When David Moyes was caught spying at the Stadio Sant’Elia for the Serie A match between Cagliari and Juventus, Manchester United fans could be forgiven for being a little disappointed that his primary focus was reported to have been on a player in red and blue.
While members of the visiting champions may have also been duly noted, Moyes was widely reported to have been monitoring the Isolani’s Davide Astori.
A tall, elegant centre-back, Astori — a product of the Milan youth system — has shown his excellence at the back for the Sardinian outfit over the past five years, finding himself to be the predominant factor in maintaining their Serie A status year after year, amidst the chaos that owner Massimo Cellino creates due to the manner in which he runs the club.
The 27-year-old has been recognised fully at international level, capped seven times by the Azzurri, and like several other players before him, his development appears to have stagnated with the Rossoblu, and a move away is necessary to kick him on to the next level.
Naturally, Astori is a centre-back who enjoys keeping the ball on the deck and facilitating a passing game from the back, although he has managed to develop a more versatile game with the Serie A strugglers.
As the only genuinely quality player in defence, and often needing to deal with persistent changes to the personnel at the back, Astori’s organisational skills are to be admired.
Cagliari have only scored more goals than Livorno, Chievo and Catania this season, yet, despite a run of six matches without a win, they sit four points clear of relegation after 21 matches.
Their defence, as has often been the case in recent years, has helped them stave off relegation, and without such a burden on his shoulders, it will be fascinating to see whether Astori can flourish at a better side.
Having been linked with a move last summer, once the transfer window shut, Astori knuckled down and got on with the job in hand, and for that his character must be lauded.
Furthermore, he is a player who generally steers clear of injuries, having played 90 minutes of every game since his short-term future was decided on September 1st.
Davide Astori to United?
A close look at Manchester United this season would suggest that their defence is evidently an area that needs to be strengthened as a matter of urgency, and while the bulk of funds for David Moyes has been splashed on Juan Mata, Astori could provide a thrifty fix at the back, while also importantly not blocking the bright futures of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.
Marking and a failure to deal with crosses and set-pieces has become a trend at United, so the fact that Astori ranks joint 6th in Serie A this season for number of clearances made per game (7.8) suggests that the 27-year-old would be an immediate asset to the side.
The versatility to his defending also comes into play, as Astori, while not blessed with express pace, has a long frame that is capable of shifting sufficiently enough to help him to recover if the opposition opt to float the ball in behind the defensive line.
Such a signing would therefore not force Moyes to set up in a particular fashion each game either, with Astori’s organisational skills, as mentioned before, helping him to sit sixth amongst the most offsides won per game in Serie A this season (1.1).
Moyes knows the size of the rebuilding process that is necessary to bring United back to being a force in the Premier League and in Europe, so it is ultimately not realistic to spend lavishly on every position that requires attention.
Pinpointing Astori, a player in the prime of his career, as a short-to-medium-term fix could prove astute indeed, and the gamble is relatively modest when you consider the price for which Cellino was happy to deal with Roma for star midfielder Radja Nainggolan.
It is time for Astori to test himself at a higher level, and while it initially came as a surprise that United were perhaps ready to take the plunge on the player, they may find that they have stumbled upon a terrifically versatile and underrated defender.
Jack Rathborn is an Italian football analyst for Football Radar and Serie A writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @jackrathborn
(photo credit: ambros_sbobet via Flickr)