Should Manchester United abandon signing Sporting Lisbon defensive midfielder William Carvalho and go for a cheaper alternative in Hamburg's Milan Badelj?
While Sporting are "now prepared to lower their asking price" for William, his transfer stock is still in excess of £24 million, per Mark Ogden at The Telegraph.
Why not target a more experienced yet cost-effective Badelj?
To cover the hypothetical scenario of United turning to Badelj, here is a scouting report on the 6'1", 168-pound, 25-year-old Croatian international.
Trying to fix the central-midfield round hole, United manager Louis van Gaal has inherited a bunch of square-peg midfielders.
- Anderson: Injuries, nonchalant attitude, weight issues and positional change have ruined his career.
- Darren Fletcher: Overcame a career-debilitating illness to continue playing at top-flight level. True professional, but not a dominant midfielder.
- Marouane Fellaini: Confidence has been wrecked by what he may view as a regrettable decision to join United. In hindsight, should have stayed at Everton. Has become a Pariah for frustrated United supporters.
- Michael Carrick: Rehabilitating from "ankle ligament surgery," per Sky Sports.
- Shinji Kagawa: The Twitter parody account Evil Kagawa has been more of a hit than Kagawa's tenure at United. Does not fit into Van Gaal's plans, per AFP (h/t Japan Today). Kagawa is set to do a "Nuri Sahin" in returning to Borussia Dortmund, per Ruhr Nachrichten and Radio 91.2 (h/t Stephan Uersfeld at ESPN FC).
- Tom Cleverley: He has the capacity to make more expansive passes. Though, he was so worried about giving up possession that he was trapped in the mindset of making backward and simple passes. On the verge of an £8 million transfer to Aston Villa, per John Percy at The Telegraph.
Ander Herrera represents what Van Gaal wants in a midfielder: creative on the ball and gritty without the ball.
If pushed into a corner, Van Gaal does not care about defending, which was represented in the decision to deploy Adnan Januzaj in central midfield against Sunderland.
"I have said that we need creative passing and I thought Januzaj could provide that," Van Gaal said, per Mark Froggatt at United's official website. "That is why I played Januzaj in midfield because as a coach I want to win."
Badelj offers the creativity Van Gaal seeks.
Identifying then-Hamburg (now Bayer Leverkusen) central attacking midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu's run against Mainz, Badelj delivered an incisive pass.
Against Werder Bremen, Badelj sent a Paul Scholes-esque deep pass to then-Hamburg (now Bayer Leverkusen) left attacking midfielder Heung-Min Son.
Winning the ball on the halfway line, Badelj punctured Schalke's defence with a through ball to Hamburg right attacking midfielder Maximilian Beister.
Badelj's Hail Mary pass against Freiburg worked out when the ball fortuitously bounced into the path of Beister.
Defensively, Badelj is a productive ball-winner.
In 60 Bundesliga games, Badelj registered 212 tackles and intercepted 186 passes.
Last season, his tackles won, interceptions and blocks per 90 minutes were superior to Fletcher, Fellaini, Carrick and Cleverley, according to Squawka.
Accumulating seven interceptions against Koln, per FourFourTwo, Badelj can turn defence into attack in an instant, which is what Van Gaal wants.
Badelj's defensive statistics are misleading.
While his defensive output is impressive on the surface, he chases the ball like Anderson and is generally caught out of position.
That is the primary reason why Badelj loses out in 62 percent of attempted tackles, per Squawka.
Bizarrely pulling out of a tackle on Hertha Berlin left-back Nico Schulz, Badelj was at fault as Hamburg conceded.
Straggling behind play, Badelj watched on as Stuttgart left attacking midfielder Alexandru Maxim received a one-two and scored uncontested.
Badelj failed to seriously challenge Bayern Munich central attacking midfielder Mario Gotze, who ambled into Hamburg's penalty box to score.
Van Gaal has such a top-heavy squad that he needs a security blanket in midfield to protect the defence.
That is why United are chasing William, who possesses "perfect positioning, reading of the game, strength in the challenge [and] controlled aggression," per Tom Kundert at FourFourTwo.
Hailed as a once-in-a-generation No. 6, William has world-class upside.
Whereas, Badelj, once a highly rated youth prospect, has transitioned into a solid footballer, but not a world-class one.
Going from winning four successive league titles at Dinamo Zagreb to a Hamburg team in transition and looking for a leader in midfield, Badelj has struggled with consistency.
However, Badelj has the traits of a top midfielder: He is outstandingly creative, an elite passer and a prolific ball-winner.
If United do not sign William, Badelj is a workable backup target, which should be tempting given he is on an expiring contract.
Statistics via WhoScored