Monday 22 January 2018 / 07:31 AM

Vermaelen pursuit shows damage at Man U

First, a disclaimer:

Regular readers of my articles on Commentary Box Sports could be forgiven for thinking that I have something against Manchester United.

I don’t. . I’ve loved watching United over many years, and many of my closest friends are massive Mancs. It has simply been the case that over the last 12 months, United have given me an awful lot to write about. 

And they continue to do so. Louis van Gaal’s first month in charge has been a fascinating opening to what looks like being a promising tenure. The Dutchman has got United playing in a way that’s effective and looks good; two fundamental areas that his predecessor failed in.

However, amidst the good feeling at Old Trafford, there is also a pervading feeling that without a few more recruits in the right areas, even Louis van Gaal will struggle to turn this side into world-beaters this season.

The area currently causing the most concern is, of course, the defence, and the fact that the Dutchman has decided to switch to a formation that deploys three centre backs, rather than the status quo of two, highlights even more starkly the need for reinforcements in that department.

A number of names have been touted as possible recruits for the vacant central defender spots, but speculation about one particular player has severely ramped up in recent days. That player is, of course, Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen.

When asked, Gunners boss Arsene Wenger was quite clear about the fact that the Belgian international could be leaving the Emirates before the transfer window slams shut on September 1st, and the Frenchman hinted quite strongly that Manchester United was one of the main suitors.

Am I the only one who is a little bit surprised about this?

Let’s put it into context. Vermaelen used to be a first-team regular at Arsenal. He was captain fantastic, the reliable rock at the heart of their defence. Then he lost form. Like, a lot of form. In fact, he grew so out of form that he completely lost his place in the team. Last season, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were virtually ever-present in the Arsenal back four and the result for Vermaelen was a whole lot of bench-warming. When the Belgian came on, he looked unconvincing, clumsy and awkward. A disaster waiting to happen.


At the World Cup, Vermaelen was either left on the bench or deployed out of position at left back. He was certainly not regarded as a key figure for Marc Wilmots’ side.

And yet, he is being touted as a potential key figure in van Gaal’s team. It doesn’t really make sense to me – unless I consider United’s fallen position.

Let’s think back to 2002. United signed Rio Ferdinand for over £30 million. At that point in time, Ferdinand was one of the best – if not the best – defenders in world football. The Red Devils identified him, and signed him because they knew that he could make a profound difference to their team. And he did. For over 10 years.


Twelve years later, and they’re essentially signing an Arsenal reject to fulfil a similar role. Why aren’t they busting the bank to sign Mertesacker?  Or Koscielny?  Or Sergio Ramos?  Or Daniel van Buyten?

The truth is that, implicit within the pursuit of Vermaelen, is the recognition that United are miles away from football’s top table. There’s been all sorts of talk this summer about the fact that United are the biggest club in the world, but if that was true in all the senses in which it is claimed, those aforementioned players would at least be interested in joining them; Champions League or no Champions League.

I really don’t mean it as a bash; but to me, the fact that United are desperate to recruit an out-of-form, Arsenal reject highlights how far they’ve fallen and how much ground they need to make up. The trouble is, they won’t make that ground up by buying average players that their former rivals don’t even want anymore.

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About the author

Seb Greenwood

CBS’s longest-serving contributor, Englishman Seb is our leading football correspondent, pulling no punches with his opinions on the Premier League and the international scene.

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