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"No smoke without fire": Are Manchester United chasing Victor Lindelöf?

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The rumour mill seems to think that Manchester United may be after Benfica's Swedish central defender. We take a look.

Sweden v Bulgaria - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Images

In which The Busby Babe, as a service to you, tries to make sense of the transfer market. Today, reported Manchester United target Victor Lindelöf!

Who?

Lindelöf may sound like an elf, but he is in fact a Swedish central defender who plays for Benfica. He's 22 years old, he stands at 6'2, and he's been in Portugal since 2011. He made his debut for the first team in 2013-14 and has established himself as a fixture in this campaign, playing in 10 of 11 league games and all five matches in the Champions League group stage. He's also picked up 11 caps for Sweden.

And United are interested?

Apparently so. Portuguese newspaper O Jogo reckon United have been in contact, and according to Swedish website Fotbollskanalen — about whose provenance or trustworthiness we have no idea — Lindelöf is:

negotiating with Benfica Manchester United, Milan, Inter and Juventus - and it is Zlatan Ibrahimovic's team in the driving seat.

And they quote his agent, Hasan Cetinyaka, as saying:

I do not want to comment on various clubs but there is concrete interest from some of the largest in Europe. "Vigge" really enjoy it of Benfica at the same time as I have said before that there is no smoke without fire when it comes to many clubs are interested in him, but Victor is focused on Benfica.

Clearly not a vaper. Our thanks, as ever, to Mr G. Translate for his sterling work.

Is he any good?

The short answer is: we don't really know. Sorry. We don't keep up with the Portuguese league as much as we'd like. This shames us deeply.

The longer answer is that Ibrahimović esteems him very highly. Ahead of United's game against Feyenoord he told the press:

I think Victor is doing great things, he is playing good for Benfica, he gets a lot of responsibility for the national team now, he is growing. Is he good enough for United? I think he's good enough for the big clubs out there. It's up to him what he wants. Whatever he chooses will be good for him.

So too does Aitor Karanka, manager of Middlesbrough, who was himself a pretty decent central defender back in the day and nearly bought Lindelöf last January. The lad himself seems pleasingly ambitious, having announced his intentions to "be one of the best players in the world and play at the highest level" even before he'd properly broken into Benfica's first XI.

Why this could happen

Well, the general consensus seems to be that United will be looking to reinforce their defence in January. United have five theoretical specialists in the position, but each comes with their problems: Eric Bailly is currently injured and likely to attend the African Cup of Nations; Chris Smalling has had fitness issues; Daley Blind appears to be out of favour, at least as a central option; Marcos Rojo is forever on the edge of doing something ridiculous; and Phil Jones is ... well, he's Phil Jones. Bless him.

We can probably assume that as a Swede, Lindelöf wouldn't mind working with Ibrahimović, and if reports of a €30m release clause are accurate, then money shouldn't be too much of an issue. Look at us, being all blase about €30 million. Football does some strange things to your perspectives.

Another point to bear in mind is that while we don't know who they've bee watching, we do know that United have been doing lots of scouting at Benfica matches.

And why this won't happen

We think there are two factors working against this particular transfer. The first is the player's age: United's current centre-back options range in age from Eric Bailly at 22 to Chris Smalling at 27. The obvious gap is for somebody experienced to come in and partner either Bailly or Smalling while demonstrating how to defend like a grown-up.

That's exacerbated by the fact that this might be a January move. If United are to buy a central defender, they will have to be able to go straight into the first team and perform. That's not impossible for a 22-year-old switching leagues — Bailly managed it, albeit with a preseason — but it does seem like quite a tall order, quite a lot of pressure for the player, and quite a gamble for the club.

The second point is that from Benfica's point of view, they might want to hold on to him until the end of the season. They're currently on top of the Primeira Liga and second in their Champions League group, which doesn't seem like a particularly good moment to be selling a quarter of your defence. They might even be able to offer Champions League knockout football after Christmas, which he won't be getting at Old Trafford.

Transfer rating

We're not sure how to rank this. If United are interested, if there is a relatively low release clause, and if Benfica are willing to sell, then there's not much standing in United's way. Perhaps we have to wait and see how the Portuguese team get on in their final Champions League group game.

But his youth, and United's squad, make this a less likely signing in our view. At least for January. So let's call it 5 flat-pack meatballs out of 10. That way, whatever happens, we'll be wrong.