Manchester United’s central defence has been a problem area ever since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić were moved on in 2014. Now Diego Godín is the latest name on the list of options to try and fix things.
It’s not surprising. Godín is just the kind of no-nonsense but capable defender that one can imagine José Mourinho dreaming about at night, a kind of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho hybrid.
At 31, would the Uruguayan still be a good option for the Red Devils? And how have United got themselves in a position where they need to sign a new centre-back every summer?
The story so far…
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have almost caused more problems than they’ve solved during their United careers.
Neither have really developed into elite-level defenders as hoped – proved by the fact that Jones is not part of the starting England line-up and Smalling isn’t even in the squad – but nor have they bombed hard enough to make selling them an obvious option.
Neither are good enough to nail down a consistent starting place without disruptions of injury or poor form, but both are too good to spend the whole season sat on the bench.
Eric Bailly was a success after arriving in the summer of 2016, but has struggled with injuries; Victor Lindelöf’s debut season was largely unimpressive.
A good fit
Godín ticks a number of boxes for United. Though hard to tell for certain from the outside, there is a sense that the Uruguayan has the kind of mentality that Mourinho is after.
The manager has spoken or alluded to, mentality a lot during the past season, with certain players seemingly out in the cold because of a suboptimal one.
In fact, when asked towards the end of the season how he could fix his side’s inconsistencies, he said: “Try to succeed in getting every player to have the same mentality as I have.
“To have the same mentality as I have, is to face every game in the same way. I am not afraid to play against the big teams and I respect the small teams, and I prepare a match against a big team in the same way I prepare a match against a small team.”
Atlético Madrid play a similar enough defensive style of football to Mourinho’s United that moving from one to the other wouldn’t require too much adjustment.
Both sit at about the same height on the pitch, making their possession regains in virtually the same proportions across the field.
In fact, the biggest stylistic difference is likely to be on the ball.
As seen in the above persona image, Godín’s game is characterised by long balls more than either Jones or Bailly. Mourinho may clamp down on these, or he may see them as a skill to be used in spreading the play quickly.
However, for all of the positives around Godín, there are some concerns. United haven’t properly solved their centre-back bothers in nearly four years, and a 31-year-old certainly wouldn’t be a long-term fix.
There’s no guarantee that he’d even be a short-term one. Defenders tend to have later peaks than attacking players, who are more reliant on pace and acceleration, but the early thirties are a questionable time for a supposedly elite side like United to be buying players.
If Atletico Madrid are prepared to let Godín go, that may well suggest that he’s not worth buying – or, at least, not worth relying on as a fix to the position. United certainly won’t be getting ‘peak Godín’ if they make the purchase.
The rumour is part of a Mourinho short-termism that one could argue is bordering on worrying.
The Portuguese manager likes players who he can rely on, but these tend to be older players who have no further room to grow – and players who are truly in their prime, and of the quality that United will want for their first team, generally aren’t affordable nowadays.
Godín would be a great addition to United’s revolving cast of central defenders – but it’s an addition to the cast that he’s likely to be, rather than someone who will cement a place, week in and week out, for the coming years.