At Christmas, British businessman Sir Jim Ratcliffe completed a deal to acquire 25% of Manchester United from the Glazers, one that will see him take control of the sporting operation at Old Trafford. With the team languishing down in seventh place in the Premier League table, Red Devils supporters will hope that Ratcliffe can announce his arrival with a blockbuster signing.
One player who could fit the bill is Barcelona centre-back Ronald Araujo. United are reportedly interested in Araujo, and have made it clear through third-party intermediaries that they would be eager to sign him if he becomes available. He’s also the subject of interest from English rivals Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle, but now Erik ten Hag’s side appear to have escalated their pursuit.
According to Sky Germany’s Florian Plettenberg, Man Utd have “enquired” about Araujo, formalising their interest for the first time after initially operating through agents. The 20-times champions have kick started the move and gathered information on Barcelona’s demands, as well as the player’s salary expectations.
The Blaugrana want more than £69m to sell him in January, and Araujo isn’t of a mind to move mid-season anyway. Despite that, he’s very much “on the list” for United, while Bayern have made him a “top target” because of Thomas Tuchel’s “love” for the player.
Vinicius praise shows Araujo’s brilliance
Araujo is only 24, but he’s already established himself as one of the most highly regarded defenders in Spanish football. Barcelona manager Xavi has called him “spectacular”, while Carles Puyol, one of his defensive predecessors at the Nou Camp, has dubbed him “extraordinary”.
“Right now, if he’s not the best central defender in the world, he’s among the top three,” Puyol said. “He’s young, he still has room for improvement and I think we have a very good central defender at Barcelona for many years to come.”
But the praise hasn’t just been internal – Vinicius Jr, perhaps the star player at Barcelona’s biggest rivals Real Madrid, has called Araujo “the best defender I have faced”, and this is somebody who’s come up against the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Ruben Dias too.
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What is it, then, that makes Araujo so good? First, he’s dominant in his individual battles – he led La Liga in true tackle win rate last season, and sits seventh in the division this year for aerial duel success (70.2%). The second-quickest Barcelona player in the Champions League group stages after Raphinha and the 10th-fastest defender, he combines immense pace with quick judgement to consistently get the better of attackers.
Crucially, he’s also a valuable presence on the ball, ranking in the 92nd percentile (compared to centre-backs in similar leagues over the last year) for passes into the final third (5.69) and the 82nd for progressive passes (4.74), which shows that he takes the right kind of risks in possession.
It will be difficult to prise him away from Barcelona, especially as he’s worn the captain’s armband three times this season. Araujo recently reiterated that his “focus is on Barcelona”, explicitly mentioning links with Manchester United, so Ten Hag and co. will have to hope that his stance changes as time goes on.