Replacing a longstanding, iconic figure at a football club is something of an unenviable venture. For Manchester United, they’ll be tasked with filling the void left by the departure of a host of legendary figures this summer, most notably in their back four, where they’ll be without two defensive titans—Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand—for the upcoming campaign.
One player that’s been touted as potentially stepping into one of the berths vacated is Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen, with a £10 million move potentially on the cards according to Paul Hetherington of the Daily Star.
And while Vermaelen may not be a central defender of comparable class to Ferdinand and Vidic at their peak, he’d be a fine pick-up for Louis van Gaal as the Dutchman looks to shape and re-establish this Red Devils team in the upper reaches of the Premier League.
Speaking recently, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger couldn’t rule out the possibility that his captain could be on his way out of the Emirates, per Arsenal’s official website (h/t ESPN).
“I cannot guarantee he will stay” said the Frenchman. “But should he go I would bring another centre-back in for sure”.
After arriving in North London from Ajax in 2009, Vermaelen’s impactful and dynamic defensive style saw him settle seamlessly into English football. During his first season with the Gunners, he was a rock at the back and chipped in with his fair share of goals too, quickly establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s most fearsome defenders.
But unfortunately, he’s never been able to replicate the heights that we saw from him in that first campaign. Injuries have hampered his first-team chances and subsequently, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have gone on to form a stellar partnership at the heart of the Gunners’ back four.
Having been limited to the odd appearance in the Premier League, outings in the minor cup competitions, and plugging holes at left-back as of late, Vermaelen looks as though he could well be surplus to requirements at the Emirates; something United seem keen to capitalise on.
Bleacher Report's Christopher Atkins things Vermaelen could potentially be a very good acquisition for the Red Devils:
Selling their skipper to United will surely not sit quite right with the Emirates faithful. A move abroad would certainly be the ideal scenario for Arsenal—especially for a player who has conjured a strong affinity with the supporters—but the Red Devils look as though they’re leading the race for the player; according to Hetherington’s piece, they have already had a £6 million bid rejected.
Indeed, according to Jeremy Wilson of The Telegraph, the Gunners remain unconvinced about selling to a potential title rival:
Should Vermaelen join up with Van Gaal at Manchester United, he’d bring plenty to the Red Devils’ defence. He is a player that is well acquainted with the Premier League and someone that emits a strong presence within a back four. Plus, an extended run of games would afford Vermaelen the time to build up his fitness and rediscover his best form.
His versatility could be crucial for United too. While not his best position, Vermaelen is adept at doing a job in the left-back berth and Van Gaal might need cover in that position with Patrice Evra on the brink of a move to Italian champions Juventus, per James Orr of The Independent.
Wenger is not a manager who typically talks about his players leaving the club, so his latest revelation regarding Vermaelen points towards a likely departure after five years with the Gunners. Although the Arsenal boss is a man who commands full value for money when selling key members of his squad.
From a United perspective, a fee of £10 million might seem a little excessive for a player who has one year left on his contract and who will be 29 years old in November, but Van Gaal will be acutely aware of what his team will gain should he sign Vermaelen.
That’s a solid and reliable Premier League defender initially. And if Vermaelen can stay fit, play regularly and reach the levels he's showcased previously in English football's top flight, potentially a very fine defender indeed.