Sometimes silence is a virtue but, if you’re a Manchester United fan right now, the ongoing silence in David Moyes’ first transfer window is highly worrying. With just over two weeks to go until the transfer window ‘SLAMS shut’, to quote Sky Sports’ Jim White, United have failed to land any of their big name targets. Cesc Fabregas continues his Catalan love in; Thiago Alcantara hopped on a flight to Munich to be reunited with his mentor, Pep Guardiola. Leighton Baines and Maroune Fellaini remain Everton players, and neither, let’s be honest, could be called a stellar signing. Whilst midfield is a priority, strengthening their defence is something United must prioritise if they’re to hold off the challenges of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Manuel Pellegrini at a new-look Man City.
Step forward Ezequiel Garay, the Argentinean centre-back plying his trade at Benfica. Garay has been linked repeatedly with The Red Devils this summer, with premature reports back in July claiming that an imminent £17.3m release clause had been triggered in the technically-gifted Argentine’s contract. Not so; he remains in Lisbon. With Napoli among a range of other clubs circling, should United delve into their deep war-chest to capture the Argentine? In a word, yes.
Admittedly, Garay failed to breakthrough at Real Madrid when offered an opportunity at a club of similar stature and prestige as United. But the centre-back’s progression since moving to Benfica in 2011 has been impressive, being a regular standout performer and an assured presence in their defence. Allowing the more combative Luisão to physically grind down opposition strikers, Garay’s superior ability to read the game and set up attacks from the back is reminiscent of Rio Ferdinand’s partnership with Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United. However, with Ferdinand now 34 and injury prone, a phasing out process of the former England captain must happen. Garay is 26 and about to enter his peak years as a centre-back; he is, essentially, a readymade replacement, an immediate starter with sufficient experience to survive and thrive in the cauldron-like atmosphere of Old Trafford.
Some United fans may point to the fact that Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling sit behind Ferdinand and Vidic in the United pecking order, eagerly snapping at the old guard’s heels and deserving of an opportunity. Evans is, and forever will be, an able deputy. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; Andrew Ridgeley in Wham! or Baldrick in Blackadder. He’s had a couple of decent seasons providing back-up for either Ferdinand or Vidic when they’ve been tucked up all poorly in bed, but that’s as far as it’ll get. The average United fan is grateful he’s there to paper over the cracks. But giving him a starting spot? That won’t send anyone’s heart aflutter in The Stretford End. It won’t even raise a pulse.
Smalling, I suspect, will never make it at United, though I may eventually be proven wrong. Jones on the other hand does have the ability to become a top class defender, with the great Fergie himself declaring so to anyone who took the time to listen last term. Nonetheless, Jones hasn’t even managed to demonstrate that he is, first and foremost, a centre-back. How can he be expected to make the step up now?
Garay played 42 games in a successful campaign for his club last season, where Benfica finished as runner-up in both The Europa League and their national cup. At United, Ferdinand appeared in a reasonable 32 games and Vidic only managed to appear in 23, which was an improvement on the previous season. Both men are formidably talented defenders but as their careers head into the twilight years territory, the signing of a multi-talented centre-back such as Garay would provide much needed stability at the heart of the Man United squad. David Moyes is understandably looking to make a marquee signing as he seeks to assert his authority at a club so associated with the prolonged success of his predecessor, Sir Alex Ferguson. However, building from the back and providing a solid foundation for the talents of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney (if he stays) to shine should be at the forefront of his mind.
Garay demonstrated his exceptional talent yesterday in Argentina’s impressive 2-1 triumph over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico. Before being replaced by Fabricio Coloccini with 20 minutes left, Garay ably coped with the boisterous attacking threat of Pablo Osvaldo, utilising his sense of expert special awareness and timing to nullify the Italian striker. If anything, this performance reasserted my belief that Garay’s talents would suit the Premier League champions. He has the physical ability to go toe to toe with brutishly strong forwards such as Romelu Lukaku but crucially also possesses the sort of wise footballing brain necessary to combat the threat of wily playmakers like Juan Mata or David Silva. If Benfica are holding out for £21.5m as is rumoured, then United should pay it. In the money mad world of football, £21.5m for an established, talented centre-back about to enter his peak years seems very reasonable business. My message to the United hierarchy is this: sign Garay. It’ll give the fans a sense of security to counteract the nervous fears currently doing the rounds on internet forums and in the pubs of Manchester. Yes, we need to sign a first-rate midfielder, maybe even a forward too. But with the classy Ezequiel Garay providing an elegant spine at the back, everything else will (hopefully) fall into place.