With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic beginning new challenges away from Old Trafford this summer, Manchester United are in the market for centre-backs. One ideal signing would be FC Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala.
Per Jamie Jackson of The Guardian, Mangala will wait until after the World Cup before deciding where he will play his football next season, but the Frenchman is reported to favour a move to United over rivals Manchester City.
There’s no doubt that signing Mangala would be a real coup for United.
The 23-year-old will have a long list of suitors, particularly if he has a strong World Cup with France this summer. He really is one of the most promising centre-backs in world football right now.
Mangala Would Slot Right into United’s Defence
With Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones injury prone or still trying to find their natural position, it’s imperative that United sign a (relatively) experienced centre-back who has the technical ability and physicality to take over from Ferdinand and Vidic.
Mangala is very much a perfect fit in that sense.
As the above video illustrates, Mangala’s athleticism is his greatest attribute. He’s powerful, pacy and strong in the air—and he also reads the game very well.
Mangala’s physical stature is what makes him such an attractive prospect. He won’t be outmuscled or bullied off the ball by too many strikers, if any. That gives him an edge.
Mangala is in the mould of the commanding centre-half that United need to buy this summer, but it’s not all been plain sailing for the Frenchman in recent times.
His 2013/14 season at Porto was filled with transfer talk and speculation. Whether that was the reason for some of his poor form is questionable, but there’s no doubt that he struggled at times for a Porto side that, by its usual standards, had a less-than-impressive season.
Glad to see Mangala got picked for the World Cup. He has had a difficult season at Porto. Hopefully he'll find his form back in Brazil.— Jan Hagen (@PortuBall) May 14, 2014
Picking a defender to partner Mangala from the aforementioned trio of Evans, Smalling and Jones is tricky. Given their misfortune over the last 18 months, it would more than likely be the player who’s not injured at the time.
But assuming all three are fit and firing, the most suitable pairing might be Mangala and Smalling.
Smalling, at centre-back, has been impressive for United. His nervy performances at right-back have taken away from that. A central defender by trade, his reading of the game and technical ability might complement Mangala’s style.
A duo of Jones and Mangala would perhaps be too similar, in that both like to tackle and head everything and anything that moves.
And despite Evans blossoming from a nervy, unconvincing defender to one of the first names on the team sheet, his persistent injury troubles make it difficult to rely upon him. He has endured a miserable 2014 thus far.
As crude as it might sound, Smalling and Mangala would be United’s answer to replacing Ferdinand and Vidic.
Louis van Gaal prefers one of his centre-backs to initiate attacks by carrying the ball into midfield, a role that Smalling is capable of performing (much like Ferdinand did). When that happens the remaining three defenders close together and that’s where Mangala’s pace and strength counts.
United Must Look at the Long-Term Value of Signing Mangala
One of the most attractive things about signing Mangala is his age.
At 23, he’s still learning the game and honing his skills. In five or six years’ time, under the tutelage of a world-class manager at a top European club, he could easily develop into one the world’s best defenders.
If United view Mangala as an investment, they could certainly get value for money over the next 10 years.
After all, Vidic, who admittedly cost considerably less than the reported £35 million fee it would take to sign Mangala, was colossal for the best part of a decade having signed as an unknown quantity.
If United want to mix it with Europe’s very best, they must put all reservations about cost to one side. Sometimes, however difficult it might be to stomach, spending money is the best way.
And the likelihood is that whoever signs Mangala will not come to regret paying a hefty price to sign him from Porto.
Weighing up the Pros and Cons: Is Mangala Worth it?
Per Jackson’s article, the stumbling block to any potential deal might be that Van Gaal remains unconvinced by Mangala’s temperament.
Van Gaal is said to be concerned about whether Mangala is mature enough to warrant the expenditure, despite his talent.
United need composure at the back, which is arguably why Mats Hummels is Van Gaal’s preferred target, per James Robson of the Manchester Evening News.
But Hummels isn’t likely to leave Borussia Dortmund any time soon, and United must therefore avoid a repeat of last summer by going after realistic targets.
Mangala: "I'm interested in clubs who allows me to win titles."— Jan Hagen (@PortuBall) May 18, 2014
Mangala could be tempted by a move to the Premier League this summer, which is why United should make a concerted effort to sign him.
Mangala is a little raw and unpolished, has a tendency to make rash challenges and he’s not had the best of seasons.
But it’s important to consider his signing in a wider context.
He’s young, streets ahead of most other defenders in a physical sense and technically sound. His potential is frightening and, all things considered, Mangala would be a perfect signing for United.