When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer draws up the checklist of ideal attributes that he would want from a new Manchester United centre back, pace, being left-footed and comfortable on the ball would be near the very top.
David Alaba would certainly tick all three of those boxes and we now know for certain what has been expected for several months – that he will be leaving Bayern Munich this summer.
It’s long been expected that the 28-year-old would leave the European champions when his contract ends in June and he confirmed that to be the case on Tuesday, with the usual vagueness about his next destination.
“I have decided to do something new. It wasn’t an easy decision. I have not yet made the decision where to go,” he said.
“I have personally decided to see something new, to look for a new challenge. That certainly took its time.
“It’s no secret that my agent is negotiating with other clubs. I am looking for a new challenge to develop myself as a person on and off the pitch.
“Where can I continue to play football successfully? That will certainly be important in my decision.”
United are one of a number of clubs linked with Alaba, with Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Juventus also potential destinations, while Manchester City have ruled themselves out.
One stumbling block to any deal may be his reportedly astronomically wage demands. A player of Alaba’s class leaving his existing club on a free transfer will always come with a hefty premium and given the sensible approach United have taken in the transfer market during the pandemic, he may need to reduce those demands if a move to Old Trafford is going to make sense.
There’s no doubt he would be an ideal fit for Solskjaer’s side, however. United are monitoring their options when it comes to signing a centre back this summer and the defensive concerns that continue to plague them were again highlighted at the weekend in the draw with West Brom.
Solskjaer has tended to stick with Victor Lindelof as Harry Maguire’s partner this summer, but there’s certainly a theory that the club captain is better with a quick defender, like Eric Bailly, alongside him. That would allow United to play a higher defensive line as well and rely on recovery pace to get them out of trouble.
Alaba, having played left-back and central midfield in his career, is excellent on the ball which would increase United’s passing options from the back. Crucially his left-footedness and being able to play on the left side of a two would also be an advantage.
Solskjaer gave the game away towards the end of last season over what he wants from a new centre back, with the TV cameras capturing him telling Nathan Ake after United’s win over Bournemouth: “We need a left-footed centre-back, keep going.”
Ake, of course, ended up at Manchester City, who now have an enviable cast of centre backs to pick from. A few months ago it looked like Dayot Upamecano was the subject of interest from every club requiring a top-class central defender this summer, but interest cooled and it became clear he was Bayern bound himself, a deal confirmed last week and one which showed Alaba’s decision has also been made.
The Austrian will be a man in demand this summer as a versatile, world-class central defender and one of the few at that level who is left-footed. He’d be a difficult and complex signing for United, but he might also be perfect for them.