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'Marking Lukaku isn't difficult' - Lenglet convinced Barcelona long before Man Utd display

10:40 EAT 09/04/2019
Romelu Lukaku, Clement Lenglet, Man Utd vs Sevilla, 2017-18 Champions League
Robert Fernandez, who signed the Frenchman, reveals to Goal how the player's heroics in Manchester were not what prompted them to bring him in

On Wednesday, Clement Lenglet returns to Old Trafford, the stage on which he earned his reputation as one of the leading players in European football.

Just over a year ago, in the last 16 of the Champions League, the Frenchman demonstrated that he is a player of tremendous quality, marshalling a Manchester United strikeforce with impeccable quality and composure as a member of the Sevilla defence.

Despite those heroics, it was not that night in Manchester that prompted Barcelona to bring in Lenglet to partner Gerard Pique.

“We had been following him since he played at Nancy,” Barca's former technical secretary Robert Fernandez told Goal. “After seeing him improve at Sevilla it just confirmed that he could be an important player for us.

“There was a certain obsession with Barcelona's central defenders at the time. There was a feeling that a lot of money had been spent and the players who had joined just didn't work out.”

Lenglet, of course, ended up becoming the chosen one to reinforce the area that had caused so much debate, and Fernandez always knew what he was looking for.

“For me it was important that the new centre-back was a calm but fun guy, good with the ball and young - that was fundamental - but above all we were looking for someone who was very responsible and professional,” he recalls.

“In those two games against Man United, despite being very good individually, he didn't convince me there because marking [Romelu] Lukaku is not particularly difficult.

“Lukaku is not one of the top strikers at the moment. He's a good, strong forward and Lenglet marked him one-on-one with ease, but we prioritised other things.

“The guy's blood is ice cold in situations where others would be having palpitations. He's an exceptional player in that respect because he knows when to put on the breaks and be calm in tense situations.

“That's just the kind of player that Barcelona needs, someone capable of making clear decisions in nervy situations. We had very few doubts about his signing [even before the Manchester United matches].”

It's worth noting that the defender is just 23 years old, meaning his career as a Barcelona player could be an extremely long one, assuming he does not suffer any major setbacks.

“Lenglet's football will evolve and he will be a much better player next season if he maintains the right mental attitude,” Fernandez continued.

“He has all the right conditions to do that because he is surrounded by players who will help improve every facet of his game.

“There is not a single player that has played for Barcelona that hasn't improved once they've left. Everyone progresses even if they don't play much and that's not the case for Lenglet.”

Indeed, Lenglet has kept his head on his shoulders since making his professional debut at Nancy in 2016. Signing for Sevilla shortly after, it was clear that his maturity would take him on to bigger and better things.

His evolution never went unnoticed by Barcelona and Fernandez, who had no doubts over Lenglet settling in at Camp Nou, even if some last-minute setbacks delayed the payment of his release clause last summer.

Today, a year later, Lenglet returns to Old Trafford, where he made his name as one of Europe's best despite the fact that Barcelona were already convinced to pursue his signature.

He'll be in the starting XI again in Manchester and Barca fans will be looking on in hope that, as he did with Sevilla, the cool-headed Frenchman can oust the Red Devils out of European competition once again.