrassing but, more pertinently, they have missed out on one of their top targets at a time when they require major player overhaul.
Liverpool’s decision to pull out of the race to sign the 25-year-old opens the door for several rivals to snap up one of the top performing defenders in the land. One club in particular should make the Netherlands international top priority, getting one over the old enemy in the process.
Jose Mourinho is King of the Pragmatists. Whether it is deploying six-man defence, parking the proverbial bus, whatever you want to call it; the Portuguese sets his teams up not to dominate possession or control games from the off, his philosophy revolves around being hard to beat, stifling possession and catching teams on the break.
Despite United fans proclaiming the 54-year-old Lowry Hotel dweller has got United playing the “way they should”, the football has been negative and stifling at times, with United heading to the likes of the Etihad and Anfield with a draw the objective. Not even Herman and his Hermits would have been optimistic walking down Warwick Road last season.
United have the funds to strengthen
Nonetheless, the primary goal of a Champions League return, with the additional bonus of a few trophies collected en route, has been achieved. Now, with the basis of a quality squad already present, Mourinho now has another substantial warchest to turn this sleeping giant into a title challenger once again, and that, being that arch-pragmatist that he is, means starting from the back.
Towards the end of the season especially, Mourinho endured plenty of defensive woe, having to field a host of partnerships as treatment room regulars Phil Jones and Chris Smalling missed prolonged periods.
Eric Bailly enjoyed an impressive first season, but lacked a consistent partner. Jones and Smalling’s health cannot be relied upon, while Daley Blind is anything but a recognised centre-back. Reinforcements are needed, badly.
Michael Keane has been lined up for a potential return to Old Trafford, while long-term target Victor Lindelof is reportedly on the verge of a move to Manchester, but Liverpool’s loss should very much become United’s gain. Van Dijk is statistically exactly what United are looking for, and a partnership with Bailly could become the Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic-esque solid backbone on which to build the latest dynasty.
Statistically, Van Dijk has what it takes
In 2015/16, Van Dijk won more aerial duels than anyone, but his game has evolved year on year, and is now rightfully regarded as one of the best in his profession.
Gifted on the ball, Van Dijk finished the season with an impressive pass completion rate, but it is the fact that he didn’t make a single error that lead to a goal in 2016/17 that will please his potential pragmatic Portuguese boss most.
Also, averaging 4.6 accurate long passes per game, 1.7 per game more than any other United defender, will also whet Mourinho’s appetite, and keep Marouane Fellaini busy. Van Dijk simply ticks all the boxes Mourinho requires from his defenders.
The fee would be in the region of £50m-60m, but rather than pay £30m for Keane or Lindelof, who are not of the same calibre and experience of Van Dijk, an extra £20m-30m to a cash-rich super club like United is a drop in the ocean.
And, what’s more, any move for the Dutchman will only antagonise Liverpool fans who think the authorities are conspiring against them. An additional bonus to a potential investment for the long term – Van Dijk is ready to provide a platform for rejuvenation at M16.