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Following the departure of imperious partnership Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic,

Manchester United are in need of a serious defensive shake-up.

Is Thomas Vermaelen the answer for Manchester United?Left with only the unpredictable, if enthusiastic, pair of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, the addition of a true top-class centre back seems high on Louis van Gaal’s summer shopping list.
Thomas Vermaelen training with Manchester United team mates Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra

Early tabloid rumours linked United with some of the best defensive prospects in Europe, with both Eliaquim Mangala and Mats Hummels strongly linked with making big money moves to Old Trafford. So the growing reports that Manchester United have agreed a deal for Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen may come as something of a surprise.

Manchester United fans might even be justified in reacting with indignation to their club paying around £10m for a player who managed to fall behind Carl Jenkinson in the pecking order at one of their rivals.
Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen being presented with his FA Cup winners medalDespite remaining the official Arsenal captain, the current Thomas Vermaelen is not the same player as that of seasons gone by. Following his move from Ajax in 2009, Vermaelen’s form in his first three years at Arsenal fluctuated between scintillating and injury-ravaged.

A positively-minded defender, Vermaelen featured highly on Arsenal’s Premier League top scorer lists in both 2009-10 and 2011-12, with seven and six goals respectively. In 2012-13 the goals dried up, and defensive performances left much to be desired. A run of inconsistency from the Belgian, most notably as Arsenal crashed out of the Capital One Cup to League Two Bradford, prompted Arsène Wenger to favour a partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. That pairing has blossomed into one of the Premier League’s most successful this season, relegating Vermaelen to the bench.

Vermaelen featured only sporadically last term. He started just seven games, of which only two were victories and only one was a clean sheet. Not reassuring statistics for anyone who is eager for Manchester United to finish higher than seventh this season.
Thomas Vermaelen in action versus Wigan Athletic

Unless he can recapture his early Arsenal form, it is difficult to envisage Vermaelen playing anything other than a support role at Old Trafford. Even with the Belgium vice-captain in their squad, Manchester United would still be short of a defensive cornerstone, a Vidic or a Kompany, a King Leonidas to lead those eleven Spartans warriors against the seemingly unstoppable forces of Eden Hazard, David Silva and Luis Suarez. United’s current defensive line up more closely resembles a troupe of bumbling circus clowns than an elite military brigade, and it is difficult to imagine Thomas Vermaelen doing too much to alter that.

So what then, does Vermaelen offer? Van Gaal’s philosophy centres on his team’s unwavering adoption of his forward-minded style, requiring that every player on the pitch (including the defence) is capable of starting an attack. Phil Jones may certainly be adept at charging up field with the ball like a rampaging hippopotamus, but Chris Smalling couldn’t identify an incisive pass if he was given a specifically made Chris Smalling ‘Incisive Pass Identification Kit’. Neither occupy the same ‘ball-playing defender’ role as Vermaelen.

Add in the Belgian’s sizeable Premier League, continental and international experience, as well as the flexibility of being equally adept (or equally incompetent, if you’re Arsène Wenger) at left-back, and Vermaelen begins to tick a few more boxes.

Most importantly, he is a player in the Van Gaal mould. A player who graduated from the Ajax academy, the club Van Gaal brought to the pinnacle of European football in the 90s and the club that has produced so many of the members of the Belgian and Dutch teams at this year’s World Cup.
Thomas Vermaelen training with BelgiumHe is unlikely to become the linchpin of a title-wining defence, but he is a player Van Gaal understands and admires, and his signing would represent the first step in a new footballing direction, and importantly, a step away from the era of Ferguson.

No-one can deny that a major squad overhaul is required at United, and with links to Netherlands pair Daley Blind and celebrated eye-bulger Bruno Martins Indi, this could be the start of a low-countries revolution at Old Trafford.

Total football United, here we come.

Originally published at fourfourtweet.co.uk

Post written by Nick Waszkowycz
Blog: tikitakatargetman.com, Twitter: @tikitakatarget
for FourFourTweet, Blog: fourfourtweet.co.uk, Twitter: @FourFourTweet

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