Harry Maguire: Revisiting the 6 alternatives Man Utd chased in 2019

Harry Maguire had his ups and downs at Manchester United since signing from Leicester City for £80million, a world-record fee for a centre-back, back in the summer of 2019. 

The England international enjoyed a strong start to life at Old Trafford. He was a key player under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and named club captain after just one season with the club. But his form took a nosedive amid United’s struggles in 2021-22 and he struggled to move past the periphery under Erik ten Hag.

The writing was on the wall for Maguire’s Old Trafford future when Ten Hag made the decision to strip the defender of the captaincy, and sure enough it looks as though he’ll be moving on this summer – at a considerable loss. Sky Sports report that West Ham have had a bid accepted in the region of £30million.

But how might things have turned out had they signed another centre-back that summer? We’ve taken a look back at six other defenders the club were linked with back in 2019.

Issa Diop

The French defender enjoyed an impressive debut season at West Ham back in 2018-19 – so much so that Sky Sports News reported that United were “willing to pay £45million plus” for his signature.

That ultimately came to nothing and Diop ended up staying put in East London until 2022. It’s said that the Hammers were “holding out for £60million” but they let him go for just £15million to Fulham last summer.

While certainly a reasonably solid Premier League defender, the 26-year-old has shown little over the last four years to suggest that he’s quite at the level of a side with ambitions of challenging at the top end of the table.

Eric Dier

Jose Mourinho was reportedly keen on bringing Dier to Old Trafford back in 2017 – but the club are said to have refused to meet Daniel Levy’s £50million asking price.

Two years later the Manchester Evening News reported that the club revisited the potential signing as midfield cover for Nemanja Matic – although the England international’s versatility no doubt could have seen him fill a slot in the backline.

Matic remained at Old Trafford until he reunited with Mourinho at Roma last summer, while Dier is still a stalwart at Tottenham.

The 29-year-old has had some impressive spells of form with Spurs but has never quite shown the top-level consistency that’ll make United fans look back at this one with any real regret.

READ: Saluting Eric Dier & his fabulous arse-dumper tackle on Sergio Ramos

Nikola Milenkovic

Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio claimed that United were “exploring the possibility of signing” Fiorentina’s Milenkovic as “an alternative to Maguire” in July 2019.

The imposing 6’5″ Serbian defender had shown a lot of promise across his first couple of seasons at the Stadio Artemio Franchi and soon become a frequent fixture of the transfer rumour mill.

But just like his compatriot Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, that major European move never materialised. Milenkovic, 25, remains at Fiorentina.

William Saliba

One of the outstanding young defenders in Europe, Saliba was exceptional for Arsenal in 2022-23 – and it was arguably his injury that derailed their title charge in the end.

But the France international might’ve moved to Manchester United instead of the Gunners back in 2019.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer identified a teenage Saliba as a priority signing and the club even him lucrative personal terms to sign from Saint-Etienne.

But the youngster had already been sounded out by Arsenal and already felt a loyalty towards them. It’s also claimed he felt his first-team opportunities were more realistic in north London and he grew up with an affinity for the Gunners.

He’s recently committed his future to Arsenal by signing a new contract that runs to 2027.

Samuel Umtiti

According to The Guardian, United considered signing Umtiti for £40million – half Leicester’s asking price for Maguire – in 2019. Probably for the best they didn’t.

Undoubtedly one of the finest defenders in the world on his day, United can consider Umtiti a bullet dodged given his horrendous luck with injuries in recent years.

The Frenchman was world-class for Barcelona but his body has never quite recovered after giving it his all in France’s 2018 World Cup triumph.

There are some signs of progress, however; Umtiti has started 23 Serie A matches for Lecce this season, which is more than his last three La Liga seasons at Barcelona combined. He’s since joined Ligue 1 club Lille.

Raphael Varane

Paul Pogba was tipped to join his French compatriots Raphael Varane and Zinedine Zidane at the Bernabeu in 2019 – while there were even some suggestions that Pogba could be used in a swap deal for his Les Bleus team-mate.

Cashing in on Pogba might not have been the worst idea, given how his final years at Old Trafford went before he left on a free transfer in 2022, while getting Varane would’ve surely done no harm.

But United fans could be forgiven for some degree of scepticism given how the Sergio Ramos transfer saga unfolded in 2015. And sure enough Varane didn’t go anywhere.

“I’m going to continue here next year, I’m sure we’re going to relive strong emotions,” the World Cup winner announced at the end of Madrid’s 2018-19 campaign.

But the Red Devils landed him eventually. Varane struggled with injuries in his debut season at Old Trafford and never quite convinced alongside Maguire, but he looked the real deal in year two next to Lisandro Martinez.

It would have saved United a lot of headaches if they’d just landed Varane instead of Maguire four years ago.

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