If twitter reports are anything to be trusted, then Manchester United have already wrapped up their second signing of the summer – Hoffeinheim’s attacking midfielder Roberto Firmino for circa 18m€ (some sources quote €30 million). Although there has been no noise in particular from the British Press on what has been going on behind the curtains at Old Trafford, it looks like the deal could be on and the player could have actually undergone his medical already whilst on international duty, or gloriously not. But what is deadly certain is the fact that the news has sparked a fury of arguments from fans and neutrals alike doubting the credibility of the move itself while not harping on about how the Brazilian would be surplus to requirements for Louis Van Gaal.
Well, that brings us to the obvious question whether Firmino can improve the starting eleven at Manchester United right away and resolve some of their lack of cutting edge and purposeful pace going forward or is he recruited to add some much needed depth to the squad in the attacking areas, assuming there could be no smoke without fire. This is a player that’s had a brilliant season for a mid-table side (with all due respect) in TSG Hoffeinheim scoring 7 and creating 10 goals, all of which has earned him a deserved national team call-up and strong rumors linking him to Manchester United.
Besides the 7 goals that he’s scored for Hoffenheim (only second to Kevin Volland), the 23-year old has been able to create an astonishing 69 chances (incl the assists) in 33 appearances which is again noteworthy when you consider the fact that he was named in the starting 11 in every one of those 33 games illustrating his fitness – which is basically unknown to the current crop at United. While Firmino happens to be someone that’s been involved (Goals + Assists) in more number of goals (44) in the Bundesliga than anyone else in the last two seasons, the Brazilian is also someone that is known to willingly press the opposition back line with his pace and aggression making them commit defensive errors in the process, a trait Van Gaal has often admitted his admiration towards.
A comparison table (courtesy Squawka) that pits Firmino’s numbers against the current crew of attacking midfielders at Van Gaal’s disposal does paint an interesting picture. The most striking difference between Firmino and company is the number of successful dribbles executed by the Brazilian which is almost thrice as much as Di Maria, a proficient dribbler himself. As expected, Firmino tops the number of chances created but then again, another area of interest is the number of tackles won, something I touched on earlier in the article.
Louis Van Gaal would definitely love his midfielders, especially the technically sound players to also do the dirty work if needs be, something that the Brazilian should have no hesitation in doing. Not just his ability to dribble past defenders with ease but also his inherent work ethic and versatility or in Van Gaal’s terms, being a multi-functional footballer with the temperament to be able to play in any position behind the striker and also as a ‘false nine’ when needed must have urged the Dutchman to add him to his ranks in a bid to achieve title success in his final managerial tenure.
Firmino’s combativeness, something that Juan Mata was accused of lacking in abundance, albeit indirectly by Jose Mourinho by shipping him to Man United preferring a young Brazilian midfielder to lead a title charge, can repeat again, if Van Gaal gives the ultimatum to the board signalling his approval to sign another young Brazilian in Firmino. The following comparison matrix exemplifies (courtesy Squawka) what Firmino can offer besides the obvious goals, assists and brilliant vines.
It’s remarkable how Firmino has managed to make more interceptions per game (1.12) than Fellaini for instance who often finds himself deeper when United don’t have possession which also shows the relentless running and hassling the opposition back line that Firmino does when his side doesn’t have the ball. When it comes to aerial duels, Firmino has done fairly well for himself winning 2.24 aerial balls per game, almost twice as good as Rooney, head and shoulders above Juan Mata whilst only bettered by the obvious afro-sporting Fellaini. All in all, this is a brave and determined footballer who is as close to an all round footballer as it gets, and can only get better under conducive circumstances.
It is clear that Manchester United definitely need a player as refreshing as Firmino who offers so much impetus with and without the ball with the best years well ahead of him. Whether or not strengthening their attack should be their first priority in a transfer window this crucial is a different conversation altogether but not many players possess a combination of things that the Brazilian does and come at a price that can be deemed very reasonable in today’s transfer market and Van Gaal would have definitely known that better than anyone. Here’s to a bright Brazilian future at Old Trafford!