Erik ten Hag and Manchester United reportedly want to overhaul their defence in 2024. There have been “conversations” behind the scenes at Old Trafford about reshaping the Dutchman’s backline through a series of departures and some incomings.
United have elected not to trigger their option to extend Raphael Varane’s contract by a further year, which could see him leave the club as a free agent in June, and Jonny Evans’ one-year deal is also due to expire then after his move from Leicester City last summer.
With Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof up for sale if suitable offers arrive, United could bring in multiple new faces, with the likes of Jarrad Branthwaite (Everton), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich) and Jean-Clair Todibo (Nice) already linked. And now, after a fresh report, another name can be added to that list.
Man Utd could beat Liverpool to Itakura
According to Football Transfers, Man Utd have joined the race to sign Ko Itakura from Borussia Monchengladbach. The Japanese defender, who is appreciated for his “versatility and proficiency in playing out from the back”, is emerging as a “prime target” for United in the remainder of this month’s transfer window.
While United know that Itakura will be available for £13m from this summer thanks to a release clause in his contract, they want to get the jump on potential rival Premier League suitors Tottenham and Liverpool, who don’t intend to move for the player until the off-season. That leaves the “door open” for Ten Hag, and while he’s working with a limited budget this month, there may still be scope to bring in the 26-year-old before the deadline.
Itakura has ball-playing edge on Varane
Itakura would be a particularly notable addition for United because he used to be on the books of rivals Manchester City, who signed him from Kawasaki Frontale in his native Japan in 2019. He would never make an official appearance for the club, instead spending time on loan at Groningen in the Netherlands and Schalke in the 2. Bundesliga before settling at Gladbach in a permanent 2022 transfer.
One potential concern for Ten Hag is the player’s recent injury record. Itakura has only played eight club games so far this season, having suffered an ankle injury in early October, while he was unavailable for 10 of his side’s league matches in the autumn of 2022 after sustaining knee ligament damage. Bundesliga pundit Ronan Murphy has consequently quipped that “Ko” stands for “knocked out”
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But as the report notes, his ball-playing ability when fit remains a major draw, with the defender previously labelled “progressive” prior to his move to Celtic. Itakura ranked third in the Bundesliga last season for pass completion rate (90.8%) and also led the way at Gladbach for successful passes per 90 (64.7). No outfielder had fewer passes blocked (0.32).
He beats Lindelof (90.1%), Varane (88.6%), Evans (86.4%) and Maguire (82.5%) when it comes to pass completion, and so Ten Hag may simply view him as a better fit for his philosophy.