What does Garay ‘deal’ mean for Jones at Manchester United?

According to reports this week Manchester United have ‘agreed’ a deal to bring in Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay for a fee of £17 million.

The fee quoted by Portuguese news publications as €20 million is understood to be a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ between Benfica and United as the player agrees personal terms with the club when the transfer window opens next month.

However, whilst Garay is a highly-rated quality central defender – at 26 years of age, he’s undoubtedly entering the peak years of his playing career and has already acquired a CV that boast the likes of Real Madrid and 13 caps for Argentina – he would join a squad that already has 5 first-team centre-backs.

Captain Nemanja Vidic and veteran Rio Ferdinand are expected to remain at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future. The skipper is 31 and, whilst Ferdinand is turning 35 this year, United still have Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and 21-year-old Phil Jones.

Jones cost United a sizable fee just two years ago – United paid £16.5 million to bring him from Blackburn Rovers to Old Trafford and whilst he’s still young, his quality is exceptional. He has the potential to become the best centre-back in England long before he reaches his mid-twenties.

Sir Alex Ferguson described him as a ‘monster’ last term and his performances against Real Madrid in the Champions League this term were outstanding. He has a bright future ahead of him and whilst he has already make an impressive start for the Red Devils, he needs time and games to develop and gain experience if he is to fulfil his potential.

Whilst he has featured in midfield for United, that’s not where I expect him to play in the future – he’s a defender primarily and United will likely see him as long-term replacement for Ferdinand, but until Rio leaves or retires, midfield may be the best place for him to get regular games.

Perhaps the real loser in this case is Chris Smalling – whilst Jonny Evans has made a remarkable improvement to become one of United’s most solid and reliable players, Smalling has failed to really challenge for a place in the first team ahead of his three elders.

The 23-year-old has had fitness troubles since he arrived at Old Trafford from Fulham as a 20-year-old – he featured just 15 times in the Premier League for United and played a full 90 minutes just 9 times in the league this term. His chances of getting regular starts will depreciate even further if Garay does in fact arrive this summer.

Whilst Jones is two years his junior, Smalling has yet to make enough of a step up to truly convince he is a first-choice centre-back of the quality that a club like United require and expect. He can't stay fit, and it's held back his career at the club so far majorly.

Supposing all five centre-backs are fit (which is a rarity) Vidic and Ferdinand would likely remain first-choice with Garay and Evans putting the pressure on them for starting places.

That leaves Smalling and Jones five and six places down the pecking order and leaves the manager with a rotation headache. On top of that, will David Moyes want to register six centre-backs? If he does, that’ll mean he loses an available man in another area.

If United do in fact have an agreement to sign Ezequiel Garay, I suspect David Moyes could even consider selling Chris Smalling – he’s the weakest link of all of them. They’re not going to lose faith in Jones overnight and Evans has really matured into a quality centre-back, Ferdinand will stay at least another year and the captain is not going anywhere.

image: © jansolo09

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