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Koulibaly? Alderweireld? Why Man Utd (amid the bluff) suddenly jumped into action

COMMENT: So it was all a bluff? All that chat about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His centre-halves. And saving the club 50 million quid? It was all just a distraction...?

Bang! In Italy, Manchester United slapped a world record €105m bid on Aurelio de Laurentiis' desk for Napoli powerhouse Kalidou Koulibaly. Crash! From England, Toby Alderweireld's name is back in favour. United making him aware they'll meet his £25m buyout clause come June - and completely cut out Tottenham and their hard-bargaining chairman Daniel Levy in the process.

Big, big stories emerging in two countries in the same week. From talk of shelving any thoughts of adding a new centre-half to Solskjaer's squad this summer, there's now genuine sources stating the opposite is true. Those rivals believing that floater a fortnight ago now eating United's dust.

Koulibaly? Alderweireld? Now that's more like it. If Solskjaer's methods are built upon those of his mentor, then you're not going to get closer to a Sir Alex Ferguson-type centre-half than these two.

Alderweireld? The Belgian is definitely a player to fit seamlessly into any of Sir Alex's past back fours. Koulibaly even more so. Big, powerful super athletes. Serious players. Serious men. The type worthy of filling the shirts once worn by the likes of Steve Bruce, Jaap Stam and Nemanja Vidic.

In England, it's stated Alderweireld's minders have been tapped. He now knows United are prepared to meet his reduced buyout clause when it kicks in at the end of this season. A top drawer centre-half. From a direct rival. And at a knockdown £25m. Of course United are going to be in for him. That a deal can be closed without any contact with Levy all the better. Though whether United choose that route would be injecting real spite into their relationship with Spurs. Just ask PSG and Barcelona post- Neymar and that world record €222m switch. The story goes the decision by Barca to send a very public delegation to Paris before Christmas - amid rumours of interest in Adrien Rabiot - was all designed to disrupt and upset PSG's season. The motivation wasn't about signing Rabiot, but revenge.

Whether United are planning something similar, we'll just have to see. Though they could go down the same route if De Laurentiis, Napoli's movie mogul president, proves as stubborn a negotiator as Levy.

That €105m offer for Koulibaly remains on the table. ADL - this time - not immediately throwing it out. But those working on the deal have informed Woodward the easiest way to ferry Koulibaly away would be by meeting his own buyout clause: €150m.

Of course, Woodward and De Laurentiis have seen this dance before. ADL claiming he turned down a similar offer last summer, "[Jose] Mourinho wanted him, we rejected €105m".

And so they're back at again. Woodward being pushed by not only Solskjaer but also - significantly - Jim Lawlor. United's chief scout has been trying to bring Koulibaly to Old Trafford since his days with Metz and Belgium's Genk.

French agent Bruno Satin, who took the Senegalese to Napoli, recently revealing: "When I took Kalidou to Napoli, Manchester United had already contacted me to inquire about the boy.

"He's one of the best defenders in the world and he has the perfect profile for English football."

Though he's no longer in charge of Koulibaly's affairs, Satin remains in touch with the family and hints something is definitely developing involving his old client and United.

"United has never stopped following him and maybe they have an advantage over others ... we'll see what happens."

That's not to say Koulibaly will be darting out any side door. The 27 year-old loves the city, "every day I feel more Neapolitan than African", and over these five years has immersed himself in the local culture.

When he was subject to racist abuse at Inter Milan earlier this season the fans and the city rallied to support him. A local town councilor even proposing to the mayor for Koulibaly to be made an 'honorary citizen of Naples' for the way he handled the incident. However, if Napoli fans do lose their hero this summer, there's sure to be some ire towards the Naples City Council. With memories of Milan still raw, less than half the members were attendance for the vote. Meaning a majority could not be found to confirm the proposal. The tepid response of local politicians was noted by Koulibaly's family.

But this won't be reason why Koulibaly chooses to cut ties. It'll be about his career. His ambitions. And where best they can be fulfilled. The defender's former youth coach at Metz, Olivier Perrin, describing a teenage Koulibaly in the same mould as we see today: "Kalidou has this ability to learn, understand, and apply. It's like a snowball: the more it moves forward, the more it improves, and this he does continuously".

Which is clearly what United - in this era of Solskjaer - is also trying to do. It would've been a step back to settle on what they had at centre-half. Playing a bit of bluff with the media will be worth it if Woodward can deliver his manager a defender in the best traditions of Sir Alex.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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