Manchester United have wrapped up their second signing of the summer as Aaron Wan-Bissaka completed a £50 million move to Old Trafford.
It is a fee which sees him become one of the most expensive full-backs in football history, but, in Wan-Bissaka, United have identified a player who in many ways sums up exactly the vision Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has for the club going forward.
The Norwegian has spoken time and again about wanting his side to be a fearless, energetic, attacking unit with a desire for the fight, but the longer the 2018-19 season went on the less athletic and more wearisome United looked.
As a result, the inevitable spotlight will be burning even brighter at the start of the upcoming campaign and Solskjaer can ill afford his side to be slow out of the blocks. And beginning the season with Ashley Young as first-choice right-back having specified a wish to make his side more youthful would send out an awful signal.
There were multiple caveats to take into account when reviewing Young’s lethargic 2018-19 showing, not least the fact that he had come off a World Cup summer and started 38 games in all competitions – more than in any other of his eight seasons at United. A former winger playing out of position ought to be forgiven a few off days at the best of times, but a 33-year-old being asked to constantly turn out as a makeshift right-back following on from a taxing previous 12 months should have been cut greater slack.
But that is not to suggest that Young is a viable option in the No.2 slot for 2019-20 and beyond, and that is where Wan-Bissaka comes in. With Matteo Darmian destined to finally end his underwhelming Old Trafford career sooner or later, and Diogo Dalot still finding his feet in the famous red shirt, United clearly needed to seek out a long-term alternative at right-back and the Crystal Palace youngster ticks all the right boxes.
Wan-Bissaka does only have 46 senior games under his belt and has suffered some rather public difficulties with the England Under-21 side over the past 10 days, scoring a late own goal to hand France victory in the Three Lions’ European Championship opener which prompted manager Aidy Boothroyd to drop him for the final two group fixtures.
“When that speculation is flying around it is bound to turn your head,” said Boothroyd after the France mistake, before claiming that as Wan-Bissaka is a quiet young man it is hard to really get a read on him.
But when you consider that Boothroyd also rested Phil Foden for the loss to Romania despite the Manchester City midfielder being the most famously underused player in the Premier League last season, there is reason for Wan-Bissaka to feel that this was simply a case of over-zealous management by a man who ought to be protecting young footballers first and foremost.
Playing for Manchester United, Wan-Bissaka will have to get used to his every error being played out in front of a constant worldwide gaze, and it will be interesting to see how he should respond to a similar setback at the Theatre of Dreams. But then Solskjaer doesn’t come across as the type of boss to throw youngsters under the bus, and everything the full-back has been able to show since his breakthrough at Selhurst Park suggests United have hit onto a winner.
With great anticipation for danger and a forceful tackling presence, the Croydon-born 21-year-old can more than hold his own at the back, making more tackles (90) than any other player bar Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi in the Premier League in 2018-19.
And on top of that he has the pace, intelligence and good attacking instincts to cause a threat in the opposition half. Last term, Wan-Bissaka finished in the league’s top 10 for dribbles completed with 61 and was beaten only 10 times by opponents in return, showing that he is far more effective in the final third than his direct adversaries are in his defensive zone. Solskjaer longs to make such dynamic wing play a feature at Old Trafford once more as it was for so long under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Red Devils would so often stretch the opposition with their dual threats down each wing under the legendary Scot, but that is a feature which has been sorely missing during United’s decline since Ferguson’s retirement. And Solskjaer has identified the wide game as being vital to his attacking philosophy, which spelt the end for former club captain Antonio Valencia and has also pushed him to nudge Young down the pecking order.
It is no surprise that Wan-Bissaka has been chosen above other potential targets either, given the boss’ need to bring in Premier League-ready players. The youngster caught United’s eye early, winning the Man of the Match award in a 3-2 loss to the Red Devils in only his second senior appearance back in March 2018, and has impressed them on countless occasions since on his way to winning Palace’s Player of the Season award last term.
A key element of Ferguson’s United was their willingness to spend big in the market to bring in proven Premier League quality. Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Rio Ferdinand and Dimitar Berbatov were all club-record signings when they were bought in from domestic rivals, with United willing to pay top dollar for any player who had already proved they were suited to the flow of the British game.
As such it shouldn’t be a surprise that they were ready to break the world record for a full-back. Even when Luke Shaw arrived from Southampton as recently as 2014, the £30m they paid was a new British high for a teenager but it is a sum which now seems par for the course for a defender.
Wan-Bissaka is a player with huge potential and all the assets United could ask for, and while there are never any guarantees of success it is clear to see why they believe the Londoner is just the sort of player that should fit right in at Old Trafford.