Pitchside

Is Vlaar good enough for Manchester United?

Pitchside

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Few defenders emerged from this summer's World Cup with their reputation enhanced, with the record equalling total of 171 goals testament to the globe's attacking prowess rather than defensive solidity at present.

The frequent yet polite chuckles from former Italian defender turned pundit Fabio Cannavaro was testament to that, as the 40-year-old struggled to stifle his laughter on a number of occasions.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands, who had not been tipped to succeed due to their defensive frailties, emerged as contenders on the second day of the tournament when they dismantled reigning champions Spain.

Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar was leading the way and marshalling their back line steadily improving as his team progressed, thriving in a 3-5-2 formation. The central defender has not earned a glowing reputation during his spell in England's top tier but is now riding a wave of credibility that has seen him linked with a lucrative move to Old Trafford.

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However, should the Red Devils look to the man dubbed 'Roncrete' to cover the cracks showing in their defence unit? Or is he beneath the calibre of player that the club should be pursuing?

Although the vast amount of Dutchman that have been linked with the fallen giants on the basis that their nationality is the same as United's new manager, Vlaar's chance of a transfer seem much more likely than many of his compatriots.

If the Red Devils are to have an Oranje twang in the future, it is more likely to be in defence rather than attack, with Van Gaal already able to call upon his nation's finest striker in the form of Robin van Persie.

While the forward produced one of the most memorable moments in Brazil this summer courtesy of his head, one of the best defensive displays was commanded by Vlaar, who proved to be more than handy with his noggin too.

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The 29-year-old's efforts culminated in a colossal display against Argentina that made him the toast of the tournament for the night. Even a despairing penalty miss could not derail the bandwagon, particularly after it emerged he had been brave enough to step up and take the first spot kick when a number of his colleagues had ducked such a heavy burden.

Lionel Messi may not have been as firmly inside Vlaar's pocket as some had suggested, but he was undoubtedly shackled. During the competition in Brazil, Vlaar was almost unbeaten in the air, coming out as the losing party on just four occasions despite contesting a hefty total of 22.

With a passing accuracy of 91% he was a pillar in the Netherlands' defence, a calm head amongst a younger back line with significantly less experience than himself.

However, it seems that his dogged displays may have been a flash in the pan, despite fighting the fires of relegation with the Midlands outfit last season. Vlaar managed a 61% aerial duel success in the physical arena of the Premier League, which leans towards events in the air much more frequently than the majority of Netherlands' South American opponents this summer.

With little goal threat and lacking pace, he does not appear cut out for England's top tier after immediate viewing but Arsenal's Per Mertesacker proves that speed is not everything. Yet although interceptions are not his strong point his total of 63 was more than any Red Devil, except Michael Carrick (80).

With 55 successful tackles, Vlaar also ranks favourably against United, none of whom could better his tally. However, while he was a leading light for his national side the lion's share of Villa's defensive headers were won by Nathan Baker with 95 more than double Vlaar's total of 45.

Clearly the defender has weaknesses in his game, to suggest he is the finished article would not be advisable, but his knowledge of Van Gaal's philosophy should not be underestimated, the coach emphasises that he was planning to install it amongst his new squad was a key factor during a first conference since he took the reins.

Villa may well have encountered more danger than a United side that slipped to their worst ever points total in the Premier League era, but Vlaar seems to have the ability to play at a higher level. At 29 he would be an experienced head in the centre of defence and could prove to be an excellent addition, even if he was to be deemed a stop gap until more prestigious names became available.

Paul Lambert's side are strapped for cash and are currently at the opposite end of the transfer scale this summer, stocking up one veterans that appear to be past it rather than youngsters with potential like last time around.

Van Gaal's early comments at his first press conference smacked of a man intent on dissociating himself with instant success yet if the Premier League title is the aim, as it should be, Vlaar would be lucky to be considered to be regarded as a first choice starter. But given that he is in good form, is trusted by the manager and would be relatively cheap, United could do a lot worse.

Let us not forget the contingent the club are set to take on their pre-season tour of America consists of Rafael, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Tyler Blackett, Michael Keane. The eight names are closer to pitiful than prestigious. Granted Van Gaal is keen to assess his options before he sanctions new arrivals, but the central defensive crop is barren for a club of United's stature.

Vlaar does not represent a household name like Mats Hummels or the marque arrival of Eliaquim Mangala but United must accept that, despite their huge expectations, the most sought after defenders that could realistically move on this summer will have done so by the time they return from the money spinning tour of the USA.

The Villa defender does not represent glitz or glamour but unless sturdy and strong options are added to the defensive section of their squad, pulling silverware out of the hat may be too difficult next season, even for the man billed as Manchester's magician, Van Gaal.

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