Manchester United are reportedly hoping to beat Arsenal and Chelsea to the signature of Aymeric Laporte after Louis van Gaal expressed an interest in bringing the Athletic Bilbao defender to Old Trafford in January.
According to reports, the Old Trafford outfit are understood to have made enquiries about the Frenchman through an intermediary, with a view to securing a January deal to help solve their defensive woes.
Van Gaal is currently without three central defenders in Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, as well as right-back Rafael, due to injury. Understandably, he is desperate to sign reinforcements in January.
How good is he?
Laporte is allegedly one of the top names on United's January transfer list, and for good reason. The Frenchman is an extremely promising prospect, and having already made 59 appearances for Athletic Bilbao, he is tipped to break into the senior France side in the near future.
Simply put, Laporte is one of the most promising young centre-backs in Europe. He has all the attributes required of a modern-day centre-back. He is aerially commanding, strong in the tackle and an excellent distributor of the ball.
In 10 appearances this term he has completed 80% of his attempted passes, while winning 57% of his tackles and 59% of his aerial duels. Furthermore, he has averaged eight defensive actions per match, making 3.8 interceptions and 3.8 clearances per match.
Is he available?
While Bilbao are seemingly reluctant to part with Laporte, the presence of a £32 million buyout clause in his current contract leaves the Spanish club powerless to prevent his departure.
The 20-year-old's prospective arrival would topple the fees previously paid by the club for Rio Ferdinand and Luke Shaw, making the Frenchman the Red Devils' most expensive ever defender.
Laporte has three years left to run on his current deal at San Mamés, and ultimately a deal will be dependent on where he wishes to play his football.
He has expressed a desire to play for Barcelona, not too long ago, admitting a move to the Nou Camp would be a dream come true. Nonetheless, he could be tempted by a switch to Old Trafford, playing for a club who are desperate for a player of his calibre.
Who are the alternatives?
United have reportedly been keeping an eye on Zenit St Petersburg's Ezequiel Garay and Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund, but they face an almost impossible task in landing the latter.
Hummels has already expressed his desire to play for Arsenal, should he make the switch to the Premier League. Reports have suggested United could be scuppered in any move for the German international with the Gunners apparently leading the way.
Meanwhile, it is unlikely that Van Gaal will be willing to pay an inflated free for Garay, just months after deciding against signing the Argentine international when he was at Benfica.