It was the worst kept secret in the world – until Manchester United finally announced the signing of 21-year old fullback Aaron Wan-Bissaka for a fee of £45-million plus £5-million in add-ons from Premier League side Crystal Palace.
The club, after a slow start in the transfer window, have finally got the wheels moving, to sign a young Welsh winger from Swansea City for about £15-million, in what is seen as a move made by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in his quest to retool United to play the ‘United way’.
Whatever that means, any player with above average pace up front these days can be an asset in the Premier League and United’s new signing Daniel James does seem to be blessed with bags of it. While James may be one to look out for in the next season i.e. 2020/21 in all fairness – the signing that should really excite Man United fans and rightly so – is their most recent acquisition in Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
It’s a testament to where the game is headed – and in part, where Manchester United are as a team right now, that a 21-year old full-back (wingback?) with only one full season under his belt at the top division could make the difference between finishing sixth and finishing in the Champions League places; but he really can.
Even though the sample size is admittedly small to make a viable case for the longer-term, Wan-Bissaka’s numbers do stand out when compared with that of the best full-backs in the league at Liverpool and Man City. While the number of tackles per game and the number of interceptions do really rely on the amount of possession a team has on average – and so, are not fair metrics for comparison until they are adjusted for possession, the number that truly sums up what the young English full-back brings to the table is that wee number fourth from bottom – next to ‘Drb’ – which stands for ‘Dribbled past per game’.
At 0.3, Wan Bissaka was dribbled past just once in roughly 3 games in 2018/19 and that is seriously impressive in a position where it can be the hardest not to get dribbled past – given the quality and pace of the Premier League in general and the fact that, by rule of thumb, the fastest player in the squad is usually played on the flanks. It is not surprising to note that is already twice as good as United’s incumbent in the position Ashley Young – who will be 34 before the start of the new season and is not going get any better.
While the Red Devils may still need the likes of Ashley Young in the dressing room as one of the few remaining players in the squad that has actually experienced being in a Premier League title race and come out of it on the right side, it is time Ole Gunnar Solksjaer brought more youth and different personalities & skillsets to ‘his squad’ that still seems to be short of the infectious desire to win silverware – that their rivals seem to have in abundance.
Wan-Bissaka is only the beginning of a long road ahead in this rebuilding job – but Solskjaer and United have, on paper, done the best they could, in strengthening one of their glaring weaknesses.
Amid the nostalgia, it is often easy to forget that Manchester United of the past did not always have the best squads in the country, yet they managed to remain competitive for most of the Premier League, and more often than not, above the competition. This was enabled not always by talent, but by their grounding and commitment – primarily driven by a hunger instilled by Sir Alex to win again and again, and go at it once again when it really mattered.
If there was a United Way, even as dangerously Liverpool-like in how self-absorbing and borderline narcissistic it sounds, maybe this could be what it is that they mean, and why the new manager is trying to recreate the old in his unenviable pursuit of excellence.