At this early stage of the transfer window it looks pretty likely Manchester United will target Jadon Sancho and pursue other targets around that (SkySports).
This may make it difficult to sanction a hefty bid for Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, who is at this point a perennial transfer target for United.
With United’s defensive improvement, and faith in young defenders Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi, it is probable United will pursue a cheaper, mid-range option rather than Koulibaly.
But could that be the wrong move? Here is a look at the case for splashing out on the Napoli man…
If you are going to buy a centre-back, buy the best
Yet why buy a player who will not improve the first XI, and add further confusion amid the back-ups of Eric Bailly, Tuanzebe and Mengi?
With Koulibaly, United could make an instant improvement to the first choice XI, and swap in for Victor Lindelof.
If United are serious about accelerating the development of this team and want to mount a title push next season, this is the type of ruthless move the team need to make to instantly improve.
Lindelof and Maguire have a good defensive record this season overall, with just 36 goals conceded in 38 league games, but it has also looked weak at times, with United especially poor at the back in the FA Cup semi-final.
A move for Koulibaly would ensure against complacency and show United are always looking to improve.
A three-year upgrade
To see where Koulibaly fits in, you can look at Harry Maguire’s age. He is 27. The Napoli man is 29.
United could get three years out of Koulibaly and Maguire as a partnership, and then look to phase one or both of them out.
By that time Mengi and Tuanzebe really will be ready to take over, without the added pressure of being thrown in too early and being asked to lead a title charge.
This could be a seamless transition between one generation and the next, with Maguire and Koulibaly helping United to a title and trophies in the meantime, putting the club in a better position for the younger stars to take over.
How he can benefit younger players
United have made a point of targeting young players during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at the club and this could rule out a move for Koulibaly.
That would be to ignore the benefits Koulibaly could bring to this team, including the way he could teach younger players.
Tuanzebe and Mengi will both be better off for learning from him, long-term, even if they feel that he blocks their progress in the short-term.
United can switch up their options and one of them could earn the chance to play alongside him.
The big drawback over a move for Koulibaly is the price. Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis told Corriere dello Sport he would sell him for £90 million and no less.
For a player of his age this is excessive, yet it is also important to note Napoli’s own ambitious transfer activity as they target Victor Osimhen. They will have to balance the books.
Despite the owner’s comments, it is possible a move of around £70 million could still cause them to consider a sale in this climate.
Do we think this is a move United make? Not unless they fall flat in pursuit of Jadon Sancho, and sign a cheaper winger. This would be disappointing, but would also free up funds to be spent on other areas of the squad.
It is fair to argue that if Koulibaly was going to be signed, it would have happened in previous summers. United appear to have other priorities at the moment.
But this is a move which would make the team better, and for this reason, it is one United should consider making if funds are available through player sales.
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