West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis is stepping up his efforts to increase competition in central defence – with speculation linking the club with two centre-backs.
According to the Daily Star, the Baggies are poised to launch a £10 million bid for Manchester United’s Chris Smalling, who has dropped down the pecking order at Old Trafford following the big-money summer arrival of Victor Lindelof from Benfica. Furthermore, a report in the Daily Mail claims the Midlands club have failed with a £21 million (£18 million plus £3 million in add-ons) offer for Middlesbrough’s talented youngster, Ben Gibson.
But which player would be the best option for West Brom? Purely in economic terms, Smalling appears to be available at a much cheaper price. The 27-year-old has been at United since 2010 but his days in Manchester appear to be numbered, with manager Jose Mourinho favouring the likes of Eric Bailly, Lindelof and Phil Jones ahead of him.
The Englishman has generally been a reliable performer for the Red Devils and England, for whom he has 31 caps, although there has always been a suspicion that he is not quite top quality. A ball-playing centre-back, Smalling is an intelligent footballer who can read the game well and he has enough pace to get out of trouble. He would add a stylish dimension to the Baggies.
Despite their relegation from the Premier League, Gibson was a shining light for Middlesbrough. An ever-present in the top-flight, the 24-year-old served notice of his potential with a series of eye-catching performances. Gibson is highly regarded on Teeside and it’s no surprise that he was touted for an England call-up last season.
Amid serious interest, Boro are realistic that their prized asset’s departure is inevitable, but they are determined not to sell him for anything less than top dollar. This is reflected in their rejection of West Brom’s offer of £18 million plus £3m in add-ons, as reported in the Mail. That is a huge bid for a player who is still relatively inexperienced at the top level.
There’s no doubt Gibson has a bright future ahead of him, but it’s hard to look beyond Smalling’s pedigree when comparing the two players. He has Champions League as well as international experience and, although last season was not his best, there is no doubt he would do an excellent job for West Brom, where he could be reunited with his former United team-mate, Jonny Evans.
With Middlesbrough seemingly unwilling to sell Gibson to a club outside the Premier League’s top six, the Baggies’ pursuit may well be a non-starter. Smalling, on the other hand, would be a bargain at £10-15 million. At only 27 years of age, he is entering his prime and guaranteed first-team football would surely bring out the best in him.