Roy Keane, for all his flaws as a manager/pundit/human being, was a fantastic footballer. His performance in United’s 1999 Champions League semi-final second leg, against Juventus in Turin, is quite rightly heralded as one of the most complete midfield performances of recent times. Some argue that when he left Manchester United to join Celtic after very public fallouts with Sir Alex and many of United’s players, Keane left a huge hole in their midfield that has never been completely filled.
Carrick and Scholes are/were both exceptional footballers, and have had huge influence on United’s successes that followed, highlighted by the awards displayed in United’s trophy cabinet post-Keane. Darren Fletcher was another that impressed in Roy’s absence, showing heart, desire and no little ability before his progress was cruelly curtailed by a debilitating bowel condition. Paul Pogba is an outrageously talented footballer, and seeing him perform at the Stadio Delle Alpi after he was released by Ferguson indicates that it may have been a mistake to let him go. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing.
The feeling around Old Trafford however, is that a midfielder formed in the Roy Keane mould, somebody who can grab matches (and opponents) by the scruff of the neck, has been missing for quite some time. After his eye catching performances for Chile in the World Cup, and a hugely successful campaign with Juventus last season, Arturo Vidal seems to be the name cropping up as the preferred summer signing of the Manchester United faithful. Probably best to avoid Twitter for a month or so.
If recent rumours are to be believed, Louis Van Gaal’s first choice to play alongside the impressive Herrera is not Vidal, but the more cultured, less aggressive option that is Roma’s Kevin Strootman. That’s not to say Strootman is a shrinking violet of course, and he can certainly handle himself on the football field.
Van Gaal has seen Strootman up close and personal, watching him pull the strings in Holland’s midfield before injury cruelly cost him a place in the World Cup squad, although King Louis probably vomited at the £79 million price tag recently slapped onto Strootman’s head by the Roman hierarchy.
A midfield signing is surely imminent at United as Marouane Fellaini looks likely to get the chop, and Michael Carrick is sidelined until September at the very least. It’s highly unlikely that United will sign both Vidal and Strootman, so which is the best option to add some much needed quality to the Old Trafford engine room?
The first sticking point for both players is injuries. Strootman is currently recovering from cruciate ligament damage, and is taking his time to rehabilitate from such a serious injury. Being forced to adapt to the fast pace of the Premier League may be too much to ask, for this season at least. United waited a year for Ruud Van Nistelrooy in similar circumstances, which turned out to be an inspired decision.
Vidal is not without injury concerns either. Rumours were rife that a long standing knee condition could hamper his all-action style of play. These rumours have since been quashed, yet United will be keen to avoid another Owen Hargreaves situation.
There’s no doubt that when fit, both players possess great talent, and can be compared easily and fairly as they both currently ply their trade in Italy’s top flight.
During the 2013/14 Serie A season, Strootman completed 1266 passes successfully in 25 games at an average of over 50 passes per match. Vidal completed 1211, 55 less than Strootman, despite making 7 appearances more. This averages at around 38 successful passes per match. Strootman’s pass completion rate of 88% was also superior to Vidal, who registered an 84% completion rate.
Vidal is also behind in the assists column, albeit marginally, laying on 5 goals for his Juventus teammates compared to Strootman’s 6. Both players created the same amount of chances however, 47 in all, so the Chilean is only behind due to one wayward finish. For my own benefit, let’s just say that this chance was hilariously spurned by Carlos Tevez.
As United lost possession so abundantly last year, someone of Strootman’s composure would be an excellent acquisition. It could be argued that United already possess a player of such quality in Michael Carrick, who hasn’t always been adored at the Theatre of Dreams. Just so you know; Carrick made 1763 successful passes last season in 29 games, at a completion rate of 88%. Quality.
Vidal seems to be the kind of player that Keane enthusiasts are crying out for; aggressive, snarling into tackles with his tattooed neck bulging. His nickname, ‘Il Guerriero’, is translated as ‘The Warrior’, but do his stats back this image up, or is he all fur coat and no knickers?
Statistically, Vidal has a sizeable advantage over Strootman in his defensive capabilities. He completed 96 tackles to Strootman’s 55, and averages 3 tackles per game, compared to Strootman’s 2.2.
Surprisingly, despite seemingly being the superior defensive option, Vidal also has the edge over Strootman in the goals department, hitting the net 11 times, 6 times more than the Dutchman. On average, that’s a goal every 3 matches, which isn’t a bad return from midfield.
Vidal picked up 8 yellow cards, compared to Sttootman’s 6, but neither player was sent off. Heart warming stuff.
If Van Gaal decides to strengthen the midfield with either player, then the likelihood is that they’ll be positioned alongside Ander Herrera, with Juan Mata just off the two strikers. Strootman has already played under Van Gaal for Holland as a deep lying playmaker, and positioning him in a similar role for United would give Ander the chance to push forward. Herrera may then be able to replicate the impressive interplay with Mata that’s been on display during pre-season. Of course, Vidal may be equally adept at this role, but Van Gaal may opt for a player that’s already tried and tested in his favoured system.
Both players are skilled in a more advanced position also, which could leave Michael Carrick to anchor the midfield. Throw in a rejuvenated Darren Fletcher, and there would certainly be options for United over the course of the season.
Either player would be a great addition to the Manchester United squad, but only time will tell if Vidal or Strootman can be persuaded to trade life in Italy for one in sunny Manchester. United have already signed one midfielder this summer, maybe asking Ed Woodward for a second is a little too ambitious.