Mehdi Benatia seems likely to leave AS Roma during the 2014-15 summer transfer window, and Manchester United should be at the front of the queue of teams interested in securing the Moroccan international's signature.
The Giallorossi are reportedly close to a deal for Konstantinos Manolas, and Italian media are seeing the move as insurance for a potential exit for highly rated centre-back Benatia, per Jamie Anderson of the Daily Express.
Transfer rumours have been swirling around Benatia all summer, and as reported by Anthony Wright for Roma's official website, manager Rudi Garcia told the press his main focus right now is on how the player handles the situation, making no effort to deny a potential departure:
It's obvious that he'll give 100%, he's an exemplary professional. We saw this in the last couple of games that he played, there are no problems as far as I'm concerned. I hope that before long he'll have the chance to talk with you and give his thoughts. The best way to get an opinion of someone are to listen to his words. Wait for that day to come.
Roma qualified for the UEFA Champions League as a result of their best season in Serie A in recent history, and Benatia was a large reason for their success. The Giallorossi would much rather hang on to their best defender, but the opportunity to cash in now might be too appealing for the Italians.
According to Anderson, United are on a long list of potential suitors including Chelsea and Real Madrid. And it's easy to see why all of those top clubs would want to add the 27-year-old, as shared by Gianluca Di Marzio's David Amoyal:
Benatia is the best defender somewhat available on market since Thiago Silva, CBs of his quality are so rare- that is why he is so valuable— David Amoyal (@DavidAmoyal) August 7, 2014
Benatia was WhoScored.com's second highest-rated defender in Serie A last year, chasing only Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini. Pundits and fans of Italian football will tell you that ranking is a travesty—he has been the best centre-back in Italy for a while now.
He outperformed big-name defenders such as Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli on a regular basis, and while his name might not ring a bell with the casual fan, he's about as close to world class as you can get.
The Moroccan is the complete package: He's tall and athletic enough to dominate attackers, has tremendous vision, leads the team by example and has enough technical ability to be a force moving forward.
Benatia is a fantastic defender, very close to the level of the likes of Mats Hummels and Thiago Silva. The only thing he needs to get the recognition he deserves is a larger audience to appreciate his talents.
Louis van Gaal already indicated he's still in the market for a defender, as reported by the Daily Star's Colin Harvey, and The Guardian's Nooruddean Choudry agrees the position needs at least one extra body:
I'm sure Van Gaal is still acutely aware that this United team needs another midfielder and one, probably two defenders - at the very least.— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) August 3, 2014
Adding depth at the position is one thing—by adding Benatia, the Red Devils would be adding a player who would arguably instantly become the single best centre-back in the Premier League.
Should the Red Devils move for Benatia?
Jamie Anderson of the Daily Express rates him at £30 million, and compared to what Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are putting on the table for their defensive targets, such a fee would be a massive bargain.
A marriage between the Red Devils and Benatia would be a perfect one: United need that world-class centre-back to compete on the highest level, and Benatia would get an instant opportunity to prove to the world he's as good as pundits claim.
United have already made a number of strong signings in the summer transfer window, but Benatia would undoubtedly rank as their best should a move come to fruition. If he becomes available, he should immediately rank as the club's top priority.