For the most part, age is certainly on the side of the Manchester United squad.
With young names coming through the ranks such as Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay and Angel Gomes, to players who are now reaching the maturing stage of their careers while still being relatively young such as Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and even Eric Bailly.
For all the criticisms Jose Mourinho has had hurled his way, fans and critics alike have all praised the boss’ ability to build a squad for the future. If you look at most people’s go-to starting 11, you’ll struggle to pick out a player over the age of 30. Each position has distinct short and long-term names able to fill it, concocting the perfect mixture of experience and youthful excitement.
However, one regular name on the United team-sheet on the tail end of 30 is right-back, Antonio Valencia.
I’d like to preface this by saying that Valencia is our best defensive player and was one of the stand-out stars of last season along with De Gea and Herrera. You could even argue a case for him to lead the Red Devils as captain.
But the fact of the matter is that Tony V is 32 years of age. While I am not disregarding the possibility that he could follow the likes of Dani Alves and Philipp Lahm in still being able to kick it well into his thirties, I can’t help but worry that age will someday get the better of everyone’s favourite Ecuadorian international.
In terms of replacement right-back options, United’s choices are quite bleak, so much so that Jose has resorted to starting Victor Lindelof in Valencia’s absence.
The only clear-cut choice as an out-and-out replacement at right-back is Matteo Darmian, but even he has underwhelmed since his arrival from Torino, and now looks to be set for a move away.
So, who would I think United should look into for Valencia’s replacement/protégé? Well if Jose was reluctant to splash the cash in pursuit of a player he may not even think he needs, then why not give more playing time to Timothy Fosu-Mensah?
One of the few youthful prospects that were born out of the Van Gaal era, the young Dutchman, Fosu-Mensah, quickly became a favourite among fans.
Naturally, upon Jose’s arrival in 2016, fans of Timbo were worried by Mourinho’s reputation of neglecting younger academy players.
Fosu-Mensah wasn’t tallying nearly as many appearances under Mourinho as he did under Van Gaal, which was why the news of United agreeing a loan deal for the defender in the summer with Crystal Palace wasn’t met with shock among fans, but more worry.
However, Fosu-Mensah is still just the ripe old age of 20 and certainly has the potential to flourish as United’s starting right-back if given ample opportunity. Also, I realise United aren’t lacking utility players with Blind and Young in the fold, but Fosu-Mensah certainly has that aspect of his game as well.
In terms of external recruitment, there are certain names from other sides that could fit the bill should Ed Woodward choose to scour the market.
My ideal choice, albeit having rather slim chances, is Bayern’s breakout star, Joshua Kimmich.
In what seems a perfect solution in the advent of Philipp Lahm’s retirement, Kimmich has reached new heights in his career following his transition from midfield to full-back.
The 22-year-old has racked up 1 goal and 6 assists so far in the Bundesliga with one man-of-the-match award against Mainz, and with the likes of Hummels, Boateng, and Alaba to partner him in defence he definitely has all the tools in Munich to become a star.
Who knows, Kimmich may even replicate his predecessor in captaining both Bayern and the German national team one day.
My third choice – and the more realistic out of the two possible transfers – is Porto’s Ricardo Periera.
After enjoying a successful spell in the French league with OGC Nice, Pereira has carried his form back to Portugal, proving himself a paramount figure in the Porto defence.
Gaining 2 goals and 3 assists in 14 appearances so far in the league, the 24-year-old has proved his worth in attack just as much as in defence, and has helped Porto thrive in an undefeated season so far in the Primeira Liga (as of 16th January).
His attacking prowess extends so far, in fact, that he can even play further up the field in a right midfield role, perfect for if Jose was to play him as a wing-back.
If the last 2 seasons in the premier league have proven anything, it’s that a solid set of full-backs can change both the attacking and defensive capabilities of a team drastically.
Teams such as Chelsea and Spurs have utilised their wing-backs perfectly, and with Luke Shaw gaining momentum in returning to his former self along with Valencia down the right-hand side, United fans have plenty to get excited about.