United Taking A Big Chance On Vermaelen
By Abdullah Mamaniyat
Reports circulated within the English press ahead of Belgium's World Cup opener that future Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has 'agreed a move in principle' with Arsenal defender and captain Thomas Vermaelen.
The supposed move may or may not have genuine foundations to it because the Red Devils (the Manchester club that is) are in need of one or two centre backs to replace the glowing presence of the departing Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan) and Rio Ferdinand (unattached).
The season of sunshine has brought an abundant amount of speculation since the league campaign ended of exactly who will arrive at Old Trafford to return the near 20 years of success that has now exited stage left at the Theatre of Dreams.
Defenders Ezequiel Garay, Eliaquim Mangala and Mehdi Benatia are some of the world-class names that have been linked with Manchester United. Unsurprisingly, Vermaelen is not of the same calibre of ability as the aforementioned. The immediate reluctance in an investment for the Belgian has sparked a new debate as to whether he should be playing in a United shirt next season or not.
Injury ridden as of late, Vermaelen has become out of favour at Arsenal under manager Arsene Wenger, who has witnessed Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny become arguably the best centre back pair in the league last season. The promise of greatness that Vermaelen showed in his debut season in England never brought the same high level of consistency to his game across his five year spell at the Emirates. With his contract expiring next summer, Wenger may find it wise to cash in on the 28-year-old who can be deemed surplus to requirement now.
The rumored sale only becomes problematic because it is potentially another Arsenal player heading in the direction of a direct rival. Already, Bacary Sagna has decided to sign with Manchester City on a Bosman ruling to link up with former Arsenal teammates Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy. Cesc Fabregas heading to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea has rubbed salt to the wound, and now the possible reunion of Vermaelen with Van Persie remains in touch at United. The pattern of strengthening a fellow rival and simultaneously weakening themselves has somewhat evolved into an annual recycled joke.
In the case of Manchester United, it becomes a mild case of pick and choose with Van Gaal in charge. The prospect of a promising talent feeling inclined to work under the Dutch tactician may be too hard to resist for the likes of say Bruno-Martins Indi and Daley Blind.
Luke Shaw is another name that has been strongly linked with the club whilst the vision of reinforcing at the back is highlighted as a priority. Ronald Koeman's appointment as manager at Southampton may finally allow things to smooth over regarding the unclear future of Shaw, who reportedly told the Saints that he wanted to depart for United on the final day of last season.
Van Gaal could also be tempted to sway towards the experience in Vermaelen whose versatility allows him to operate at both centre and left back, with the option of deploying Shaw or Patrice Evra as well. With Johnny Evans now the only 'experienced' head in central defence, Vermaelen—who is yet to enter his prime years as a defender—gives assurance to Phil Jones and Chris Smalling's development that they won't be completely overruled by a villainous world-class defender who would start the majority of games that has already been shortened with a Champions League-less season.
From lesson's that can be taken with Van Gaal's emphatic Netherlands side against Spain, the ability to make Ron Vlaar look a mirror image of a Paolo Maldini for 90 minutes gives optimism that a transformation of Vermaelen is possible. Vermaelen as well as existing members of the United squad—who themselves are in a situation similar to Vermaelen's at Arsenal (surplus)—can be reinvented with a new direction under a new manager.
The move does make sense, but at the same time may not for others. The bottom line is that Vermaelen is an experienced player who adds depth to the squad but is not someone who can dramatically improve the squad while perhaps better options may be available.
Squad fillers are aplenty, but the question remains. Who can grow from mediocrity into a renowned and influential member for Manchester United under Van Gaal as the squad seems more determined and hungrier for success than ever?