Manchester United boss David Moyes has hinted that he could promote from within as the club look to replace Nemanja Vidic.
With Vidic's move to Inter Milan in the summer now confirmed, Moyes looks set to run the rule over his current crop of defenders before heading into the transfer market.
Per BBC Sport, Moyes' move to let Vidic leave Old Trafford was mutual, and without a contract extension on the table, Vidic opted for a move to Italy.
With a host of European talent on offer to the Red Devils, Moyes will give his squad the chance to prove their worth, as Manchester United tweeted:
Vidic's departure will leave a big hole of experience missing from the United defence, with the Serbian international making 287 appearances and scoring 19 goals in all competitions since joining the club in December 2005.
His move, too, could see a host of United's more experienced back-four stars look to leave the club, which could further add to Moyes' hopes that his squad step up to the mantle.
Patrice Evra is rumoured to be on his way to Inter, according to Daily Mail's Chris Wheeler, while Rio Ferdinand's future remains unclear with his contract due to expire in the summer, per Associated Press (h/t Guardian).
This would leave Rafael, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Alexander Buttner as the club's first-team defenders, along with 20-year-old Guillermo Varela who has yet to feature for the club since his move from Uruguayan side Penarol last summer.
With an average age of 23, United's remaining defenders would have to rise to the test of challenging for next year's Premier League, while also maintaining domestic and European cup expectations.
A tall order, with the weight of expectation also weighing down on Moyes' own future.
Youth star Michael Keane will have to prove his worth on loan, once again, after a successful stint with Derby County has seen him secure a loan to fellow Sky Bet Championship side Blackburn Rovers, according to Rovers' Twitter account:
Keane could provide a selection headache for Moyes in the summer, though, after breaking into the England under-21 squad last year, scoring two goals against Finland and San Marino and continuing to show his credentials.
Joining Rovers, who sit 10th-placed and six points outside of the play-off places, Keane could stake his biggest claim by steering his new club into the Premier League.
However, should Moyes not feel his squad up to the challenge, he will have plenty of money to spend in the transfer window, should he look to add an outside influence into his back four.
Per Telegraph's Mark Ogden, United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has hinted that funds will be available to Moyes if needed, but the club are happy to promote from within if possible:
It’s fair to say we are focused on strengthening the squad. We wouldn’t necessarily be looking to churn a huge number of players because that can have a destabilising effect, but we aren’t afraid of moving in the market in a way that perhaps we haven’t seen in recent years.
Historically we’ve had three sales and three purchases each year and it’s possible we’ll do more than that. We will continue to nurture and develop young, talented players and bring them into the first team when ready. But we will also invest in our squad as needed in order to ensure we are competing at the highest level.
Promotion from within may prove to be Moyes' best chance at success at United, as he sets out the club's long-term plan under his management.
This long-term plan, boosted by a potential makeup of current, young first-team stars and promotion from the youth set-up, would allow the club's hot prospects to be given a real chance to shine at the champions.
It would also offer perspective to any young player looking to join the club, as they will see that Moyes is more than happy to give any player their chance to prove their worth, if he feels they are up to the task.
Alan Hansen was once famously quoted, when referring to Manchester United's 1995-96 squad, as saying "you can't win anything with kids."
United won the league and cup that season under Sir Alex Ferguson. A similar set-up could see Moyes' tenure receive a much-needed boost.
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