Will Manchester United and City miss out on €20m defender target?

Ezequiel Garay

Manchester United and rivals Manchester City could miss out on the signing of Benfica defender Ezequiel Garay, amid rumours the Argentine could head for Russia.

Both Manchester clubs seem intent on strengthening the centre of their defence this month, as United boss David Moyes looks to land the long-term successors to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, with the long-serving duo almost certainly heading for the exit as their contracts expire in six months.

Meanwhile, City manager Manuel Pellegrini has seen his defence struggle away from home, with Martin Demichelis, Joleon Lescott and Matija Nastasic all failing to nail down a regular spot next to captain Vincent Kompany in the heart of the defence. When Kompany was injured earlier in the season, City even had to resort to playing defensive midfielder Javi Garcia in defence, prompting speculation of a move in the January for a new defender.

Both clubs have been linked with Porto's Eliaquim Mangala and Villarreal's Mateo Musacchio, but Benfica's former Real Madrid man Ezequiel Garay was regularly linked with a move to Manchester, whether with City or United. In fact, Garay was all set for a move to Old Trafford last summer, only for Moyes to pull the plug on the deal.

I believed I was going to join Manchester United in the summer,” Garay said. “The deal was nearly closed but finally Benfica did not accept the offer. I believe the exit of Ferguson has influenced the deal. Moyes did not believe in me as much but that's not a problem.”

Having worked with Garay during his time at Real Madrid, it seemed that Pellegrini was set to swoop in and take the 27 year old to the Etihad Stadium and make Moyes regret his dalliance, but now Russian giants Zenit St. Petersburg look set to clinch his signature.

Benfica are reportedly strapped for cash at the moment, and will sell midfielder Nemanja Matic back to Chelsea for €30m this week, but more sales look likely as Garay's €20m release clause has attracted Zenit's interest, with many of Europe's big clubs looking to poach some of Benfica's top players.

Garay has been linked in a double deal involving former Bolton loanee Rodrigo, reminiscent of Zenit's double swoop on Benfica and Porto to sign Axel Witsel and Hulk nearly 18 months ago.

The news would certainly rubbish last week's reports from Portugal that Garay had agreed a deal to join United in the summer.

If this is to be Garay's exit, then he left in the best possible fashion as the towering centre back scored the second goal in Benfica's emotional 2-1 win over rivals Porto yesterday. Marking the passing of a club legend by all wearing shirts with the name Eusebio on the back, Benfica put their off field problems behind them to clinch a win.

If Zenit strike, in the case of United in particularly - it will be another case of opportunity missed due to to summer hesitancy.

image: © jansolo09

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