The case for Manchester United pursuing reported target Ismael Bennacer

Manchester United’s contract renewal for Nemanja Matic does not exclude the possibility of signing a young defensive midfielder.

United still need to find Matic’s successor, and while that might be academy talent James Garner, the club has also been linked over the past week with AC Milan’s Ismael Bennacer.

A report from Bennacer’s homeland, via Algerian newspaper La Gazzette du Fennec, claims United are showing interest along with City and PSG.

Bennacer is a very interesting player, who is just 22-years-old. He might just be one of the better options available to United.

Photo by ISABELLA BONOTTO/AFP via Getty Images

Thriving for AC Milan

Bennacer signed for AC Milan from Empoli last summer. He has put up impressive figures in their midfield this past season.

He averages 2.3 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per game. This is the first and second highest in Milan’s squad, respectively.

Bennacer has also picked up 13 yellow cards, which tells you a lot about the ‘destroyer’ element of his game. But he is calm on the ball, completing 87 per cent of his passes.

This helps explain why he was likened to 2006 World Cup winner Gennaro Gattuso by Empoli manager Pietro Accardi last summer when he completed his move to Milan.

Accardi told Gazzetta dello Sport (via Football Italia). “He’s tactically an interesting player, he’s likeable and he’s always been loved by his teammates.

“Everyone loves him in the dressing room because he never holds anything back. He wants to get to the top and he’ll get there.

“I see Gattuso in Bennacer because he has a great desire to fight. I remember something he did against Fiorentina: Ismael wins the ball back, an opponent falls on him and he takes a cut to his tibia.

“He gets up to win the ball back again, then we gave him seven stitches. The fans at San Siro will love him: they want to see players who sweat and fight until the final whistle.”

A history in England

Bennacer was signed by Arsene Wenger for Arsenal in 2015, but only made one appearance before he got impatient and pushed for a permanent move to Empoli, who he joined in 2017. It has proved to be a good decision.

Unai Emery did not take up a buy-back clause last summer when he joined Milan, and Bennacer is beginning to make the Gunners regret this and letting him leave like Serge Gnabry.

Wenger told Arsenal Player in 2017: “He’s the kind of player who, once you put him in the team, you don’t take him out anymore.

“He can defend very well, he’s a fighter, a left-footed player and very efficient going forward. He’s a real box-to-box player.

“He can do all kinds of jobs. He is still young, still lacks a little bit of experience, but is a very promising player.”

But the Gunners’ board sold him for just £900,000 that same summer. Bennacer has not looked back, and has made them look silly. He already has 22 international caps for Algeria.

United need this type of player

Bennacer has the type of energy which Nemanja Matic may not be able to provide to the team in a year or so’s time.

The Milan midfielder has a release clause of £45 million in his contract, French outlet Footmercato report.

This is only slightly more than the fee paid for Matic in 2017, and it may test United’s resolve.

United do need a young defensive midfield player to shield the defence and break up play, and this may not be James Garner, whose future could lie further forward in midfield.

Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

First priority for United will be to sign a top quality attacker, with Jadon Sancho top of the list.

The rest of our business will be determined by (a) how much Sancho costs, and (b) how much is raised via player sales.

Bennacer would be costly, but he would add grit, tenacity, and more quality to United’s midfield. At just 22 he has packed a lot into his young career already, and is only going to get better.

Milan boss Stefano Pioli told Pianeta Milan last month: “Bennacer is a player with important characteristics for the team. His growth is constant and can only improve given his commitment.”

He remains one of the more intriguing options available to United this summer in the holding midfield position, if the club decide to spend.

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