Manchester United: Why Erik ten Hag is desperate to sign Lisandro Martinez

Manchester United look to be finally getting their man as a deal for Ajax centre-back Lisandro Martinez has moved a step closer.

United appear to have a clear path to landing the 24-year-old after Arsenal cooled their interest in the Argentine, with Ajax accepting the Old Trafford club’s £46 million offer.

Martinez is set to be reunited with Erik ten Hag and could become United’s third signing of a frustrating and protracted transfer window so far.

The defender is one of his former manager’s top targets and could bolster a United backline that shipped more goals than relegated Burnley in the Premier League last season.

Here, Sportsmail takes a look at Martinez, his style of play and why the new United boss has tried so desperately to sign him.

Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez appears to be heading to Manchester United from Ajax

Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez appears to be heading to Manchester United from Ajax

Martinez, who worked with Erik ten Hag at Ajax, is set to reunite with the Dutchman

Martinez, who worked with Erik ten Hag at Ajax, is set to reunite with the Dutchman

How did he get here?

Born in the Argentinian city of Gualeguay, Martinez began playing for Newell’s Old Boys, the iconic side where Lionel Messi shot to fame.

He grew up idolizing his countryman Gabriel Heinze – who played for Manchester United, the club who are chasing his signature.

Martinez started grabbing the attention of clubs around Europe due to his confidence and ability as a left-sided ball-playing central defender.

The Argentine looks up to counterpart and former United defender Gabriel Heinze (left)

The Argentine looks up to counterpart and former United defender Gabriel Heinze (left)

Ajax quickly began to perk their heads up after he began to impress for the new club Defensa y Justicia.

During three years in Holland, he has forged a reputation for his fearsome displays and tenacity to win the ball in the air and on the ground, earning the nickname ‘The Argentine Butcher’.

Martinez has made 118 appearances for Ajax, including 19 in the Champions League. He played in 36 games in the Dutch club’s title-winning season despite missing the final seven matches through injury.

The diminutive defender has also been capped seven times by Argentina and will hope to be included in the South American side’s squad for the World Cup in Qatar.

Why do United – and Arsenal – want him?

Martinez is renowned for his ball-playing abilities and has been described as one of the best in the Eredivisie.

He is great with the ball at his feet and regularly starts attacks from the back for Ajax with his excellent passing.

Martinez is widely regarded as an excellent ball-playing defender and starts attacks from the back

Martinez is widely regarded as an excellent ball-playing defender and starts attacks from the back

The 24-year-old has been capped seven times by his country and hopes to make the World Cup

The 24-year-old has been capped seven times by his country and hopes to make the World Cup

Despite his stature – he is 5ft 9in (or 175cm) and will be the shortest centre-back in the Premier League if he completes his move to Old Trafford – he is a dominant presence in the air.

Martinez is not afraid to get stuck in – in fact, he loves a challenge – is capable of playing in either a back three or a back four and has decent pace to boot.

His versatility is another plus point. Martinez featured predominantly as a left-sided center-back under Ten Hag but has past experience at both left-back and in defensive midfield.

Ten Hag is well-versed in Martinez’s strengths but he will also know the Argentine could take time to adapt to the demands of the Premier League.

Where would he fit in at United?

United already have enough centre-backs to fill more than half of a starting XI.

Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe are all on their books, although the latter of whom looks to be heading out of the Old Trafford exit door.

It is debatable whether Martinez gets into Ten Hag’s side ahead of Maguire and Varane, but might the Dutchman have given a hint as to where he sees the Argentine in his team?

United already have six centre-backs on their books, including captain Harry Maguire

United already have six centre-backs on their books, including captain Harry Maguire

Speaking to the media after arriving in Thailand on Monday, Ten Hag said the club were still looking for ‘midfielders and offensive players’ and made no mention of defenders, fueling suggestions he may deploy Martinez as a central defensive midfielder – a position United have long needed to strengthen.

He will have to fight for his place if he is being signed as a centre-back.

Varane endured an injury-hit first season at United but impressed when he was fit, while Ten Hag has confirmed Maguire, who endured a dismal campaign last term, will remain as captain, which hardly suggests he will drop the beleaguered England international.

United need to shift defenders regardless of Martinez’s arrival, with Bailly, Jones and Tuanzebe the most likely to be moved on.

But the Argentine’s flexibility, coupled with his previous relationship with Ten Hag, could count in his favor.

What is his current situation?

Martinez has told Ajax he wants the move and the Dutch giants appear to have finally relented.

Sportsmail reported on Wednesday that United had – eventually – made a breakthrough in their pursuit of the 24-year-old.

United had tabled a fresh £43m offer earlier this month and Arsenal will now not be matching that bid after the Gunners chose to focus their attention elsewhere.

Ten Hag wants to add Martinez, who can play in a number of positions, to his United squad

Indeed, a final offer of £45m from United will be enough to get Martinez to Manchester.

Martinez only signed a contract extension through to 2025 in October but has informed his club that he sees his immediate future away from Ajax.

He is seemingly destined for the Premier League and United will hope to complete the signing in the coming days.

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