The World Cup in Russia, against odds, has been objectively fascinating to watch: with a myriad twists and turns – goals and heartbreaks – altogether packed in two and a half engrossing weeks of football. As we head to the final leg of the tournament – with only four games left, it is fair to say that the England National Team and English clubs, in general, have a lot to be positive about themselves and the promising future that lies ahead.
Manchester United, in particular, have plenty to reflect on – with optimism – for they, alongside Chelsea and Manchester City, have the second highest number of players (two less than Spurs) in the World Cup Last Four – among English clubs, being represented by as many as seven names among the four countries left.
Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young, Phil Jones, Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba have all done exceedingly well – with the exception of Phil Jones – in flying the flag of Manchester United in the World Stage.
Outside of this group, however, the World Cup has offered another injection of hope for Jose Mourinho and United, this time – from the Swedish centre-half Victor Lindelof who has had a quietly solid campaign in Russia until the journey ended at the hands of England.
Unlike at Manchester United – Lindelof was one of the two first-choice centre-halves for his country which, as a unit, was one of the best defensive sides at the World Cup. Partnered alongside the highly experienced, a real no-nonsense defender in Granqvist, Lindelof thrived – and proved himself to be an asset to his team.
His calmness on the ball and sensible decision-making complemented the brutality of Granqvist, in the best way possible. And at no point did this partnership blossom more than it did against Switzerland, in the last 16, when a dogged Sweden anchored by its dynamic and confident defensive duo – shut out a dangerous Swiss side, in a high pressure and high-intensity fixture. The ‘Iceman’ did live up to his billing, after all.
The 23-year old resembled nothing like the unsure and suspect version that we saw at Manchester United in the early stages; in the pre-season in the United States; or at Huddersfield where, make no mistake about it, his individual errors cost his team all 3 points.
Instead, at Saint Petersburg, he was the embodiment of what Jose Mourinho and his scouting team, in all likelihood, saw in the defender – to sign him up from Benfica that could finally bring to Manchester United; the one quality that the Red Devils sorely lacked in front of David De Gea: composure. Lindelof played 360 minutes in the World Cup, starting four games in Russia – and showed how a consistent run of games is the only way to get the best out of him.
At United, the Swede started 13 games in the Premier League and 4 substitute appearances rounding off his total number of minutes on the pitch to 1284. Since that ill-fated day in Yorkshire, Lindelof’s trajectory has been generally encouraging, with one of his best performances for United, coming in a crunch tie against Chelsea – they would end up winning. It would seem that the 23-year old has taken his time to adapt to a new country – just like the Portuguese thought he would – when he drew a comparison which sounded entirely reasonable and interesting.
Almost a year to this day, the Portuguese said,
“I brought in 2004 a phenomenal central defender to England in [Ricardo] Carvalho, he was one of the best central defenders in the last decade of the Premier League. But he struggled, it was difficult for him to come and adapt to the beginning and I think Victor needs a little bit of time and he’s going to have that time.”
It is not hard to imagine the young Swede, now transferring his improved form and confidence back to England when it all kicks off in August. In Eric Bailly – he may not have the adequate experience beside him that allowed him to flourish in the World Cup, but someone who has the potential to be as good, if not better.