Manchester United’s transfer business has been markedly different in its vision this summer. The signings of Daniel James from Swansea, and more recently, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, attest to a revised approach from the Red Devils – one where potential and determination are prioritised when targeting prospective signings.
United are no longer hellbent on signing players based on their reputation, but rather on their promise. Many of the club’s big-name signings have categorically failed in recent years, most notably the likes of Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria. Crucially, their change in approach could install new-found hunger into United’s ranks, and in many ways, buying a player of Wan-Bissaka’s talent and immense potential is a statement signing itself.
Superficially, signing a 21-year-old who has only received one full season of senior football with Crystal Palace for a fee of £50m seems absurd, particularly for a club of United’s stature.
However, despite only making 42 league appearances in England’s top-flight, Wan-Bissaka has become renowned for his remarkable defensive qualities, and his endeavours were duly rewarded when he was named Crystal Palace’s player of the year.
As reported in Forbes in January, Roy Hodgson has been very vocal in his admiration of Wan-Bissaka, citing his determination and intelligence as key components in his meteoric ascension.
“He’s got a very good mentality and he’s got pace and determination. He’s bright in that he’s very receptive to information. He’s very serious about his football. I’ve seen him get better over the last six months.”
When analysing the Englishman’s statistical output in the Premier League last season, Hodgson’s appraisal for the young right-back is wholly justified. The sheer number of defensive contributions achieved by Wan-Bissaka in each game last season was remarkable.
Astonishingly, the right-back averaged almost four tackles per game and four clearances per game (3.7 tackles and 3.7 clearances per game). Also, he attained more than two interceptions per game (2.4) and registered a block every two games (0.5 per game).
Eye-catching defensive diligence earned him an endearing nickname, the Spider, as his eight legs continuously bailed Palace out of trouble in their defensive third at a rate so frequent it verged on embarrassing for the stumped opposition.
For context, Ashley Young – who played at right-back on 26 occasions for United last season – was comprehensively outperformed by Wan-Bissaka. The 33-year-old only achieved 1.7 tackles per game and 1.9 clearances per game – almost two fewer a game than United’s new signing. Additionally, he registered fewer interceptions (1.8) and fewer blocks (0.3) per game.
Undeniably, from a statistical perspective, Wan-Bissaka represents a tremendous upgrade at right-back for the Red Devils and given his age, there is ample time for further progression and to refine aspects of his game. Despite not being widely acclaimed for his attacking contribution, the 21-year-old managed to register more assists (three) than Ashley Young in the league last season (two).
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It would be entirely unrealistic, and frankly obscene, to expect Wan-Bissaka to negate United’s defensive troubles single-handedly, but given the extent of their woes last season, the recent transfer represents a giant step in the right direction.
Manchester United conceded more goals than all but one of the teams that finished in the top half of the Premier League table, only West Ham with 55 goals conceded more than United’s total of 54 goals. Unsurprisingly, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side had the 11th best defence in the division, and they conceded more than three goals on six occasions in the league last season – which included a humiliating 4-0 defeat at Goodison Park.
United’s defence is a problem area that requires considerable attention before the start of the new season. If Solskjær is to restore the club’s pride, and re-establish the glory of yesteryear, the defence requires a considerable revamp.
Resultantly, the signing of Wan-Bissaka, a player of immense defensive quality, becomes hugely crucial for Manchester United. Most significantly, the Red Devils’ latest signing can make an immediate impact at a club in dire need of strengthening, while still retaining the potential for further development.
Wan-Bissaka provides security and longevity at a club desperately awaiting a reawakening and the mega-money transfer undoubtedly signals Ole is turning the wheel in a progressive direction.