Sensible Targets: Eduardo Camavinga

With recent reports suggesting that Paul Pogba’s future lies away from Manchester United, it is only natural for the Mancunian club to be linked with a replacement for the French superstar. Pogba, who has a year left on his contract is not willing to extend his stay in England’s footballing capital and United can try and sell him right now, or keep him and hope he signs an extension before his contract expires next season. Regardless of whether Pogba moves or not, United desperately need a midfielder anyway. We have already done two articles on this before so I won’t elaborate about it here.

If Pogba does make a move this window, United should be (ideally) in the market for 2 Central midfielders. One midfielder being able to play a more deeper role and another one being a more dynamic, runner of the ball. And as it the case of almost every trsansfer window, Manchester United are linked to a host of different midfielders of both of those profiles. With Declan Rice being the standout name for the former and Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul being the most high profile for the latter. 

Another French midfielder who has one year remaining on his contract and would fit the Pogba replacement profile perfectly is Eduardo Camavinga. Today, I will try to explain how the young French sensation can fit the team and what little tactical tweaks we can observe with Camavinga in the side. 

History

For someone who is still in his teens, Camavinga already has moments in his short career that have been etched in the history books. Eduardo Camavinga signed his first professional contract when he just a month older than 16 and it was not long before he made his debut. 

Eduardo Camavinga was the youngest player at Rennes to sign a professional and also the youngest player to ever play for the first team. His breakout game came against PSG when he put in a MOTM performance in the midfield and also set up the only goal of the game. His assist meant he became the youngest Ligue 1 player ever to register an assist. 

After that, it wasn’t long before the young Frenchman cemented his place in the Rennes starting 11. The 2019-20 season can widely be regarded as his breakthrough season in France. Now, a full fledged first team regular and also a French International and with only one year remaining on his contract, it seems as if moving Camavinga on is the best move for all parties involved and Manchester United are among a host of clubs monitoring his situation at Rennes. 

Playing Style

When he first broke on the scene in 2019/20, Julien Stephan, the then Rennes manager used him as a defensive midfielder in a 4-4-2 or a 3-4-1-2 at the tender age of 17. Camavinga is excellent in tackling and disrupting the opponent’s play in his own half. He has displayed Kante-esque traits where his work ethic and excellent tackling make him a very good workhorse for the team. He won more tackles than any other player in the Ligue 1 in 2019-20 despite only playing 25 games. 

Even though he first made a name for himself for his tackling and work ethic, the youngster offers so much more than just that. He operates in the areas of a deep lying playmaker and his long passing also offers him to distribute the ball and start attacks playing from deep midfield. He completed 91% of long passes in 2019-20 displaying a perfect blend of maturity, tenacity and elegance in his style of play helping Rennes qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. 

In 2020-21 season, Rennes shifted to a 4-3-3 formation and with Steven Nzonzi sitting at the base of the 3 man midfield for the French side, it allowed Camavinga to play a more advanced role. He has played at the heart, on the right and on the left side of the midfield throughout the last season but he mainly played as a RCM in a 3 man midfield. 

Even observing his heat maps from the 2 seasons we can see his development as a player.   

As we can see, in 19/20 (Top) he played a much deeper role compared to the one in 20/21 (bottom). 

Due to being given more freedom to roam ahead and play further up the pitch, Camavinga’s creative numbers have gone up. His dribbling and passing numbers have improved while his tackling has remained the same. Camavinga can best be described as a combination of N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba. He has the work ethic and the tenacity of Kante while being as elegant on the ball as Pogba. 

The Frenchman has shown a lot of maturity in shifting his game from a deeper lying midfielder to a box to box midfielder. He had a pass completion of 89.3% in Ligue 1 while also averaging 6.37 progressive carries p90. Adding to this, he also had 3.4 tackles p90 and 1.92 dribbles completed p90. He ranked in the 97th and 95th percentile for both the stats in Ligue 1. Very impressive for an 18-year old. 

He also possesses great awareness for his age. The 18 year old always wants to get on the ball and is never one to shy away from responsibility. As a result of his great awareness, he can be deemed as one of the midfielders who are ‘press resistant’. He has also got a strong physical presence. Even though he is just over 6 ft, his lean physique is just about at the stage where he can turn and dribble past players quickly but also not be bullied by his counterparts while he is in possession of the ball. His awareness coupled with his great vision allow him to play the creative, box to box role he has been playing for Rennes. Almost acting like a ‘Mezzala’. 

However, Camavinga still has a long way to go in terms of his technical and physical aspects. The midfielder still can’t be considered as a goal threat, either by his long shots or his presence in the 18-yard box. While his positioning and vision is still not polished, it is to be considered that the Frenchman is just 18 years old. 

In short, Eduardo Camavinga is a tenacious, dynamic, box to box midfielder. His awareness, tackling ability, dribbling and passing allow him to be a great all round option to have in the middle of the pitch. 

Tactical Fit at Manchester United

Well, first things first, Eduardo Camavinga is not someone who can play alongside Paul Pogba in the pivot as many fans are suggesting he might. He may have some of the skills required but his natural game isn’t that of a holding midfielder and if Pogba is to be played in a double pivot, he needs someone in that profile to play alongside him. Someone in the similar mould of a Nemanja Matic and even that is not enough to get the best out of Paul Pogba. He works best playing in the attacking areas of the LW-half space, something he has done recently for Manchester United playing from the LW.

So, if we cancel out the possibility of Paul Pogba playing in the deep midfield pivot in a 4-2-3-1 that leaves us with 4 potential partners Eduardo Camavinga can be paired with them being Fred, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek. Now the main reasons why van de Beek can’t be a good partner for the French youngster is the same as Pogba in the sense both are much better playing closer to the goal. Adding to the fact that whenever van de Beek has played, he has played in the no.10 spot under Solskjaer. So, the Norwegian manager definitely doesn’t consider him to play in the pivot as a deeper lying midfielder. 

Now, that leaves us with only 3 options. Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic. Camavinga would thrive if he’s paired with any of the aforementioned midfielders. Let’s understand why by taking the most recent game against Leeds United as an example. 

In that game, Manchester United lined up in their trademark 4-2-3-1 with McTominay and Fred playing in the double pivot while Pogba started on the LW and Bruno Fernandes played in his usual no.10 role. The McTominay-Fred pivot or ‘McFred’ allows Pogba and Bruno to link up further up the pitch. 

The midfield pivot was very dynamic as they both didn’t have a defined role as McTominay and Fred (and Camavinga) are all pretty similar players. Manchester United usually build up with a 2-4 or a 3-3 shape including the backline and the fullbacks depending on who the opposition is. In that build up phase, Fred drops deep to receive the ball while McTominay is the one who is a more free midfielder given the license to roam in the middle of the park looking for pockets of spaces but again, even that depends on game to game. In short, both midfielders can do the job of carrying the ball from the deep and their high energy and work ethic suit the fast-paced counter pressing, quick transition style of play Manchester United like to play.

As we can see here, United build up in a 2-4 shape when they are pressed with 2 strikers with McTominay and Fred both dropping a bit deep to receive the ball. But once United are past the build up phase, McTominay is the one who makes the late runs from midfield and Fred is the one who holds his position. 

Just by seeing his heat map in the game against Leeds United, it is pretty evident that McTominay likes to make runs and maraud forward

That is the role where Camavinga would thrive under at Manchester United. He is good at dropping deep and building from the back but he is also among the best young dribblers in Europe making him a very good ball carrier. His work rate coupled with his excellent dribbling and we have a younger and maybe arguably better version of Scott McTominay. 

As you can see, his progressive carrying and dribbling makes him a very viable alternative to the role the Scotsman plays at Manchester United.

Considering the fact that Eduardo Camavinga is still very young, he can very well be developed into the role Fred plays as well. While his passing and vision isn’t polished, his awareness and press-resistant nature means he is very good at dropping deep and receiving the ball. His passing and vision can only improve in the future. As mentioned earlier, when Manchester United build up in a 3-3 shape with Fred or Matic dropping in the defence, Camavinga can easily be the mid who drops deep too as he has all the attributes in him to be developed in that profile. Adding to the fact that Camavinga’s work rate is pretty similar to Fred. 

Being alongside Nemanja Matic and he can very well play the same role Scott McTominay plays as the Serbian is the perfect DM allowing Camavinga the freedom to carry the ball forward in threatening attacking spaces allowing Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to be closer to the goal and flex their creative or goalscoring muscles. 

All in all, Eduardo Camavinga going by his most recent form is the perfect alternative for Scott McTominay in the current 4-2-3-1 setup that Manchester United play but can be a viable alternative for Fred also seeing how much of a versatile midfielder the young Frenchman actually is. Assuming that Paul Pogba would play on the wings in the near future, signing Camavinga would make a lot of sense for Manchester United. 

Now, there are multiple situations pertaining to this. Manchester United are long term admirers of Declan Rice and if Rice was to switch sides and join the Manchester based club along with a contract extension for Paul Pogba, it would mean Pogba would be dropped back into midfield as a pure Defensive midfielder like Rice would allow Pogba to play with more freedom from the midfield pivot which could hinder Camavinga’s opportunities in the first team. If Pogba won’t renew his contract then Camavinga is probably among the top 5 candidates to replace him. 

If we look closely at the current scenario, it looks like Paul Pogba would be staying at Old Trafford this season and that would mean the current setup with Pogba playing on the LW would be Solskjaer’s go-to system considering that Rashford is out for a considerable time. That leaves Manchester United with only 3 viable options who can play in the midfield pivot with ‘McFred’ and Matic and it only makes sense to bring in another option to add to the depth of the squad. 

In conclusion, Manchester United should make a late push for Eduardo Camavinga as his asking price is probably the lowest it can ever be and the financial strength of Manchester United’s competitors for his signature is also the weakest at the current moment. If Camavinga does decide to run down his contract and leave Rennes next season, then Manchester United may have to be involved in a bidding war for the young Frenchman’s signature. If Manchester United do manage to make a late push and get his signature then the transfer window would be classified as a very successful window for the Red Devils. 

Sensible Targets: Alexander Isak

According to multiple reliable sources in the UK and in Europe, Manchester United are in the market this summer to buy a striker. Forwards, especially strikers, this season haven’t been great for Manchester United –  Edinson Cavani has had to deal with problems both professionally and personally, Mason Greenwood is still learning the trade as a striker and Anthony Martial is struggling to get any kind of consistent form going. It is also rumoured that the Uruguayan veteran may well leave Old Trafford at the end of the season which leaves the club with only one recognized striker in Anthony Martial. While the goals have flown in this season from Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, it is no secret that the Red Devils need another solid attacking option to take them to the elite level. 

That attacking reinforcements are speculated to be either of the Dortmund duo, Jadon Sancho or Erling Haaland. Sancho would come in on the wings instead of the centre forward position, that would allow Greenwood to move into the striker role. But, due to spending upwards of 40m on two young right wingers in Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo, Solskjaer and newly appointed DOF John Murtough could look to bolster the striker position itself. It is rumoured that United have the budget to make only one marquee signing and the heavily rumoured signing is Erling Haaland. It will be tough for Manchester United to sign the Norwegian as he is on the radar of many other top European clubs such as Chelsea, FC Barcelona and rivals Manchester City. 

In this piece, we will cover an alternative Manchester United could sign on the cheaper side and focus on spending the marquee signing money on some other position. We will take a look at the Swedish striker Alexander Isak who is making quite a name for himself at Real Sociedad in Spain. 

History

Born in central Stockholm, Isak made inroads with his local club AIK Stockholm (or simply known as AIK) at a very young age and gathered a lot of attention for his physique and good technique. Being a good young striker from Sweden and having a strong physique, it was natural that Isak drew comparisons to Zlatan Ibrahimovic at a very young age after his breakthrough at AIK. 

He made his professional debut in a cup game against a fourth tier side for AIK on 28th February 2016 at age 16. The Swede scored a goal in a 6-0 victory. He was then named in the starting lineup in a league game for the first time a month later and he scored again in a 2-0 victory en route to becoming the youngest goalscorer in AIK history at 16 years and 199 days old. He soon became a first team regular having impressed in the limited time he got on the pitch. He signed his first professional contract later on in May. 

He scored 10 goals in his breakthrough season which helped him earn a 9 million euros transfer to German giants, Borussia Dortmund. His stint at Dortmund didn’t quite go according to plan as he made only 5 league appearances for the club and didn’t score any goal. After failing to make even a single appearance in the 2018-19 season for Borussia Dortmund, he was shipped on loan to Dutch side Willem II in January. 

The Swede impressed in Eredivisie by becoming the first player in the league history to score 12 goals in his first 12 league games. He even scored an equaliser and a winning penalty against AZ Alkmaar to take Willem II to their first KNVB Cup final since 2005. He ended his loan spell having scored 13 goals in 16 games. 

His impressive loan form drew a lot of attention from many other European clubs. The 21 year old signed for Spanish club Real Sociedad in the summer of 2019 for a reported fee of €6m. 

Scout Report

Alexander Isak has continued his impressive form and development ever since signing for Real Sociedad. He scored 9 goals in 14 starts in the 2019/20 season as he shared the striker role with Willian Jose. This season, Isak has taken his game up a level scoring 12 goals in 20 starts. We will take a look at his biggest strengths. 

Link Up Play 

Isak plays mostly as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1. He is very good at dropping deep and receiving the ball and linking up play for his teammates. Real Sociedad play in a way that attracts the opposition press in the middle which allows them to release wide runners in either the wingers or the fullbacks pushing forward. Isak is a great outlet for them as he sucks in defenders and his good hold up play and strength coupled with his good passing allow him to release the runners in the wide areas. 

He is very adept at finding little pockets of spaces in and around the final third which allows him to expertly link up play with his midfielders and wide players. The Swede has a pass completion rate of 75% which is very good for a striker where he doesn’t have all the time in the world to release the ball to keep the move going. 

As seen in the above images, Isak frequently drops deeper to link up play with one touch  or two touch passing which allows Sociedad to retain possession and continue their build up play. The Swede acting as a focal point is very crucial in Sociedad’s possession-friendly tactical setup. 

Dribbling, Progression and Half Turn

Continuing with the theme of Isak dropping deep, if he hasn’t got a passing option available, he simply carries it forward himself. He is fast, strong, is a good dribbler and is very quick on the half turn. He draws in the opposition defenders with his back to them and then quickly turns away from them opening up space for him to either pass or to carry it forward. 

As seen in the images below, Isak is very quick on the half turn and drawing defenders in before quickly turning them and progressing the ball forward. Isak averages 19.9 carries per 90 with a progressive distance of 125.9 yards per 90. 

In the below image, he expertly draws the defender to get close to him which leaves a lot of space behind the defender, which the Swede runs into after quickly turning the defender. 

Here is another example where he attracts the defender towards him and exploits the space left behind by the defender to progress the ball forward using his excellent dribbling skills.

Shooting

Alexander Isak boasts the highest npxG (Non penalty expected goals) per 90 in the whole of La Liga which shows that he is as lethal in the box as he is outside. He also ranks among the highest in touches taken in the penalty area. So not only is he adapt at playing away from the box, he is very lethal in the box as well. 

The Swede has scored 12 goals in the La Liga this season with none of them coming from the spot. He has accumulated a npxG of 11.4 which shows that he is actually outperforming his expected goals tally by a bit. This shows that he is a very lethal finisher and his quality of shots are very good instead of taking wayward shows which many strikers his age tend to do as they have a point to prove. Isak is composed and chooses his moments which is a very good sign for a young striker. 

Here is a chart comparing his shooting with some of the top strikers.  

(Credits: footyscouts.com/Liam Lam)

Isak ranks among the very best in the business in terms of shot quality, volume and npxG. 

This is a graph comparing his npxG and touches inside the penalty area among all the La Liga strikers. As it is evident, he is again one of the best in that sense. 

Off the Ball Movement

We’ll take a look at his off the ball movement to understand how he is able to create space for himself inside the box. 

Isak sees that Oyarzabal is winning the duel vs Carvajal, so he expertly peels away from  Sergio Ramos who is caught ball watching and exploits the space behind the Spanish defender. This allows him to be free in the box to receive the cross from his teammate and he smashes in a beautiful volley past Areola in goal.  

This image is another example of he can find space using his off the ball movements. He waits for the very last moment to make a run while isolating the defender against him and due to his quick change of pace, the defender is left behind and Isak, being onside, is able to run behind the defensive line and receive a beautiful pass from Odegaard which lands him in a 1v1 with the keeper which he expertly slots away.

There are also areas where Isak needs to improve on such as his decision making. Due to been given freedom to either dribble or shoot or pass, Isak often makes poor decision in the final third in whether to pass the ball, take a shot or dribble it himself which leads to the attack breaking down even when a better option was available. However, we can cut the 21 year old some slack as he is still very young and learning the trade of the game.

Conclusion

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has wanted a striker who can drop deep and link up play while being effective in the final third as well. He often asks Martial to drop deep and hold up play or release the fast wingers such as Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Daniel James. Seeing what the Norwegian manager asks of his strikers to do, Isak seems to fit the profile perfectly. He is fast, strong, has got good pace, good dribbling and is very lethal in and around the final third. He would suit a counter attacking system as well as a possession-friendly one. With a little improvement in some areas, Isak can develop into a complete centre forward. 

While Erling Haaland would be the dream signing for Manchester United, they could take a look at the young Swede for a cheaper alternative with a view of developing his game even further. 

Devil’s DNA score: 9/10

Sensible Targets : Teun Koopmeiners

There have been a lot of questions asked about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure at Manchester United. Is he the right man for the job? Will he bring Manchester United success? Is he capable enough of going toe to toe with the Guardiolas, Klopps and Mourinhos? The fanbase has been divided about Solskjaer’s reign as Manchester United manager ever since he was given the job on a permanent basis after the historic comeback against PSG in the Champions League Round of 16. While there are still some doubts about his credibility to win major trophies, it is fair to say that the Norwegian has managed to turn many doubters into believers. One aspect of his management that has received no doubts is his performances in the transfer market. 

Solskjaer knew the rebuild at Manchester United was a pretty big one. He sacrificed his short term in order to achieve long term goals. He always made a case to sign players who would put the club first and sold anyone who didn’t share the same interests. Solskjaer also sold a lot of deadwood left behind by the previous managers and brought in players who can all be considered as successful signings. Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Alex Telles, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani have all made a difference for club and while signings such as Donny van de Beek, Daniel James, Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo haven’t featured as much as the others, their potential is there for everyone to see. 

Today, we will be starting a series in which we will be covering some players Manchester United could have a look at in order to plug the holes in their squad and work towards improving the squad. It has been widely reported that Manchester United are looking to bring in a Right Winger,a Centre Back and a Defensive Midfielder. 

In this piece, we will cover a defensive midfielder Manchester United could look to bring in – Teun Koopmeiners. 

History

Koopmeiners grew up in Castricum, in North Holland. He joined the AZ youth set up at the u12 level and has been playing at AZ Alkmaar ever since. He rose through the ranks, and as a part of Jong AZ, he won the Dutch third tier title in 2016. In 2017, he made his professional debut for AZ when he came in for Alireza Jahanbaksh for the final 30 minutes in a 4-0 loss to Feyenoord. It didn’t take long for Koopmeiners to become a starter for AZ as he made 26 league appearances. At the end of that season, AZ finished 3rd in the league, qualifying for the Europa League.

Last season, Arne Slot’s AZ grabbed a lot of attention as they finished 2nd in the Eredivisie (tied on points with Ajax) which was ended prematurely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. AZ play an expansive, attacking style of football which boasts many talented academy players such as Calvin Stengs, Myron Boadu, Owen Wijndal and now club captain, Teun Koopmeiners. This season in the Eredivisie, Koopmeiners has scored 11 goals and 4 assists which is an impressive feat for a defensive midfielder. 

Scout Report

Teun Koopmeiners plays on the left side of a 4-2-3-1 formation mainly acting as the deeper lying midfielder of the double pivot. He can play as an advanced midfielder as well as a more defensive one and can also comfortably slot at Centre Back thanks to AZ academy’s philosophy of not defining a specific position for the young prospects. The 22 year old contributes equally in attack as well as in defence. Let’s take a look at each of his strengths in detail.

Passing
Possibly the biggest strength the Dutch midfielder possesses is his passing ability. Koopmeiners is a brilliant passer of the ball. Instead of going up the field in the double pivot, he usually stays back to link up play from deep midfield. He is very adept in playing long balls over the top as well playing progressive passes along the ground.
The Dutch midfielder averaged around 74 passes per match last season with an impressive 89% pass accuracy. Considering the fact that the average pass completion percentage for his position is 82% across Europe, his 89% passing accuracy shows how much of an accurate passer he is. Furthermore, he averaged around 25 forward passes per match with a 76% pass accuracy for the same. Koopmeiners also gave 9.2 deep progression passes per 90 last season showcasing his immense ability to start attacks from the back. 
He is a type of defensive midfielder who can control and dictate the tempo of the game. The 22 year old provided 0.73 xGbuildup ability last season which shows how much he can influence attacks and contribute to build up play. His dribbling and deep progression is also one his strengths which points to his ability to move the ball forward from either by passing from the deep or carrying it forward using his dribbling abilities.
Defensive Abilities
As a defensive midfielder, Koopmeiners has to adhere to his defensive responsibilities as well. Looking at his stats, it’s clear that he is not someone who ignores his defensive responsibilities. Koopmeiners averages 6.83 duels per game and wins 61% of them which shows he is not someone who shies away from a defensive duel and is someone who ‘gets stuck in’ on the pitch. Still, he wins well over half of his duels which is still impressive for a player playing in his position.
Adding to that, He also averages 3.3 PAadj tackles and interceptions per 90. (PAadj is a metric used to adjust stats according to the possession a team keeps). We can see his defensive stats in a graph made by StatsBomb (@StatsBomb)

Set Pieces
Teun Koopmeiners possesses a wand of a left foot and his set piece ability is one of his biggest strengths. Koopmeiners has converted 18 of 22 penalties attempted in his career with a conversion rate of 82%. He is currently the designated penalty taker at AZ and is improving day by day. In the 2019/20 season, the Dutch midfielder converted 9 out of 10 penalties. Besides that, he is also adept at hitting in free kicks and is a constant threat from his set pieces either from corners, indirect free kicks.

One weakness that Teun Koopmeiners does possess is his lack of pace off the ball. He makes up for it via his positioning and his footballing IQ but his lack of pace is something that must have been worrying for a lot of PL level clubs. He was linked to Leeds United, West Ham and most significantly to Everton but he ended up staying at AZ. 

Scouting score: 9/10

Tactical Fit

Ever since Bruno Fernandes came in at Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has leaned towards dropping the counter attacking system and shifting towards a more possession based system. The tactical system that saw Manchester United arguably play the best football in the league after the lockdown ended last season seems to be the type of system the Norwegian prefers and recent matches in the PL is also a strong indication for that.

Speaking of that post lockdown system – Nemanja Matic was a big, big part of that system. Matic used to drop as a faux CB while in possession and look to start attacks from the deep via passing it through the vertical lines of opposition defence or by carrying it forward himself. Seeing how Koopmeiners plays in the exact same position at AZ, he could be a very capable replacement for Matic as the Serbian midfielder doesn’t have age on his side.

 As seen in the image above, Koopmeiners is very capable of breaking the vertical lines and starting attacks from the back.

 

Not only is he good at breaking vertical lines, he can also play accurate through balls and set up quick goal scoring opportunities for the forwards. Seeming how Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek all like to play in between the midfield and defence vertical lines, the balls from the deep to them are very crucial to get Manchester United’s attacks going. Nemanja Matic did that exceptionally well and United have been looking at such a deeper lying playmaker to do that job ever since. 

Tactical Fit : 10/10

 Conclusion

Another aspect of the Dutch midfielder which cannot be ignored is that the 22 year old is a born leader. The fact that he was AZ’s captain at just 21 years old is a testament to that. Manchester United have lacked strong characters in the dressing room for a while and even though the addition of Bruno Fernandes and Harry Maguire has helped that, another name can only help. 

Koopmeiners is someone who puts his team first and is someone who makes everyone around him play better. He is a proper dressing room leader and a very strong character which will be very important if Manchester United have ambitions to win titles in the near future. 

All in all, Teun Koopmeiners seems like a perfect replacement for Matic. If anything, he plays and behaves like a younger version of Nemanja Matic. Considering the fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prefers to play the possession system under which United have thrived previously and are still thriving under it, Koopmeiners seems like he would be an excellent addition to the squad. 

According to latest rumours, Leeds United, Fulham and Everton are still interested in bringing the AZ captain to England in the summer. AZ could demand a niche fee in the region of €25m to €40m. Considering the low asking price, and all that we have analysed in this report, we would rate Koopmeiners a ‘must buy’ for Manchester United for summer 2021. 

 

Overall Devil’s DNA score: 9.5/10. 

 

 

The Path To The Perch, Part 3 : 2000-2013

 

“And Solskjaer has won it”

On 26th May 1999, these words echoed around the world and were forever etched in Manchester United’s rich history. Rightly so, United had just become the first English team to do the treble and they did it with some style. Ryan Giggs’ last gasp winner in the FA cup semi final, a brilliant comeback victory against Juventus in the Champions League semifinal and of course, the two late, late goals against Bayern Munich in the final. 

“Football, bloody hell”, remarked Sir Alex Ferguson, as he would later find out that ‘Sir’ was a permanent prefix added to his name. Alex Ferguson was awarded the Knighthood after his Treble triumph in 1999. A remarkable turnaround from what was shaky start to his life as a Manchester United manager.

After winning the treble, the glory days kept rolling at Old Trafford as Manchester United would go on to win back to back titles in 1999-00 and 2000-01 with most of the treble winning team still donning the Manchester United red. However, the team that won the treble was soon dismantled. 

Peter Schmeichel had already left following the 1999 season and replacing him proved to be difficult. Mark Bosnich, later Fabian Barthez and Tim Howard, all failed to impress at Old Trafford. Following the 2001 title victory, Teddy Sheringham left to join Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer. Ferguson broke the transfer record to sign Ruud van Nistelrooy from PSV. Later, that record was again broken to sign Juan Sebastian Veron who is still regarded as one of Ferguson’s biggest failed transfers. Jaap Stam left in that summer and Andy Cole also joined Blackburn in December 2001. 

Sir Alex Ferguson announced his intentions to retire at the start of the season. A decision which we all know he reversed and promised to stay on for a minimum of another 3 years. Van Nistelrooy scored an impressive total of 36 goals in his debut season but United failed to win any silverware as that was the year of emergence for Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal and a rivalry between Manchester United and Arsenal that would continue for years and years. 

Fergie again broke the transfer record to sign Rio Ferdinand from Leeds United for 29 million pounds which proved to be a fantastic signing. United won the league title again in the 2002-03 season and reached the Champions League semi final. David Beckham was sold to Real Madrid following the title win after a rather public row with Sir Alex Ferguson. Ferguson signed replacements in Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Cristiano Ronaldo. No prizes for guessing which of them was a successful signing. But the 2003-04 season belonged to the Invincibles of Arsenal. In the CL, United lost in the first knockout round to Jose Mourinho’s Porto. 
At the start of the 2004-05 season,United signed a promising teenager from Everton by the name of Wayne Rooney. Rooney scored a hattrick on his CL debut and went on to have a fairly decent career at United but United were devoid of silverware yet again. You see, Mourinho was named the Chelsea manager at the start of the 2004-05 season and he and his Chelsea team went on to dominate the league in that, and the subsequent season. The Red Devils finished 3rd in that season behind Chelsea and Arsenal. At the start of the 2005-06 season, the Glazer family completed the takeover and bought the majority stake in Manchester United leaving the clubs in almost 600m of debt. The financial situation at United was bleak and there are a lot of articles written about this. Although, in the 2005-06 season the red devils did manage to win a piece of silverware in the form of the Carling Cup, or most recently known as the Carabao Cup. 
In 2006-07, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney developed into more mature players and became superstars. Their on field Chemistry and partnership was a joy to watch. United had also finally managed to replace Kasper Schmeichel in the form of Edwin van der Sar and the rebuild was complete. Manchester United won the title and reached the semi finals of the Champions League where they lost to the eventual winners –  AC Milan. The club remained successful on the pitch in spite of the takeover from the Glazer family, a true testament to Ferguson’s managerial abilities. 
The 2007-08 season proved to be one of Ferguson’s best seasons in his outstanding career. United signed Owen Hargreaves, Carlos Tevez, Nani and Anderson. Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra settled in at Manchester after a difficult start to their Manchester United careers after coming in January of 2006. Manchester United did the double that season, winning the Champions League and the Premier League. The famous night in Moscow, The match went to a penalty shootout after Cristiano Ronaldo’s opening goal was cancelled out by Frank Lampard’s equaliser.Ronaldo missed his penalty in the shootout but a slip from John Terry and a fantastic save by van der Sar off Nicholas Anelka’s attempt meant United would win the Champions League, Ferguson’s 2nd and United’s 3rd in their history.
The following season, there were strong rumours that Real Madrid wanted to buy Ronaldo after he had won the Balon D’or, but the Portugese stayed for another year in Manchester and helped United win another league title and reach another Champions League final only to lose to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona led by a superb Lionel Messi. 
Following the 2008-09 season, Ronaldo left in the summer to join giants Real Madrid. That season, United recovered from a slow start to win the Premier League title. That title victory made Sir Alex Ferguson the first manager in Premier League history to win the Premier League 3 years in a row, on two separate occasions. This Premier League title victory was Ferguson’s 11th and Manchester United’s 18th, putting them level with Liverpool.
In the 2009-10 season, Manchester United won the League cup after defeating Aston Villa 2-1 in the final. That was the first time United were able to mount a successful knockout cup defence. However, the Red Devils lost the league to Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea on the final day and narrowly bowed out of the Champions League in the quarter finals owing to an away goals defeat to Bayern Munich.
The 2010-11 season marked an end of an era for that Manchester United squad. Gary Neville, Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes all retired at the end of that season. Manchester United did manage to win that season meaning they would go ahead of Liverpool as the English team with the most League titles.They also reached the Champions League final, their 3rd in 4 years, where they would again meet Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. United lost the final 3-1 to a brilliant FC Barcelona team and Sir Alex Ferguson’s elusive 3rd Champions League win remained a dream. 
Owing to retirements of key players, Ferguson again spent big in the transfer market. Signing Ashley Young from Aston Villa, Phil Jones from Blackburn and David de Gea from Atletico Madrid. Overall, the 2011-12 campaign was a fairly unsuccessful one for Manchester United. They were relegated to the Europa League after finishing 3rd in the Champions League, where they would meet Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao who would go on to knock the Manchester club out. And of course, who can forget the famous “Agueroooo” moment? Manchester City clinched their first Premier League title in over 44 years after pimping United for the first spot on goal difference. 

That season sparked a reaction in Sir Alex Ferguson and he spent big to bring in Dutch striker Robin van Persie in order to bring the title back to Old Trafford. And he did. Manchester United won their 20th Premier League title, Sir Alex Ferguson’s 13th, with van Persie finishing the season as the golden boot winner. Towards the end of the season, Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement, pulling down the curtains on a glorious and illustrious career with Manchester United. 

 “My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch. And you can print that.”

-Sir Alex Ferguson.

And he did. 

 

 

The path to the perch, Part 1: 1986-1991

8th May 2013 – the date when Sir Alex Ferguson pulled down the curtains on his glorious 26 year adventure with Manchester United and football. During his time at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson managed to win a total of 28 major trophies including 13 Premier Leagues, 5 FA Cups and 2 Champions League. He also got Manchester United the distinction of being the only English side to ever complete the treble when current Manchester United manager scored the famous late winner against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final. ‘The greatest manager ever’, as they say about Ferguson and although it’s up for debate you wouldn’t have a conversation about it without mentioning Sir Alex. 

However, it wasn’t always the case for Ferguson. His first 4 years as Manchester United weren’t all about trophies but rather marred with inconsistencies and a lot of doubts. There is a famous newspaper clipping with the title ‘Fergie must go’ signifying the fact that fans weren’t happy with Ferguson’s first 3 and a half seasons as Manchester United manager. In fact, it is widely noted that the FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace in 1990 which saved Ferguson’s job as Manchester United manager. 

Today, we take a look at his lesser known years as Manchester United manager. 


Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson in his office, circa December 1986. (Photo by Harry Goodwin/Paul Popper/Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)

Early Career

Sir Alex Ferguson or just Alex Ferguson at the time, began his manager career in Scotland with St. Mirren in the Scottish second division. He was their manager from 1974 to 1978 and took them from lower table obscurity in the second division to league champions in 1977. The average age of that St.Mirren squad was 19 and their captain, Tony Fitzpatrick, was 20. A superb achievement for Ferguson who himself could be considered young for a manager at just 36. In 1978, Ferguson jumped ships to go and manage Aberdeen. There was a lot of speculation and rumours that Ferguson had already taken the Aberdeen job and owing to that St.Mirren decided to sack Ferguson becoming the only club ever to sack Alex Ferguson. 

At Aberdeen, the Scottishman managed to win the league title in the 1979-80 season. This was the first time a team rather than the Glasgow clubs (Celtic and Rangers) had won the Scottish Premiership in 15 years. Ferguson created a siege mentality at Aberdeen accusing the media of being biased towards Celtic and Rangers and used that to motivate his own team. ‘Furious Fergie’ was the nickname given to him by the Aberdeen players. The success at Aberdeen continued, with him winning the Scottish cup in 1982. 

The following season, he led Aberdeen to even more success by winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup, knocking out the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Aberdeen won the league for a further 2 seasons under Fergie. In 1986, he made his intentions clear that he wanted to leave Aberdeen. He managed Scotland in the 1986 World cup but after a group stage exit, he decided to step down as Scotland manager. 

After rejecting job offers from Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Sir Alex Ferguson was appointed as the Manchester United manager on 6th November 1986, taking over from Ron Atkinson. 


Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson pictured in an office at Old Trafford circa 1986 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Rusty Cheyne/Allsport/Getty Images)

An inconsistent start

There is a challenge called the “Sir Alex Ferguson challenge” popular among Football Manager players where you take over the team which is 19th in the Premier League on 6th November and try to replicate the success SAF had. That was the situation Ferguson was tasked with. Manchester United were 19th after finishing 2nd last season and were struggling. Ferguson guided them to an 11th placed finish and brought back some long needed stability to the club. 

The following season was great for Ferguson. He made his first signings at the club, Viv Andersen from Arsenal and striker Brian McClair from Celtic.He guided the red devils to a first second placed finish in 7 years but United were way off the standards of Liverpool and Fergie knew it. A home defeat in the FA Cup quarter finals against Nottingham forest was a bitter mark at a rather optimistic campaign. 

The optimism among the Manchester United faithful grew at the start of the 1988-89 as Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes returned to the club. Ferguson also signed a 17 year old Lee Sharpe from Torquay United and goalkeeper Jim Leighton from Ferguson’s former club Aberdeen. A 6-game winning run in January saw the red devils climb upto 3rd in the league table but a drastic collapse in form saw them go down the table and eventually finish 11th. 

Fergie was ruthless and responded to this by making new signings such as Mike Phelan, Neil Webb, Danny Wallace, Paul Ince and a club record signing in Gary Pallister. This saw fan favourites and stalwarts of the Atkinson era, Gordon Strachan, Jesper Olsen, Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside leaving the club. 


Alex Ferguson (centre) flanked by his new signings, Viv Anderson (left) form Arsenal and Brian McClair from Celtic at Old Trafford. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

Silencing the Critics

The clearing out of fan favourites was met with a lot of backlash from fans but the fans from the outside still believed in the rebuild project at Old Trafford. A 4-1 win over champions Arsenal on the opening day fuelled some optimism among the Old Trafford faithfuls but a dip in form and the new signings failing to impress led to many reports in November that Ferguson’s time could be up. 

“3 YEARS OF EXCUSES AND IT’S STILL C**P – TA RA FERGIE”. This was the famous banner floated around Manchester. A heavy 5-1 defeat against local rivals Manchester City and being booed off the pitch against Spurs made things worse and it wasn’t hard to see why. United’s form in the league was awful which was showcased by the fact that they finished only 13th in the league. Fans were not happy, the media was on Fergie’s back and it looked like the inevitable might happen after all.

“We were hearing things the night before we went to play Nottingham Forest. You hear these rumours – ‘If we don’t win today the gaffer could go.’ We were struggling in the league. Mark Robins scores and people say that saved his job,” Paul Ince recounted. 

The 1-0 victory over Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup quarter final was what, many say, saved Ferguson’s job at Old Trafford. But the board during the time constantly reassured that his job was never under threat at the time but if the team didn’t show any improvements towards the end of the season then they would’ve been forced to take a call. 

To be fair to Manchester United, they were doing quite well in the cups. They got all the draws away from home in the cup competitions and did well to win them and reach the final against Crystal Place. This was it, the defining moment of the season, a match that would make or break Ferguson’s legacy at Manchester United. And it’s moments like this that force a manager to make the tough calls and Fergie was prepared to make one. 

Jim Leighton, the goalkeeper who brought so much success for Ferguson at Aberdeen was underperforming and not justifying his place. Ferguson would have smashed the Guillotine over Leighton’s head long before he actually did if his assistant, Archie Knox, had not intervened. But after being caught in no man’s land for the first Crystal Palace goal in the 3-3 draw, Ferguson was left with no choice for the replay.

On loan Luton Town goalkeeper Les Sealey would be the first choice for the replay. Ferguson described him as ‘arrogant’ and ‘cocky’. He wrote: “Was he a better goalkeeper than Jim? No, but he thought he was, and that can sometimes be important in a Cup final.” 

It proved to be the right decision. United won 2-1 in the replay claiming the first trophy of the Ferguson era and the floodgates then began. The ban for English teams playing in the European competitions was lifted and United qualified and won the Cup Winners’ Cup next season. They finished 2nd in the league in the 1990/91 season behind rivals Leeds United. That season was then followed by the first league win under Sir Alex Ferguson in the 1991/92 season, thanks to two dramatic late goals by Steve Bruce against Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the season. 

And the rest, as they say, is history.