This week has seen growing reports that Manchester City are plotting a January move for Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk.
The Dutch defender has attracted interest from Liverpool for the past twelve months, but is a move to the Etihad Stadium a possibility this January, or will City pursue a move for the considerably cheaper Inigo Martinez?
City are in the market for a defender in the January transfer window due to Vincent Kompany’s constant injury woes and Eliaquim Mangala being somewhat of a liability – leaving John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi as the only two centre-back options Pep Guardiola can rely on to provide form.
Van Dijk is tipped by many to become the man to help City conquer English football once more and push their quest for domestic supremacy over the line but is a deal for the Dutch defender likely to occur?
Southampton are demanding a fee upwards of £60million for Van Dijk while City valued the 26-year-old at £45million before walking away from any potential deal last summer. But has opinions at the Etihad changed over the past six months?
The market City now find themselves in is incredibly different to the one the Blues initially went shopping in last May. City believed Van Dijk was worth far less than Southampton valued him at, before the transfer market exploded and inflation grew following Neymar’s world-record €222million move to Paris-Saint Germain.
However, City always remained firm with transfer fees and rarely will Txiki Begiristein pay more than what he believes the player is worth when negotiating a deal. City have become notorious in the transfer market and regularly got the player they targetted for the value they think is right.
Liverpool have been quoted £70million for the player, but after last summer’s fiasco where Southampton reported the Merseysiders for tapping up, it’s unclear whether they will move again for the player for the price demanded.
On the other hand, City have the cheaper option of moving for Real Sociedad’s Inigo Martinez. The 26-year-old has a £30million buy-out clause and would prove to be the less expensive of the two players.
Any deal for Martinez would not be as complicated as Van Dijk due to his fee set in his contract by Sociedad. City were interested in Martinez last summer but pursued other avenues including Jonny Evans.
Why may that be? Surely if Martinez were as highly-coveted like Van Dijk at the Etihad, the club wouldn’t have moved away from potential signing Evans, instead?
On the other hand, Vincent Kompany’s injury woes have proved too much for Guardiola lately, and the City boss has publicly spoken about how the Belgian can no longer be relied upon to remain fit.
Van Dijk is considered the ideal candidate to replace Kompany’s characteristics at City as his leadership, physicality and power are required due to the English style of play in the Premier League.
Spaniard Martinez is considered by many as weak but more stylish than Van Dijk and could take plenty of time to settle in and adapt to Premier League football having played his entire career in La Liga.
Martinez was expected to replace Mangala in the squad and become the “fourth choice centre-back” option at City, which has been left void following Aleksandar Kolarov’s surprising decision to opt to join AS Roma last July.
A significant issue City face is having to replace both Kompany and Mangala in the squad between now and the summer, meaning City will require two centre-backs should both players depart the club.
Defenders with the same characteristics Vincent Kompany possesses have proven unique and challenging to come by; such is their demand.
In the summer transfer window, many clubs will be hopeful of strengthening in defence and should Van Dijk have already moved away from Southampton, not many options will be available for better value and have a lower risk factor of having played in the Premier League.
Fortunately for City, the modern game now possesses a wealth of centre-back options that can play out from the back and provide versatility to a defence. La Liga and Bundesliga football are fortunate enough to have numerous youngsters playing out from the back at a young age and confident enough to adapt to Guardiola’s style of football.
The fee mentioned for Van Dijk would be an enormous cost, even for a club like City, but Guardiola seems to have personally requested the Dutch defender, and should he come to the Etihad Stadium, he would smash the club record-fee of £54million paid when City bought Kevin De Bruyne in 2015.
City’s hierarchy will either have dropped their valuation of Van Dijk or believe he is now worth the fee demanded by Southampton for a move to be concluded.
A move to Liverpool is likely to occur unless City acts swiftly. There’s no denying the Blues would have the upper hand on convincing the Dutch international to join Guardiola’s revolution, but if they provide doubt in his mind that City are unsure regarding his value, it’s likely Liverpool will steal a march on the player.
Inigo Martinez remains a very viable option for City to considering his price-tag, but City (or at least Guardiola) have certainly concluded that Van Dijk is their number one target this January with the most significant obstacle remaining is whether a fee can be agreed for the 26-year-old.