When Virgil van Dijk joined Liverpool for a record-breaking £75million in January 2018, there were few, even among the Reds’ fanbase, who could justify the price tag.
18 months later however, with the Dutchman touted to be the first defender to win the Ballon d’Or since Fabio Cannavaro in 2006, that fee is simply a statistic consigned to the history books.
Van Dijk’s reign as the most expensive defender of all time is set to end though, with Harry Maguire’s £85million transfer to Manchester United all but completed.
The proposed fee has left fans of the Old Trafford club divided, with some unable to comprehend that United are paying more than Real Madrid did in 2009, for a certain Cristiano Ronaldo.
But would this deal really be such a gross overpayment, as some supporters are suggesting? The transfer bears striking similarities to the Van Dijk move a year and a half ago; like Liverpool in 2018, United are in desperate need of a commanding centre-half to steady a shaky defence. There is no reason why Maguire’s move to the North-West it shouldn’t be as successful.
The first thing to consider is the fact United are paying a premium due to the fact Maguire is English. The centre-back is a regular starter for the national side, meaning Leicester were able to demand a higher sum, due to the demand for homegrown talent.
With that being said, it is not inconceivable to think that United would’ve paid an almost an identical sum as Liverpool did in 2018, had Maguire been a foreign player.
But is the Sheffield-born defender the same calibre of player as Van Dijk, or indeed the other names United have been linked with?
Before he is compared to the 2019 PFA Player of the Year though, it should be noted that the 26-year-old is a far better defender than anyone currently at the disposal of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The former Hull City player managed more clearances, more passes, and more successful duels per 90 minutes last season than any defender at United. He also won more aerial duels per games (4.1) than Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones and Eric Bailly. The only player who could offer a single stat superior to Maguire last campaign was Chris Smalling, who won 4.3 aerial duels per game.
From this, it is evident that this acquisition will no doubt improve Solskjaer’s defence, but can he compete with the very best defenders in the world game?
Since the 2016-17 season, Maguire has managed more tackles per game than Van Dijk (1.6 compared to 1.2). But Liverpool’s star man won more aerial duels (74% compared to 71%) and made more interceptions per 90 minutes (1.7 compared to 1.6).
Van Dijk has a slight edge when it comes to defensive prowess, but it must be remembered that he has spent a season and a half at a top-six Premier League side. Perhaps these are statistics that should be revisited after Maguire has spent a season at Old Trafford, with a team that will spend more time on the front foot than the club he is leaving.
One of the other players who has been heavily lined to United this summer has been Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly. The Senegal centre-back was valued similarly to Maguire, despite being two years older, and unaffected by the ‘English players premium’.
Koulibaly has managed more tackles per 90 minutes (1.75) than Maguire, but that is the only area of his game that could justify a potentially higher fee than the Englishman.
The 28-year-old won just 57% of his aerial duels, as well as making fewer clearances and interceptions per 90 minutes. More concerningly, he has made four errors leading to goals since 2016. Maguire and Van Dijk have made just one apiece.
It is clear then that Maguire is truly one of the top defenders in world football, and of the centre-backs available in the current market, he is United’s best option.
It is not just his defensive capabilities though that attracted interest from both Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City as well as United; it is his ability to play out from the back.
Maguire is exceptionally comfortable with the ball at his feet, and it is no surprise that he completed the most dribbles (67) of any centre-back over the past two Premier League campaigns.
Perhaps more astonishingly, is that he managed more dribbles than the likes of Dele Alli and Roberto Firmino last year.
The Red Devils have been crying out for a centre-half with that level of assertiveness ever since Rio Ferdinand left the club in 2014.
Maguire has all the tools to succeed at Old Trafford, and if he does in fact end United’s 5-year-long defensive frailties, he will rival any centre-back in the world.
If he can reproduce the same form under increased pressure at United, perhaps his price tag will soon be as insignificant as Van Dijk’s has become.
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