The £30m perfect signing who can round off Man Utd’s summer transfer window in style

Manchester United have had a decent transfer window - but they’ve missed out on their central defensive targets. Could an Ecuadorian youngster be the answer?
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For the most part, Erik Ten Hag will be pretty happy with the business Manchester United have done this summer – even if he will probably be less thrilled by the lack of movement in the ownership. Still, they’re well into the process of upgrading and refreshing the midfield, have added a talented young striker in Rasmus Højlund, and the Dutchman can feel pretty content with where his squad stands.

There is one potential area of concern, however – and that’s at centre-back. Raphaël Varane and Lisandro Martínez are fine players, but both have a checkered injury history, and after that the ranks get a little thin. Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly are both expected to leave, leaving Victor Lindelöf as the only back-up option if the club opt against re-signing Jonny Evans, who has been playing with them over the summer on a short-term deal. Luke Shaw can slot in should there be a dire need, but it’s fair to say that United are only a couple of injuries away from a problem.

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And United were indeed linked with several high-class centre-backs at the top of the transfer window, suggesting it was an area of concern from the very start of the summer – but those targets are now off the market. Kim Min-Jae has moved to Bayern Munich, Jurriën Timber is now at Arsenal, Axel Disasi signed for Chelsea and Alessandro Bastoni struck a new, five-year deal with Inter Milan. With most of the remaining first-rate centre-halves firmly off the market, the options are looking rather thin.

The ideal, then, would be for Ten Hag to pick up a high-quality centre-back who can add depth but also add some potential for the future – and there’s one young centre-back who could easily be available and wouldn’t break the bank. Bayer Leverkusen’s Piero Hincapié.

The Ecuadorian centre-back, just 21 years of age, is a rare breed, and his quality is evident. He’s an unusual example of a modern centre-back who is not only a decent passer and an outstanding ball-carrier, but who still has outstanding numbers for the more old-fashioned parts of the defensive game. He’s statistically up there with the best tacklers in the modern game and has the ability to press out and break up plays further up the field. He’s a genuine all-rounder.

And he’s also impressed in the Bundesliga. He started 27 of Leverkusen’s matches in the league as they turned a disastrous start into European qualification after the appointment of head coach Xabi Alonso, and already has 27 senior international caps despite his young age. Hincapié has all the hallmarks of a future star.

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And people have noticed, of course. Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and even Nottingham Forest have all been linked with a bid, although nothing solid has come of those rumours just yet. The suggestion that Premier League clubs were sniffing around the youngster in January led to his club signing up to a deal that lasts until 2027, so his club are unlikely to be in a rush to sell, but a substantial bid should still be considered, and Transfermarkt estimate his value at €35m (£30m) – not exactly loose change, but manageable money.

It’s worth sounding a couple of notes of caution with Hincapié. It’s no huge surprise given his relative inexperience, but his decision-making definitely needs to improve and he is prone to getting himself caught in bad positions pressing at the wrong moment or dribbling the ball at the wrong time. He is a rough diamond with some edges that need smoothing – but good coaching backed up by a reasonable amount of gametime at a top level club seems like a great fit for the player, as well as making sense for United.

He’s also not especially imposing in the air, standing a shade under six feet and with relatively underwhelming numbers when it comes to aerial duels. He is a ball-playing defender, not a colossus who can head balls away all day like he’s Tony Adams. But despite his deficiencies, he has all the attributes that a defender could possibly need to succeed in the modern game, so long as he gets the right guidance.

Of course, there are plenty of Premier League squad he could improve. Spurs may be out of the market given their signings of Micky van de Ven and Ashley Phillips, while they continue to work on a deal for Hincapié’s Leverkusen team-mate Edmond Tapsoba – but Newcastle could definitely use an extra high-quality body at the back, and Forest would certainly be improved by his signing were they able to prise him away from a club playing in Europe. Any squad looking to take a step up to meet their ambitions over the coming seasons would benefit from doing their due diligence on the Ecuadorian – United just happen to be one of those in relatively immediate need.

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Wherever he ends up, Hincapié is worth keeping an eye on. He’s got talent to burn and could easily reach the very highest echelons of the global game – and clubs like United would do well not to sleep on him.

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