Manchester United’s attempts to rebuild their central defence have been thwarted by Arsenal’s manager, Arsène Wenger, who has not yet agreed to sanction Thomas Vermaelen’s departure to Old Trafford.
The new United manager, Louis van Gaal, who will arrive in Manchester on Tuesday to take up his position, is understood to have identified the Belgian as a target following the departure of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. But though Wenger knows that vetoing the Belgian’s move north risks Arsenal losing him on a free transfer when he is out of contract next summer, the move has been blocked so far.
Wenger lost faith in Vermaelen last season, preferring Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny in central defence and giving the 28-year-old only seven Premier League starts. Vermaelen has also suffered a chronic loss of form for a Belgium team in which he made only one appearance in the World Cup – limping off after 30 minutes in the 1-0 win over Russia. He was poor against Luxembourg in a World Cup warm-up game and few complained when the veteran Daniel van Buyten was preferred to him in Brazil. At the turn of the year his World Cup starting place had seemed assured.
Van Gaal clearly believes he can restore the confidence of the player whom Wenger signed from Ajax in 2009. But United’s three top targets under their new manager are Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria, Borussia Dortmund central defender Mats Hummels and Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal. Though there has, as yet, been no contact between United and Real Madrid over Di Maria, there is a willingness at the Spanish club to sell a player who was an outstanding member of the La Liga-winning campaign last season – and who would be a big improvement on Nani or Ashley Young, who offered minimal quality from wide areas last season. There would be a willingness to let Nani go, though United’s hopes of moving him on to Juventus are yet to materialise.
Real have been looking to loosen their connection with the Jorge Mendes stable of players – of whom Di Maria was one – which was strengthened during Jose Mourinho’s three years as manager there. There has always been a sense at the Bernabeu that the €25 million (£19m) Mourinho insisted be paid out to Benfica for Di Maria was too much.
The purchase of the Colombian James Rodriguez from AS Monaco would also equip Real with a player more capable of being a star piece of global commercial property. The Argentinian Di Maria is not the most photogenic of players, which it is thought may actually influence president Florentino Perez’s thinking. Van Gaal’s desire to sign Di Maria may depend on Real manager Carlo Ancelotti being talked round. The Italian is understood to be deeply unhappy at the prospect of selling him.
United have already spent £56.8m this summer, on England left-back Luke Shaw – signed from Southampton – and Ander Herrera, the Spanish midfielder. The remaining targets include another midfielder, a centre-half and a winger/forward.
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