Diogo Dalot: The unlikely winner of Manchester United's hectic transfer window

Diogo DalotGetty

It didn’t take long for Diogo Dalot to learn where he would be playing his football this season. While a host of Manchester United players endured a summer of uncertainty, the Portugal international was told in no uncertain terms that he was part of Erik ten Hag’s plans.

That vote of confidence represented a remarkable reversal of fortune for a player who has experienced a rollercoaster of emotions at Old Trafford.

The 23-year-old was hailed as United’s new Gary Neville under Jose Mourinho, turfed out by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - before being thrown a lifeline by Ralf Rangnick.

But even after forcing his way ahead of Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the second half of last season, he looked like one of the more vulnerable members of an imbalanced squad inherited by Ten Hag in the summer.

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    Overhaul

    A manager who places such importance in his full backs, the Dutchman was expected to strengthen in that department as he embarked on a major overhaul in his first transfer window at the club.

    It was perhaps a surprise then that he opted to recruit a left back in Tyrell Malacia, despite having Luke Shaw and Alex Telles on that side.

    On the right, meanwhile, he had Wan-Bissaka - a £50million signing whose attacking deficiencies are at odds with Ten Hag’s system - and Dalot, whose best hopes of staying at United looked likely to be in a back-up capacity.

  • Targets

    Had United been able to find a buyer for Wan-Bissaka then Dalot may well have faced greater competition for a starting berth.

    Denzel Dumfries was among the targets identified.

    But after being handed the role of first choice, Dalot has seized the opportunity with both hands.

    He has started every game this season, won more tackles than any other player at the club (14), won more aerial battles (12) and had more touches (408).

    In a recent report by research group, CIES Football Observatory, Dalot was cited as the most impactful full back under the age of 25 in the Premier League this season.

    Across Europe, only Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies ranked above him.

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    Undroppable

    Dalot is very much the modern full back, with an attacking instinct, as well as the energy to track back - even if his defensive awareness is still an area in need of development.

    But it is easy to see why both Rangnick and Ten Hag considered him a better fit than Wan-Bissaka, who is an outstanding one-on-one defender - but offers little as an offensive weapon.

    It has left United in the awkward position of trying to make whatever return they can on the enormous outlay spent on the former Crystal Palace defender, which proved to be particularly problematic over the summer.

    It leaves Dalot - a player largely written off after the arrival of Wan-Bissaka and a subsequent loan to AC Milan - as an unexpected undroppable for Ten Hag.

    The close of the window has only cemented his position on the right of United’s defence - and given him the opportunity to prove he can be the long-term option.

    While Ten Hag remains determined to strengthen in that department, much is dependent on securing a move for Wan-Bissaka.

  • Profile

    So far Dalot has proved himself capable of fitting the profile of the type of player the new United manager has looked to add to his squad - energetic, hungry and enthusiastic.

    The chest-bumping and fist-clenching that greets each block fits with the attitude Ten Hag is trying to instil. Malacia shares similar qualities, with a tenacious thread stretching right across the defence and embodied by Lisandro Martinez at the heart of it.

    But Ten Hag wants quality as well as spirit - and it will be intriguing to see how Dalot develops under the Dutchman’s guidance.

    Mourinho was so enthused by his potential that he predicted he’d be United’s right back for 10 years.

    Solskjaer was less convinced - persuading the club to pay such a high fee for Wan-Bissaka after infamously whittling down a long list of 804 options.

    Atletico Madrid were among the clubs interested in offering Dalot a route out of Old Trafford - but he was determined to establish himself at United.

    Rangnick gave him that chance in his interim role last season - and Ten Hag informed him almost immediately that he was in his plans as he shaped a new-look United.

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    Antony partnership

    Dalot was told he would be expected to play high to fully exploit his attacking qualities.

    In preparation for the season he began his training and conditioning while on holiday in the Maldives.

    A trip to Abu Dhabi followed - again working on his fitness and sprinting power to make him more effective on the wing.

    With the addition of Antony, Ten Hag believes the pair can combine effectively, with the Brazilian cutting inside onto his left foot and Dalot on the outside.

    There have already been promising signs of an understanding.

    That they are both Portuguese speakers, should help that relationship.

  • Ronaldo

    Dalot is a popular member of the dressing room, but it is notable his pre-match warm-ups are often held with Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. Fred - also a Portuguese speaker - is another player he has a good relationship with.

    But playing and training with Ronaldo is the fulfilment of a personal dream, with the legendary No7 his hero growing up.

    Since Ronaldo’s arrival at United they have become good friends.

  • Jadon Sancho Diogo Dalot Man Utd 2022-23Getty Images

    Winner

    The pair, however, are at different ends of their careers.

    It is easy to overlook Dalot’s tender years - still only 23 and regarded within United as remarkably level-headed for his age.

    If Ronaldo - who was so keen to leave United this summer - has been considering life beyond Old Trafford, Dalot is targeting a new contract, with his current deal due to expire at the end of the season.

    United are expected to extend that - and have the option of a further 12 months. But his form so far this term has only strengthened his bargaining position.

    He has turned out to be the surprise winner of the transfer window at Old Trafford - and United could well be beneficiaries too.