Premier League transfers: Manchester United still in search of defensive reinforcements

Manchester United have added to their squad in this transfer window in the form of midfielder Mason Mount, Andre Onana in goal and a new number 9 in Rasmus Højlund, but reports suggest that Erik ten Hag wants defensive reinforcements ahead of the window closing. 

Early on in the window, former Napoli centre-back Kim Min-Jae was linked with a move to Old Trafford, but he ultimately ended up joining Bavarian giants Bayern Munich, leaving United still a little short on trusted options in the heart of their back line. 

But an exclusive from Turkish journalist Ekrem Konur on Premier League Brasil suggests that United are in negotiations with at least two centre-backs – Nice’s ex-Barcelona man Jean-Clair Todibo, and Newcastle United’s Sven Botman. 

Who are United reportedly targeting?

Sven Botman

Newcastle United's Sven Botman and Manchester United's Wout Weghorst battle for the ball during the Carabao Cup Final match at Wembley
Photo by Icon Sport

United have reportedly made Botman their first-choice target. The Dutch defender, who arrived at St. James’ Park last summer from Lille for a fee of around £35m, was a revelation in his debut Premier League season. 

Botman made 36 league appearances and was a bedrock of the defensive line as Eddie Howe’s Magpies finished fourth, returning to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in two decades. 

United were clearly impressed with Botman’s performances – and Ten Hag’s tenure at Ajax did overlap with the defender’s time there, although he was at the time a part of the youth squad at Ajax before being loaned out to Heerenveen. 

As a crucial member of the Newcastle squad though, there’s no reason to believe that the Magpies would be in any way willing to let Botman leave, especially to a direct rival in the Premier League. 

Their financial situation only adds to this – backed by the riches of the Saudi PIF, they have no need or desire to sell, which means that Manchester United’s interest, even with Botman’s possible relationship with his countryman Erik ten Hag, is almost certainly going to come to nothing. 

Jean-Clair Todibo

Jean Clair TODIBO of Nice during the UEFA Europa Conference League, quarter final match between Basel and Nice on April 13, 2023 in Basel, Switzerland.
Photo by Icon Sport

A more reasonable target is Nice’s 23-year-old Jean-Clair Todibo. Despite his relatively tender years, Todibo has had somewhat of a nomadic career in football already. 

Breaking through at just 17 into the Toulouse senior setup back in 2018, the defender was quickly snapped up by Barcelona after making just 10 games for the Occitanian club on a free transfer. 

There weren’t many opportunities in Catalonia though, and Todibo was sent off on loan spells to Schalke (which went pretty well) and Benfica (which didn’t), before heading back to France on loan with Nice – who made his deal permanent for €8.5m. 

Since returning to France, Todibo has developed into the talent that Barcelona hoped he’d become, racking up 85 appearances on the Riviera and growing into one of the best defenders in Ligue 1 – something rewarded with his first senior call up to the France squad in March 2023. 

A far more attainable option, Todibo’s profile fits this Manchester United side nicely, and he would be given the platform long-term to become countryman Raphael Varane’s successor, whilst allowing him a period of adjusting to the Premier League. 

The Maguire factor

Harry Maguire of Manchester United looks on during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg match between Manchester United vs Sevilla FC
Photo by Icon Sport

United’s interest in a centre-back is partly founded on the idea that Harry Maguire will leave the club this summer after a few rocky years at Old Trafford.

There was reportedly the potential that Manchester United would offer Maguire to Newcastle as a sweetener in any deal bringing Botman the other way, but with West Ham’s interest now confirmed, London looks a far more likely destination for the former United skipper. 

With discussions ongoing regarding a switch to David Moyes' outfit for Maguire, United's interest in bringing in a replacement could well accelerate in the next few days.

Writer Jack Collins collaborated with the Football Whispers team in 2023.