Exclusive – Manchester United have stepped up their scouting of Sevilla’s Jules Kounde and Villarreal’s Pau Torres after deciding that the two La Liga stars should be at the top of United’s wish list this summer.
United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is keen to find a new centre-back to partner captain Harry Maguire this summer, and 90min revealed in November that Torres had been added to a radar which also included the likes of Kounde, Leicester City’s Caglar Soyuncu and Brighton’s Ben White.
Scouts have been hard at work analysing a host of potential targets this season, but they remain enamoured by both Torres and Kounde, and sources have confirmed to 90min that extensive checks are now being carried out on both players.
United have now made it clear that their priority is to sign one of Kounde or Torres this summer, although with both players attracting intense interest from across Europe – Real Madrid have been heavily linked with both – scouts are continuing to search for alternatives.
Soyuncu is still under consideration, while Braga’s David Carmo, Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile and Borussia Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji are also on United’s list of potential targets if a move for either Kounde or Torres proves impossible.
One concern for United is the cost of signing their top targets. Kounde comes with a £70m release clause, while Torres’ sits at around £50m, and United are keen to avoid spending too much money on a centre-back as they remain keen to splash out on Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland, who could cost well over £100m.
There is some optimism that Sevilla would not demand Kounde’s release clause be met, but club sources are more confident about driving Torres’ asking price down, particularly as Villarreal have made it clear they would not be against taking Eric Bailly back as part of any deal.
Bailly blossomed into a star with Villarreal, but his £30m move to United in 2016 has not worked out and he is now expected to reject the club’s latest offer of a contract extension because of his lack of minutes.
A friend of the Ivorian told Sky Sports News that Bailly fears United only offered him fresh terms to preserve his transfer value, but he does not want to price himself out of a move away and is keen to get his career back on track elsewhere.
United are open to using Bailly as part of any bid for Torres as he is one of a handful of players who is being pushed towards the exit door this summer.
Having already cut ties with Marcos Rojo in January, United would like to find buyers for Bailly and Phil Jones, while offers for right-back Diogo Dalot and even Victor Lindelof would be considered.