Varane out, Bremer and Araujo in? Assessing Man Utd centre back options

Peter Staunton
  • Updated: 24 Feb 2024 15:26 GMT
  • 6 min read
Ronald Araujo, Barcelona, 2023/24

Manchester United’s problems at centre back this season have been well documented.

Defensive leader Lisandro Martinez has seen his injury problems continue with the World Cup winner only managing eight Premier League appearances so far.

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As one of Erik ten Hag’s landmark signings from former club Ajax, it was expected that he would grow into a mainstay at Old Trafford and while he’s been impressive during his time on the pitch, he has missed far too many matches.

His latest injury setback means he is out for around two months.

Manchester United have had a lack of rhythm and a lack of consistency in the backline this season with Ten Hag being forced to mix and match his options.

A 35-year-old Jonny Evans was brought back to the club in summer and has made more first-team appearances than he might have expected. It’s a sign of the times at the club that Evans has featured so frequently and his absence has been felt when he’s not available.

Man Utd to overhaul centre backs in summer

The Northern Irishman will be out of contract in the summer and he’s not the only defender new minority part-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe will have to move on from.

United have already reportedly taken the decision not to renew the contract of Raphael Varane. He was signed from Real Madrid in 2021, with the club declaring at the time that his deal would run to 2025, but in order to remain there that long the Frenchman would need to have an option triggered by club bosses. Like David de Gea before him however, the club have declined to do so.

The 30-year-old’s mammoth wages, estimated at around £340,000 per week, are a huge drain on the club’s resources and he has failed to demonstrate the kind of form, fitness and reliability you’d expect from a player of his world-class reputation.

A fallout was reported to have taken place with the manager earlier this season when Varane was dropped for the Manchester derby and although he was a consistent player under Ten Hag during his first season at the club, Varane’s time would appear to be up.

United, meanwhile, were desperate to offload Harry Maguire last summer with a move to West Ham breaking down late in the day. To his credit, Maguire stuck around and fought for his place when Ten Hag had stripped him of the captaincy and all but exiled him from the squad.

That said, the 30-year-old’s long-term future is far from guaranteed and he is out of contract in 2025. Given his age and Ten Hag’s lack of trust, it would be no surprise to see United again try to recoup some of the £75m they spent to take him from Leicester back in 2018.

Victor Lindelof is out of contract in 2025, with a contract extension recently triggered, and United won’t lose him for free at the end of the season. Perhaps they would be willing to entertain bids for the 29-year-old with Ratcliffe and incoming sporting director Dan Ashworth seeking to reduce the average age in the squad.

Willy Kambwala, meanwhile, looks promising in that position but it’s unlikely he will be thrown in as first choice.

Quite simply, Man Utd are due an overhaul at centre back and it could happen this summer. Reporters have long earmarked a defender as a priority position and the summer could well be the time for Ten Hag and Ashworth to strike.

They have been linked with some of the best up and coming talents in European football for that position all season long and it’s expected at least one new face will arrive.

Jean-Clair Todibo - Nice

Jean-Clair Todibo of Nice has been touted as an option and comes with the advantage of having worked with Ratcliffe’s INEOS enterprise at his current club.

The 24-year-old was a January target but United’s precarious spending position in the previous window ruled out his arrival.

© IMAGO - Todibo

Leny Yoro - Lille

Fellow Frenchman Leny Yoro, of Lille, is on the shopping list of not only United but Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. The teenager has a contract until 2025 and his club could seek to cash in this summer.

Jarrad Branthwaite - Everton

Closer to home and Jarrad Branthwaite of Everton has emerged as a player United could seek to sign this summer. Everton need to sell players as the scale of their financial crisis bites ever harder and it’s been reported that the Toffees want £100 million for the 21-year-old.

It’s unlikely Tottenham, who also want Branthwaite, could go that high so that might well leave United as the only bidders in the race.

Antonio Silva - Benfica

Antonio Silva has long been linked with Old Trafford with the 20-year-old Portugal international a player of immense promise. The Benfica starlet has also attracted the attention of Paris Saint-Germain and the Lisbon side might well be hoping for a bidding war this summer. Silva could command €100 million in the market.

Marc Guehi - Crystal Palace

This week it was reported that United could go in for Crystal Palace defender Marc Guehi. Dan Ashworth reportedly tried to sign the England international for Newcastle during his time as sporting director there and could well move to bring him in at the end of the season should his deal be ratified in time.

© IMAGO - Guehi

Palace are prepared for bids with the 23-year-old having a contract which expires in 2026 and they will be keen to cash out with the player at his maximum value. Liverpool have also expressed interest while Chelsea, where Guehi was developed, are said to have a matching clause in the deal which took him to Palace.

Ronald Araujo - Barcelona

Now established as one of the best central defenders in world football, Ronald Araujo is nonetheless the most bankable asset that cash-strapped Barcelona have got on their books. He could be sacrificed to bring in some much-needed funds at Camp Nou with Barca reportedly ready to sell him to Bayern Munich for €80 million in winter.

That deal didn’t materialise with manager Xavi reportedly ready to walk if the deal happened. But the 24-year-old could be touted around again in summer with Xavi gone and subsequently United have been linked. What a signing the Uruguayan would be.

Bremer - Juventus

Bremer signed a new Juventus contract back in December, tying him to the club until 2028, but that hasn’t stopped reports linking the Brazilian with a move away.

Juve protected their investment with the new contract and there is no doubt that the 26-year-old could move on this summer if the price is right. The Italians would look for around €60 million to €70 million for the 26-year-old, now out on his own as the best defender in Serie A.

Again, this week brought reports that Unite could strike and his blend of leadership and physicality would mark him out as an Old Trafford favourite.

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