Two days before the much-awaited move of Victor Lindelöf to Manchester United was confirmed – I spoke to MSc candidate and freelance journalist/avid fan of Premeira Liga, Jan Hagen – whose work has been published in various news outlets like Metro UK, the official FIFA World Cup magazine, Sport Witness among other national and international media – about all things Lindelöf.
You can follow him on twitter (@JanHagen) for all the latest transfer speculation, insight and quotes that dominate the daily world of Portuguese football.
Q: What is your take on the recent reports in Portuguese media and Jose Mourinho’s latest comments about the transfer of Lindelof to MUFC? Could it be another Nicolas Gaitan situation?
Jan: Victor Lindelöf to Man United is nothing new in the Portuguese press with the first reports of a possible deal emerging over a year ago. Manchester United have been heavily scouting the Portuguese top clubs in the last two campaigns and I’m sure a player like Lindelöf has caught the eye of the Red Devil’s scout(s).
With that said, the Portuguese press loves a good rumour and especially if Man United are involved. Ezequiel Garay, Nico Gaitán, Renato Sanches and now Victor Lindelöf. All have been all but, and in some cases it has even been, “done deals” according to the Portuguese press. It has to be remembered that Sanches has confirmed he turned down Man United, Alex Ferguson was a fan of Ezequiel Garay and Man United have made bid(s) for Nico Gaitán, so they have not all been rubbish.
But the things that point in the direction of this being much more than just ‘silly rumours’ by the Portuguese press:
Benfica have settled their dispute with Victor Lindelöf’s former club, Västerås, who were originally entitled to 20% of a future transfer, which the Portuguese giants were unwilling to pay.
Benfica manager Rui Vitória, to some degree, confirmed Man United’s interest in Lindelöf in January. When asked if it was difficult to play Lindelöf (in a game vs V.Guimarães) knowing the Swede is close to join Manchester United he said, without denying the interest: “It wasn’t difficult at all. All my players, whether it’s Victor or anyone else, who’ll surely be in a similar position as Victor in the future, know they’ll have to be mentally present at Benfica, or they won’t play.”
Despite Lindelöf playing down the rumours the last week, he hasn’t ruled out that a deal might happen.
A year ago, the Portuguese press asked José Mourinho about several players from the Primeira Liga, but he denied every rumours and said he wouldn’t sign anyone from the Portuguese league. When asked again this year, about Lindelöf, the Portuguese manager said that he would neither confirm or deny Man United’s interest in the Swedish international. It doesn’t have to mean anything, but nevertheless it’s interesting that Mourinho, who weighs every word and move, has changed his approach.
Q: A few words about how he has fared for Benfica in 2016/17.
Jan: Victor Lindelöf played more than 3 years and close to 100 games for Benfica B before he got his first ever Liga start for the Lisbon club in February 2016. Since that game, he’s been an undisputed starter in Benfica’s line-up and probably the best centre-back in Portugal over the last 1.5 years.
In less than a month at the first team, he had delivered Man of the Match performances against both fierce Lisbon rival Sporting and Zenit in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
It didn’t take long before young ‘Iceman’ became a fan-favourite at Estádio da Luz.
His 2016/17 hasn’t been as good as his first (half) season with the first team. By all means, he has been solid, but he hasn’t been as dominant as he was in the months after making his first Liga start. That might have something to do with Benfica changing his centre-back partner from Jardel to Luisão. Benfica captain and legend Luisão, now 36-years-old, is not what he used to be at his absolutely brilliant best and that has probably made Lindelöf’s job a bit more difficult this season. He still put in great performance week in, week out, but he didn’t do much more than what you expect from a player of his quality playing for Benfica in the Portuguese league.
Q: What kind of a player is he? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Jan: Victor Lindelöf is a modern, ball-playing center-back. He loves to take the ball forward and play out from the back. He’s strong and quite quick for a center-back. He reads the game well, making him a boss at interceptions, and the 22-year-old is very comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has impressed with his composure and mixed with his ball-playing style he helps to provide a calmer atmosphere at the back.
He may not be as dominant in the air as some would wish, but the Swede doesn’t have any clear weaknesses.
Q: How much of a role do you think has fellow Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic could have played in a likely move to Manchester United? Any idea about their relationship?
Jan: I’m sure Zlatan Ibrahimovic has put in some good words about Manchester United and he’ll surely give Victor Lindelöf some advice if he decides to join José Mourinho’s side, but I don’t think Zlatan plays a great part in what his compatriot does with his career.
They didn’t play together for very long as Lindelöf got his Sweden debut in March 2016 and Zlatan retired from international football just 4 months later, but they seemed to have had a good relationship.
Q: Eric Bailly joined United last summer and he has already become their best defender by a mile. Do you reckon Lindelof can make a similar impact at Old Trafford?
Jan: Victor Lindelöf was thrown to the wolves last winter when Benfica were in desperate need of a centre-back with both Luisão and Lisandro López out injured. The Swede was actually close to joining Middlesborough on loan in the 2016 January transfer window, but these sudden injuries stopped that deal from happening.
He performed from the first minute and played every single minute for the rest of the season despite club legend Luisão returning from injury with plenty of the season left. As mentioned before, Lindelöf put in superb performances against top-level quality, both in the Portuguese league and the Champions League, with little top-tier experience. He has managed to not just overcome, but also impress, with every task that has been thrown his way. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything the hard-working defender can’t handle.
It’s also worth mentioning that Lindelöf has been far more convincing than what Marcos Rojo, who never was a personal favourite for yours truly, ever was for Sporting.
There’s broad agreement among fans and followers of the Portuguese league that Victor Lindelöf might be ready for bigger tasks. The Swede, however, likes it in Lisbon where he lives with his girlfriend, living his happy days.
Some might say a move to United, if given the chance, is a no-brainer for a player like Lindelöf, but the World Cup in Russia is just a year away, he’s just renewed his deal, increasing his wages massively and Benfica is the perfect place to continue to develop and regularly play football at a high level. The Swede will have to think twice before leaving Lisbon this summer.