In his summer pursuit of Mats Hummels, Louis van Gaal – and Manchester United fans – can take encouragement from the pilgrimage taken by the Borussia Dortmund and Germany central defender when turning 18.

On Boxing Day in 2006, Old Trafford was the destination for Hummels who, along with a friend, was sent by his father, Hermann, to watch Sir Alex Ferguson’s team take on Wigan Athletic as a gift to mark his birthday of 10 days before.

A friend of Hummels says: “Manchester United is a big club for any footballer. Mats went to see them playing Wigan as a present.”

Hummels saw Cristiano Ronaldo score twice, after coming on at half-time, in a 3-1 victory in which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also registered for a side that featured Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar.

Hummels, who is now 25 and could cost up to £30m, was then at Bayern Munich, having joined as a six-year-old when his father moved from Bergisch Gladbach – his birthplace – to became a youth team coach at “club Hollywood”.

Hermann, a successful lower league footballer who at Mainz 05 in the early 1990s managed Hummels’ current boss, Jürgen Klopp, coached his son as a 14-year-old, deploying him as a defensive midfielder or centre-back.

Three years after the trip to Old Trafford, in February 2009,, the man who scored the 13th-minute winner in Germany’s quarter-final victory over France at Brazil 2014 and is set to start Sunday’s World Cup final against Argentina despite a knee injury, left Bayern for Dortmund, a few months before Van Gaal took over.

His father remained at Bayern, came to know Van Gaal and saw why the Dutchman has a reputation as one of European football’s leading coaches.

Hummels is also an admirer of Van Gaal and would welcome the chance to work with the incoming United manager who, although aware of this, is conscious Dortmund are resistant to selling him.

Hummels’ advisers also acknowledge Dortmund’s stance but believe that once Germany’s World Cup campaign is over it could change, and are hopeful United will step up their bid to prise him from the club.

Hummels admits to being attracted by playing in the Premier League although, given the sensitivities of being contracted to Dortmund until 2017, is cagey when discussing the prospect.

During the World Cup, he said: “I never think about that or talk about it because it is something that isn’t important for me right now. Maybe it will be some day, but I don’t expect it to be like that this summer.”

However, should Dortmund receive an offer from United that they cannot turn down then Hummels has told friends he is open to the move.

If he was to join, Van Gaal would be acquiring a top-class operator who could fill the void left by Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. At Dortmund, Hummels has won two Bundesliga titles plus the German Cup – and played in the 2013 Champions League final, which was lost to Bayern. He will win a 35th cap on Sunday, and was as impressive at Euro 2012 as he has been during Brazil 2014.

Hummels’ parents divorced when he was young, and his urbane upbringing should allow him to instantly adapt to the foreign environment of English football.

Hummels’ mother, Ulla Holthoff, is a journalist and was the first woman to commentate on German football. Hummels accompanied Holthoff to games when younger, and considered following in her footsteps. “Whenever he has a match, there’s at least one journalist saying: ‘I remember when you were little’,” Holthoff says. “Mats is a bookworm. He read a lot – even at a young age. He used to read comics in particular. He got his word play from Asterix.”

Hummels has a long-standing partner, Cathy Fischer, and is close to his 23-year-old younger brother, Jonas, who plays in the German third division.

“We’re cut from the same cloth,” Hummels said of his brother. “If there’s something to come to terms with, we prefer doing it on our own.”

As a manager who wants his players to be leaders, Van Gaal will welcome this self-reliant streak should he manage to sign Hummels this summer.