Background: Aleksandar Dragovic
With the futures of Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones still uncertain, Manchester United are thought to be on the lookout for new centre-backs, and in recent days Dynamo Kiev's Austrian international Aleksandar Dragovic has been heavily linked with the club.
Dragovic was born in the Austrian capital of Vienna to Serbian parents and he began his football education at Austria Vienna, the city's and country's second-most-successful club. He made his first-team debut at 17 and fairly quickly established himself as a regular in the starting XI. Having already represented Austria at under-17 and under-19 level, he was handed his first cap for the senior national team in June 2009 at just 18.
A year and a half later, Basel paid 1 million euros to take him to Switzerland, where he settled swiftly and soon became a habitual starter. After two and a half successful years, which encompassed three consecutive league titles and a triumph in the Swiss Cup in 2012, he joined Dynamo Kiev on a five-year contract in the summer of 2013. Dynamo paid 9 million euros to secure his services -- a neat 800 percent profit for Basel.
This season, he has been ever present in the Dynamo side who currently lead the Ukrainian league, and have conceded just seven times in 14 matches. At international level he has formed a promising partnership with Salzburg's Martin Hinteregger for an Austria side who currently top their Euro 2016 qualifying group.
Arsenal, Everton, Juventus, Roma and Zenit Saint Petersburg have all been linked previously with the 23-year-old, while stories last week suggested that Manchester United had agreed to a 13 million euro fee to sign him during the January transfer window. However, the Manchester Evening News reported on Monday that while United do hold an interest in Dragovic, they still require convincing that he is suited for a move to the Premier League.
Dragovic generally operates as the more conservative member of his centre-back partnerships. Both Danilo Silva at Dynamo and Hinteregger for Austria defend in a more aggressive and proactive manner, while Dragovic steps back, surveys his surroundings and provides cover when necessary. He relies on his acute reading of the game to position himself to make clearances, interceptions or well-timed tackles to cut out danger.
- good reading of the game
- well-timed tackles
- solid in possession
- not aerially commanding
- a little slow on the half-turn
- lapses in concentration
Tackling: While he is far from a prolific tackler, the challenges he does make are generally clean and very well timed. He keeps his eye on the ball and chooses the opportune moment to move in. Made two or three superb tackles during Austria's narrow friendly defeat to Brazil last November.
Marking: Generally leaves the one-to-one physical contests to his centre-back partner, as he can struggle in such situations. For instance, he lost a couple of aerial duels, conceded a free kick and was turned under the ball on two occasions by Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the first half of Austria's Euro 2016 qualifying draw with Sweden last September. While he is relatively quick across the turf, he can be a little slow on the half-turn.
Heading: Tends to rely on his defensive partner to step forward and compete for balls in the air, as this is not one of his major strengths. Can be guilty of misdirecting his defensive headers under minimal pressure, as on the first goal (and during a later goalmouth scramble) in Dynamo's 3-0 defeat away to Aalborg in October.
Close control: Decent touch for a defender, but he does tend to get himself a little square to the ball at times, which limits his angles for a forward pass and thus forces him back to his goalkeeper. More comfortable in possession when placed on the right side of the defence.
Passing: Generally quite conservative in his choices, although he is capable of picking out some crisp passes between the lines and the odd longer diagonal out to the flanks. Relatively comfortable using his left foot when required. He has averaged a very solid 87.8 percent completion rate over his last four European campaigns with Basel and Dynamo.
Positioning: Reads the game well and positions himself adeptly to see off potential danger. Usually finds himself in the right place to clear crosses into the area.
Crossing: Not the sort of defender to rush upfield to assist in his team's attacks and it is therefore extremely rare to see him in crossing positions.
Finishing: A record of just nine goals in 253 appearances at club level indicates that he rarely gets himself into positions to test his ability in front of goal. Did finish coolly from the penalty spot to score his first international goal in Austria's 2-1 friendly defeat to Brazil last November.
What The Experts Say
Vienna-based journalist Fabian Zerche: "Dragovic isn't the dominant and commanding tackling beast, but more of a smart defender who is able to anticipate dangerous situations."
Dragovic caused controversy in May 2012 when he playfully slapped the Swiss defence and sports minister Ueli Maurer on the back of the head during celebrations following Basel's triumph in the Swiss Cup final. After initially playing down the incident, Dragovic was eventually forced to travel to Berne to apologise to Maurer in person.
Dragovic is the right style of defender for what United need at the moment -- a more considered presence to play alongside a proactive partner such as Marco Rojo -- but questions do remain over certain aspects of his game, and it is therefore understandable that they would perhaps want to take their time before pursuing a move.
There is clearly something there. Three successive teams in three different countries, plus Austria national team coach Marcel Koller, have all seen fit to make him a regular starter in the centre of defence, while his reading of the game and the timing of his tackles are both very impressive. At 23, he still has time to work on and overcome his deficiencies.
Yet United are not really in a position where they can afford to take a risk on a player whose flaws are those that are regularly preyed on in England. If reports are to be believed, Dragovic still has to prove to United's scouts that he is up to the challenge of moving to the Premier League. If he can't, they will likely move on to other targets come the summer.