Man Utd Midfield Rebuild: Part 3 – Hybrid DM targets

If you missed the previous parst of this series, you can catch up on them here: 

Rebuilding Man Utd’s Midfield: Part 1 – Profiles, tasks & gaps

Rebuilding Man Utd’s Midfield: Part 2 – Build up DM targets

In part 1, I defined the 6 broad tasks of a midfielder, scored the long-term 4 members of Manchester United on those tasks and created 2 player profiles based on the gaps that the club should target to create the ideal 6-man top team midfield – a Build up DM and a Hybrid DM. In part 2, I covered the Build up DM shortlist and 5 mini reports of the role. Today, I’ll do the same for Hybrid DMs and then end this series with a summary of the best combinations for Man Utd.

The Hybrid DM Shortlist

You know the drill by now. Without wasting time, here’s the Hybrid DM shortlist.

Lots of interesting names here. Now, which ones would I cover mini reports of? 

  • Wieffer and Fofana are high on the list and have been linked to us. I’ll be covering them.
  • Stach is someone interesting who also has a low rumoured price.
  • After this, I have subjectively picked 2 players whom I think make sense for a Hybrid DM role, but have scored low due to issues beyond their control. Morten Frendrup and Amadou Onana haven’t scored great, largely because Genoa and Everton haven’t been great, but I think they could be good for us.

Mats Wieffer, 25, Feyenoord

Career: A youth product of FC Twente, Weiffer made only one appearance for the main team before Excelsior picked him up on a free transfer in summer 2020 when the player was 21. What followed were two impressive years where Weiffer was the mainstay for Excelsior. This was convincing enough for Feyenood to buy him in summer 2022. Weiffer quickly achieved starter status in the 2022/23 season playing beside Kokcu in midfield. Recently, he has been playing  with more progression duties in the 2023/24 season post Kokcu’s departure.


  • Progressive passing consistency and range
  • Ground coverage and intensity
  • In-possession movement IQ
  • Decision-making and awareness
  • Vertical carrying burst
  • Aerial duels technique, reach and strength
  • Ground duels physicality and doggedness


  • Limited back-to-goal play but safe
  • Overly front-foot defending
  • Reliance on upper body strength in duels, sometimes clumsy
  • Limited carrying range and agility

In possession: Wieffer’s stand-out quality is his excellent forward-minded passing range and consistency. Whether it’s switches to a fullback, a pinged through ball to a winger, a punchy grounded ball to a striker or a chipped lob to put someone through on goal, Weiffer has the full range of progressive passing and constantly controls the game with good execution and timely decisions. He uses his body well for carrying in bursts, displaying better deftness and control than you would expect. The lack of top tier close control and body agility is visible when he’s back-to-goal in tight situations, but he often navigates it well with a first-time release to a wide player or a safe pass-back to the CB/GK. His overall game IQ is a defining feature, as he’s constantly in good positions in all three phases of play and keeps making inch-perfect decisions to help the team progress. He also has a decent goal threat with the odd well-struck goal from the edge of the box or dominating header from an attacking set piece. Reminds me of Rakitic in possession.

Out of possession: Wieffer is a dogged defender who’s constantly running, tackling and making a nuisance of himself in a game. There’s a good reason all his defensive stats in the pizza chart look so good. He boasts both quantity and quality of defensive actions, constantly getting in duels and coming out the winner. I do feel that he relies a bit too much on his upper body strength in ground duels. Often, it’s just a case of him using his hands and shoulders to barge someone or sliding on the ground to use his reach to win the ball. It does come across as clumsy at times and I do have a fear that with the step up to a league where dribblers are more physical and adept at turning, these tackles may turn into fouls. That lack of sheer top speed across the ground that he makes up with good strides and reach may prove a bit more costly in a superior league. He also strikes me as a very proactive defender. He’s a lot more comfortable stepping forward and winning the ball early, rather than shielding the back 4 with more positional composure even in the games he plays as the deepest player in midfield. Aerially, he’s as dominant as they come with a great mix of physicality, technique and timing always ensuring that he’s competitive. Reminds me of Fred out of possession.

Verdict: Wieffer is exactly the hybrid DM profile we are looking for. Very competent as DM or CM and very able in all three phases in possession while being good at the defensive side of things. The few question marks I have about how his front-footedness, unclean tackling and press-resistance translate to a tougher league can be mitigated by coaching. Overall, this is a great player for the quoted price. 

The Devil’s DNA Score: 8.5/10 

Youssouf Fofana, 25, Monaco

Career: A Strasbourg youth product, Fofana was involved in the main team at the start of the 2018/19 season and occupied a rotational role in midfield for a year before establishing himself as a key starter in the following season. Monaco couldn’t wait for the season to get over and bought him in the winter window of 2019/20, following which Fofana took time to settle. But from 2020/21 onwards, Fofana has been a regular starter and is now on track to complete 4 years of 40+ appearances each for Monaco. With his current contract ending in 2025, it seems like the French international is open for a cut-price move in summer 2024. 


  • Defensive range and workrate
  • Physicality in ground duels
  • Recovery pace and reach when tracking back
  • Close control and carrying under pressure
  • Verticality in possession
  • Passing range, vision and technicality


  • Passing security and retention
  • Heavy forward-mindedness in possession
  • Odd ill-disciplined tackle especially when chasing dribblers
  • Positional IQ and defensive awareness when sitting

In possession: Fofana is a very vertical player in possession and executes actions with immense technical quality and physical control. He’s a good progressive passer and I especially enjoy his through balls and quick ground passes to the attackers. But he can also pull off nice switches, crosses and lobs when required. His dribbling is also aggressively vertical, always trying to beat players with a mazey run through the middle before playing a game-advancing pass. What he isn’t is a retention focused player. Even when playing as the more defensive partner in a pivot, Fofana doesn’t exercise the composure and calm to circulate the ball and prioritize safety. He’s constantly in forward-thinking mode and this could be a reason why he’s always deployed in a pivot and rarely left alone as the deepest player. Reminds me of young Yaya Toure in possession.

Out of possession: Again, a lot of the pros of Fofana in defence align very well with a proactive defensive midfielder who uses his physicality to win the ball. He has an excellent reverse-running engine on him, which means he often tracks back and tackles dribblers easily using his ground-coverage and reach. But this also means that at times he’s late and concedes a needless foul. 4 red cards and 23 yellow cards in the last 4 seasons at Monaco indicate that these moments, though not very regular, could pose a bigger question in the Premier league where teams use transitions more. I’m also not a big fan of his positional awareness and ability to sit and shield the defence in a composed manner. He’s far better as a proactive aggressor who can recover with his pace and coverage. Reminds me of Wataru Endo out of possession. 

Verdict: Fofana feels like a player who would be better beside a sitter that allows him to progress vertically in possession and defend proactively out of possession with small acts of support in deeper areas when required like press-resistance carrying and recovery defending. In that sense, while he is a wonderful player, I think he’s far more tilted towards the #8 slot than the #6 one for our hybrid needs. Still, he’s a good option for his low price, especially if we constantly pair him with a #6 type who can cover for his gaps.

The Devil’s DNA Score: 7/10 

Anton Stach, 26, Hoffenheim

Career:  Stach has played for Werder Bremen until the B-youth. He joined the U19-team of VfL Osnabrück. His career began with SSV Jeddeloh from Regionalliga Nord, the fourth-highest level in Germany.and later VfL Wolfsburg’s second team in the same division. His big break came in 2021, when he joined Mainz 05. He impressed for Mainz for 2 full seasons. In 2023, Stach signed a four-year contract with TSG Hoffenheim, whom he has been a mainstay for this season.


  • Ground coverage and span
  • Defending intensity and engagement
  • Clean and consistent ball-winning technique
  • Aerially dominant and reliable
  • Strong switch and long ball to aid wide progression
  • Strong vertical carrying with long strides and deft touches
  • Very two-footed
  • Constant engine capable of two-way running
  • High positional IQ and defensive awareness in deeper areas


  • Passing range and execution attempts
  • Retention and circulation ability
  • Back-to-goal comfort and build up sense
  • Involvement in build up to show, receive and progress consistently

In possession: What is immediately noticeable is Anton’s excellent switch ball or long ball that his team utilizes to constantly progress. Capable of executing in 1 or 2 touches with either feet, Stach pings good balls to his fullbacks or wingers and also has the odd vertical progressive ball to find attackers. But that aside, his passing variety is a little low and he doesn’t try things that he isn’t sure of. He isn’t a natural controller who handles high pass volumes, prioritizes retention and circulation and moves to receive the ball constantly from teammates. He does display the ability to drop into the back 3 or pull away to a wing to help progress but these are one-off patterns rather than constant movements to be involved. He avoids back-to-goal situations and usually relies on his good first-touch passing to navigate under-pressure situations. He has deceptive ball control for his lanky physique and is able to display vertical carrying bursts while using his upper body strength to keep markers away. But this doesn’t happen regularly or with more variety than described. Very similar to peak Casemiro in possession. 

Out of possession: Defensively, Anton shines much brighter. He has a unique combination of a tall lanky physique, a strong well-built frame and an acute sense of timing and awareness that combined make him a very strong dueller, ball-winner and defensive fulcrum of the side. Often left as the lone pivot when his team attacks, Anton deals with transitions regularly and comes out on top, showcasing great ground-coverage thanks to his long strides and deceptive agility. He’s also a very clean tackler, constantly winning ground duels with minimal effort thanks to his good awareness and smart usage of body. He also showcases very smart positioning to shield the defence, intercept opponent passes and mop up loose balls in dangerous areas consistently. Aerially, he’s close to unbeatable, thanks to his strong jump, upper body usage and heading technique. He’s also got an excellent engine on him, covering large distances with a mix of jogs and sprints, which ensures he’s always present when running both ways of the pitch and can do so until the end of games and for many games in a row. Feels like Claude Makelele out of possession.

Verdict: Anton is defensively everything we need in our DM, boasting a great combination of physical and technical traits to be an elite level dueller and ball-winner. In possession, while he has an eye-catching game-advancing pass, he might need a partner who handles more of the first phase work of build up, pass security and circulation. Those are the reasons I cut marks, but with the right pairing, this is a very good option, especially if the price isn’t high. 

The Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10

 Morten Frendrup, 23, Genoa

Career: The Brøndby youth product broke into the main team at just the age of 16 in 2018, becoming the youngest senior debutant for the club. After 1.5 years of backup apps and learning from the first team, he started playing regularly in the 2019/20 season. What followed was 2.5 impressive years which many clubs in Europe noticed. Genoa completed a winter window deal in 2022 for €3.5m. Since then Morten has been a regular starter and racked up 76 appearances for Genoa in 2.5 years. At the age of 23, with a lot of potential to fulfill, a move to a bigger club appears close. 


  • Combative, energetic and intense dueling
  • Agility and speed across ground to cover space quickly
  • Close control and mobility to get out of tight situations with ball
  • Vertical burst carrying into space when available with good success
  • Positioning and awareness to intercept, block and shield defence – constant scanning
  • Front-footed pressing and opponent disruption when higher up
  • Movement to wide/deep areas to show himself or open lanes for others
  • Punchy grounded progressive pass to advance game quickly
  • Final ball IQ – cutback, through ball or 1-touch release into space
  • Offensive runs into box or in wide areas where space is available


  • Low passing range – lacks switches, lobs, chips
  • One-footed and doesn’t use outside foot either – limits passing angles
  • Smaller frame means sometimes he gets bullied especially in air but usually makes up
  • At times carries too much or holds on to ball instead of passing
  • Not a natural tempo control playmaker – more quick-release or carry-first intent

In possession: Playing for Genoa means Frendrup doesn’t get on the ball much and when he does it’s often a forward-minded counter-enabling action. And he’s great at those. His go-to moves are a crisp, well-directioned grounded pass to his attacker or a strong vertical dribble to get out of pressure as he searches for an option to pass to. And he’s great at both. He’s press-resistant enough to use smart close control to escape markers, his favorite move being the Iniesta-special La Croqueta. I do think his scope for good retention and circulation passes is good and will be seen more in a team that keeps the ball more. He’s a great mover when his team has the ball whether it’s dropping deep to show for the ball, moving wide to receive on wings or making offensive runs into the box in the final phase. He has an underrated final ball which usually occurs as a cutback from the right half-space or punchy through ball from central areas. This is reflected by his 5 assists this year. Some issues include having a low passing range and variety due to being one-footed and not attempting any switches or lobs. This makes a right-sided role more ideal. He also doesn’t seem like a pausa player, often thinking of a carry or quick pass first, but this could be influenced by team tactics too. Feels like Gavi in possession. 

Out of possession: He looks even better out of possession. His dogged intensity combined with his speed on the ground make him a very tough customer to get past. He’s in your face in seconds and then has the physicality and technique to win duels and help his team counter. Without the ball, he is constantly scanning his surroundings and expertly plugging gaps, helping teammates and being in the right place at the right time. This combo of defensive IQ and energy is the reason he racks up a lot of defensive stats with good success. He’s as good as a high pressing 8 as he is as the lone sitter. Even when he isn’t actively winning the ball, his marshaling of space and step-ups to pressure the ball carrier disrupt the opposition move. His frame means that there are times when he is simply outmuscled especially in the air but largely speaking he uses his energy, physicality and timing to make such situations rare. Feels like Roy Keane out of possession. 

Verdict: Frendrup is a classic case of the stats looking mid for a player who plays in a weak team. His in-possession metrics are simply a result of him getting on the ball very less. But when he does get on the ball, his progression, control and ability to advance the game reliably is clear, while his movement when his team has the ball is excellent too. Without the ball, he is close to elite, capable of playing as a high-pressing ball-winner as well as positionally good shielding sitter equally well. 

The Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

Amadou Onana, 23, Everton

Career: A Hoffenheim youth product, Onana joined Hamburger in mid-2020 and played close to every game for the side until Lille picked him up in summer 2021. A great season for Lille was enough for Everton to pay £33m including add-ons in August 2022. His development has only continued at the Premier League club and is now attracting the eyes of Europe’s best clubs.


  • Ground-coverage due to athleticism and strides
  • Physicality and application in ground duels
  • Aerial domination thanks to physique and jumping power
  • Forward-minded passing – through balls, switches, cutbacks
  • Close control to wriggle out of man-marked pressure
  • Verticality in passing and carrying to drive team into opponent half
  • Ball-striking technique when passing or shooting
  • Set piece threat in attacking set pieces especially corners


  • Overzealous in the tackle, often sliding to ground or lunging
  • Defensive awareness and positioning leading to marking mistakes
  • Tendency to press higher and rely on pace and reach to recover
  • Avoids back-to-goal reception and involvement in first phase
  • Positioning in possession to free himself or open lanes

In possession: Onana’s in-possession game is very underrated. He has excellent technique which combined with his mental and physical traits, make him a very skilled and consistent passer and carrier. He has a very good progressive pass in him, often belting out a perfectly executed switch, cross-pass or through ball. His close control and carrying are also very intricate for his frame and he often unleashes a dribble burst through the middle of the park in transition. Whether it’s passing or carrying, Onana is elite in the 2nd phase progression actions of getting his team from their third to the opponent third – an amazing midfield linker. He does have some gaps in deeper areas. I have concerns over his positioning and awareness when his team has the ball. Onana often doesn’t free himself up or think in advance and relies heavily on his ability to receive under pressure and power his way out instead. He also avoids first reception duties from the GK/CB on the few occasions he plays as the deepest player, but some part of this could be tactical. Feels like peak Arturo Vidal in possession. 

Out of possession: Onana is very good as a proactive defender. He presses and tackles early and always comes out on top in duels. He has enough physicality and technicality to win duels without being clumsy. His ground-covering is probably his best trait. An engine like his combined with body span means he’s always a few large steps away from stopping a dribber or thwarting a transition. Aerially, he is one of the most dominant players in the league. At both ends, he has impact in the boxes and has picked up some goals from attacking corners and regularly clears danger from his box as well. One issue I found with his tackling is his propensity to go to ground. He does slide or lunge a bit too easily and while it’s not a big issue since he wins the ball most of the time, on the rare occasions he doesn’t, he’s left on the floor bypassed. I also think he needs to improve his awareness and positioning. He’s often roaming in no man’s land and missing runs or players. Again, it rarely leads to anything because once he notices it, he recovers with great speed and long strides to make up. But that consistent habit of pushing up or roaming from his position and then relying on recovery pace to tackle from behind (often a sliding tackle) doesn’t bode well for a lone pivot role. Feels like Declan Rice in defence. 

Verdict: I think Onana is much better in possession than his pizza stats or Everton’s tactics suggest, while he isn’t as elite in defence as many imagine. In both cases, I think he has gaps in deeper areas that throw doubt on his reliability as a lone 6. The good news is that a lot of it seems mental or habit related which means that it can be coached when he moves to a top team. The physical and technical traits are all there, so the gaps should be coverable. I’m cutting 2 marks for the need for this development.

The Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

Completing the elite midfield set of 6 players

Okay, that was a lot of scouting and reporting. Now, let’s get to the real reason we did all this – finalizing the two DMs that complete our elite set of 6. Firstly, let me summarize my scouting thus far in this series in one snapshot:

Neves and Boloca bowled me over among the build up DMs while Onana and Wieffer stood clear among the hybrid ones. With the idea of Man United only deserving the best,  I’m going to stick to these 4 for now.

There are 2 main logical arguments to decide the final pair:

  1. Budget: Let’s face it. None of us really know what budgets INEOS will operate with and how much of that will be spent on two midfielders. As a result, what I’m going to do is split my suggestions in three tiers depending on the budget United are willing to spend to mix their midfield issues.
  2. Combinations: Although the larger logic of Build up and Hybrid DMs and how they fit with United’s midfielders remains, within these options, there are some synergies that might pan out better than others. For eg. Even though I back Neves’ ability as a shielder and dueller, having some height besides Mainoo and Neves might be a smart idea to cover for all situations and opposition. 

With this, let me reveal my 3-tier solution for Manchester United’s DMs. Here goes:

Gold tier option: Joao Neves and Amadou Onana for €170m

This is clearly the ‘splash the cash’ option. If we decide to go big to obtain the 2 best DMs in the market that cover all traits in deep midfield and promise high ability and potential, then Neves + Onana is the best possible option. Neves brings the build up control, playmaking and defensive awareness that Onana lacks and Onana brings the aerial dominance that Neves lacks while together they guarantee elite vertical progression, defending intensity, ground-coverage and carrying power that United’s midfield lacks. I can see both play beside Mainoo and Mount regularly while also playing together at times. This pair would solve our midfield gaps for a long time.

Silver tier option: Daniel Boloca and Amadou Onana for €120m

I was a bit more willing to cut Neves as an option since I find it hard to convince myself that Man United should be spending anything close to €100m for a single player at this stage of the rebuild. But keeping Amadou in, the build up DM I scored almost as good as Neves is Boloca and I think he makes a fine pairing with Amadou as well. What Boloca lacks in physical traits, intensity and aerial prowess, Amadou has, while Boloca can more than make up for the 1st phase excellence, playmaking power and passing range that Amadou lacks. It’s a very complimentary pair that fits with the existing players as well. 

Bronze tier option: Daniel Boloca and Mats Wieffer for €80m

Last but not least, as a club, if we move towards an era where we only want to pick smart value young options for <€50m (a transfer strategy I wouldn’t mind at all) then there still exists a combination that ticks all the boxes while leaving us with ample room to bolster other squad gaps as well. Wieffer is almost as good as Onana in bringing the defensive intensity, duel prowess and advanced progression that would be a great foil to Boloca’s deep-lying playmaker abilities. It would be a great signal of the smart business that has eluded Man Utd for a decade if 2 high ceiling DMs are closed within €100m.

And that’s all I had folks. I hope you enjoyed this series. I feel that my decision to split this into 3 parts instead of stuffing everything in one has allowed us to dive deeper into the reports and discuss a lot of things about what goes into midfield scouting. Hope the added time and energy made this as enjoyable to you as it was for me. Let me know on twitter of your thoughts on this series and any future suggestions for articles.

Previous parts: 

Part 1 – Profiles, tasks & gaps

Part 2 – Build up DM targets 

If you’re here from any other place other than Twitter then follow me on @TheDevilsDNA and interact with me there.

(All stats from Opta via fbref.)

Rebuilding Man Utd’s Midfield: Part 2 – Build up DM targets

If you missed the first part of this series, you can catch up on it here: Rebuilding Man Utd’s Midfield: Part 1 – Profiles, tasks & gaps

In part 1, I defined 6 broad tasks of a midfielder, scored the long-term 4 members of Manchester United on those tasks and created 2 player profiles based on the gaps that the club should target to create the ideal 6-man top team midfield – Build up DM and Hybrid DM. Today, we’re going to discuss the shortlist and some mini reports for the Build up DM role.

The Build up DM Shortlist

At the end of part 1, I previewed the data-led process that led me to create scored for both roles based on the 23/24 season stats of all top 7 league midfielders who have played more than 7 league 90s. It looked something like this.

From here on, I spent a lot of time cleaning the data. Steps I undertook:

1) Removed non DM players like Bernardo Silva, Gavi etc.

2) Removed impossible top team players like Rodri, Rice etc

3) Set a max age limit of 26. Part of the solution is to lower the average age of the midfield and invest in about-to-peak starlets who can win with us at their peak

4) Saw a lot of 90s from the resulting list to divide the remaining into Build up DM and Hybrid DM just to add an eye test layer to what the data suggests. There were a few minor changes.

5) Created a 16-member Build up DM list and 16-member Hybrid DM list

So without further ado, here’s the Build up DM shortlist.

Lots of interesting names here. Now, which ones should I cover mini reports of? 

I have already covered some players in previous articles and scouting pieces while I’m not sure on some others moving:

  • Individual reports on Boubacar Kamara and Cheick Doucoure before they moved to their current EPL clubs (Big missed opportunities that I had advocated for). Not much has changed about their profile
  • Florentino Luis in last year’s DM article and Zubimendi in last year’s DLP article
  • Perrone being a Man City loanee makes a sale to us tough, so skipping him. Lovely player though
  • Rovella could make his move permanent to Lazio by triggering the €20m obligation to buy, so skipping him
  • Lots of talk around Barrenechea either being recalled to Juventus or used as a bargaining chip with a Serie A club to buy another player. I doubt we get him in all of this confusion
  • Angelo Stiller just recently moved and has stated his pleasure at being at Stuttgart or moving back to Bayern in future. I’m just not sure he moves to the EPL anytime soon

So, going from the top, the first 5 realistic options are Exequiel Palacios, Joao Neves, Daniel Boloca, Aster Vrankcx and Morten Hjulmand. I’ll be covering each in more detail.

Exequiel Palacios, 26, Bayer Leverkusen

Career: A youth product of River Plate, Palacios spent 6 years at the club at senior level with slowly increasing appearances. He signed for Leverkusen in the middle of the 19/20 season. After a slow 1.5 years, Palacios enjoyed regular gametime from 21/22. He’s been slowly moving from an attacking midfield role to a box-to-box role to a now holding playmaker role under Xabi Alonso and has found great success in the latter in recent years.


  • Defensive intensity
  • Pass volume and retention
  • High progression, playmaking power and passing range
  • Pressing and interception IQ
  • Press-resistance and strength to hold off
  • Carrying and ball control in tight spaces


  • Injury prone
  • Aerial duels
  • Front-footed defending

In possession: Palacios is a gem in possession. He’s the rare type whom you can repeatedly pass to and even when he’s under immense pressure, he’ll turn, pick the right decision and use his technique to safely progress the game. He almost never loses the ball and mixes high retention and safety with high vertical power and playmaking. Whether it’s a switch, a through ball to release a wide player or a vertical punchy pass to an attacker, he has the full range of passes once he receives cleanly and picks his choice. Very Toni Kroos like in possession.

Out of possession: Palacios is a very intense and able defender. He’s a good ground dueller and puts in a lot of tackles and interceptions. He’s a very aware presser and joins his team’s counter-press intent smoothly. He rarely gets dribbled past when faced with a clear opponent. I do feel that there are some gaps in the way he recovers to shield the defence. His front-foot style sometimes sees him vacate the deepest slot or drift sideways to win the ball back. It makes sense in Leverkusen’s system of an equal pivot ahead of a back 3, but I’d be wary of his positioning as a single pivot ahead of a back 4. He can also be beaten in aerial duels but tries to make himself a nuisance. Reminds me of Ander Herrera out of possession. 

Others: Finally, his injury record isn’t great. As per transfermarkt he has suffered 6 injuries in the last 2.5 years that made him miss 166 days and a lot of them seem to be muscle-related ones, which isn’t a great sign.

Verdict: Palacios is a gem on the ball and a brilliant front-foot defensive midfielder. The doubts around conservative anchorman actions, aerial ability and fitness are the reasons I’m cutting a few marks.

The Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10 

João Neves, 19, Benfica

Career: A youth product of Benfica, Neves started getting chances in the senior team at the young age of 18 last year post the departure of Enzo Fernandez and impressed in the second half of the season. This season he’s seen a lot more gametime as a regular starter and is already attracting the attention of Europe’s elite.


  • Pressing and tackling power
  • Mazy vertical carrying
  • Ground and aerial duels
  • Defensive coverage
  • Passing involvement and reception
  • Progressive passing and range
  • Tactical understanding and movement


  • Consistency
  • Price tag
  • Decision-making sharpness
  • Timing of ball release

In possession: Watching Neves in possession is a treat. His incredible ball control and dribbling is noticeable first. He is highly press-resistant and can wriggle his way out of any situation. He’s a proper playmaker and has the range and playmaking brain to consistently progress and find advanced players or safely retain the ball. I would say he’s not as metronmous as some of the others on this list and can pick the wrong pass or hold on to the ball longer than expected at times. His tactical understanding already seems very mature. Able to drop into CCB/LCB areas or receive between lines or drift wide and receive, he is constantly moving and finding space which is shown by his high passes attempted stat. Reminds me of Thiago in possession. 

Out of possession: I’ve come away more impressed with Neves’ defending than attacking. Don’t be fooled by his stature. Neves is a world-class dueller. His pace, energy and body usage ensure he dominates ground duels while his agility, jump and heading technique make him aerially strong. He has high defensive coverage which coupled with great positional and pressing IQ make him a complete nuisance to deal with. Even the deeper anchor duties are performed well by him as he can shield the defence, intercept cutbacks and defend transitions comfortably. Neves’ jump and agility make his height a non-issue. Neves’ speed, ground-coverage intensity and physicality make his short stature on ground a non-issue. This is a top defensive midfielder. Feels like peak N’golo Kante in defence. 

Others: Neves has the typical Benfica release clause of 120m with a contract till 2028. Even if Benfica reduce this, I don’t see why they would sell for less than 80m given his talent and demand.

Verdict: Neves is even better out of possession than he is in possession, and he’s absolutely divine in possession. Cutting 1 mark coz of decision-making and consistency which are a function of age largely and the transfer fee. 

The Devil’s DNA Score: 9/10 

Daniel Boloca, 25, Sassuolo

Career: Boloca is a Juventus youth product, who played for a number of Serie D teams before singing for Serie B club Frosinone. At Frosinone, Boloca quickly became a regular and eventually was one of the protagonists of the team that won the 2022–23 Serie B title under head coach Fabio Grosso. In summer 2023, Boloca joined fellow Serie A club Sassuolo where he’s been impressing as a starter.


  • Press-resistance especially back-to-goal
  • First touch, ball control and carrying even in tight spaces
  • Passing technique and range
  • Passing security and circulation
  • Positioning and covering IQ
  • Physicality to duel/press and not get dribbled past
  • Appreciation of passing angles and pass empathy
  • Tactical and off-ball movement IQ


  • Not a great final ball player
  • Not a big goal threat via shooting or attacking movement
  • Aerial engagement
  • Top speed and agility

In possession: Boloca is the type of midfielder you can watch all day. Inexplicably he combines the glide and grace of a gifted dribbler and passer with the robustness of a classical defensive midfielder. You’ll often see him receive back-to-goal under pressure, turn his man, carry in a gliding fashion and release a pin-point pass with perfect power and curve for his teammate when Sassuolo build up. Even against tough opposition and in the end of games, the consistency and success of these actions remain as high as ever making him feel like a very mature and seasoned playmaker. The only con would be that he’s not a big final third threat with his shooting, final ball or vertical carrying into dangerous areas, but that doesn’t matter much for our build up DM role. Reminds me of Marco Verratti on the ball.

Out of possession: Without the ball you’ll also often see him use his awareness to cover spaces and physicality to tackle opponents as well. I love the way he uses his whole body to barge into players, unsettle them or tackle cleanly. He’s not the fastest player on the pitch by any means but It’s not easy to dribble past Boloca thanks to his combination of physicality and positioning sense. He takes up excellent shielding positions just ahead of the center-backs and is always in the right position to block, clear or intercept dangerous opponent attacks. One slight con is that he doesn’t engage aerially as enthusiastically as he should. He often just tries to disbalance his marker without jumping properly which could be a function of lack of agility and jumping power but he largely manages due to his physicality.

Verdict: The only reason Boloca’s stats don’t stand out is because Sassuolo are battling relegation. I’m confident that in a better team these stats scale up to elite level. He’s almost everything we need in and out of possession and the few gaps of quickness, agility and final third power can easily be mitigated by his role and other strengths. A winner for me, especially if the price is low.

The Devil’s DNA Score: 9/10

 Aster Vrankcx, 22, Wolfsburg

Career: A youth product of Mechelen, Aster was noticed by Wolfsburg in 2021. He had a decent first season for Wolfsburg but they decided to loan him to AC Milan in the following year, a move that didn’t result in much gametime. But on his return to Wolfsburg at the start of the 23/24 season, Aster claimed the starter spot in the deepest role.


  • Imposing physique that he uses well in and out of possession
  • Press-resistance and technique to navigate tight spaces
  • Pressing and ball-winning IQ + intensity
  • Upper body strength and dribbling technique make it hard to win ball off
  • Off-ball movement to receive in deeper or advanced areas
  • Ability to defend large spaces with body span and engine


  • Passing vision and creativity
  • Passing progression
  • Top end speed and agility
  • Verticality and range of carrying and passing
  • Goal threat and shooting

In possession: Aster is very good in close spaces, being able to consistently receive under pressure in tough central areas, turn and beat his man before passing safely and ensuring his team doesn’t lose the ball. Within these set of actions, Aster is as good as they come. But it’s beyond this where he has more to improve. His ability to be vertical and progress the game either via switches or through balls or slick grounded passes to attackers needs work while his carrying is also very reliant on his physical ability to power past his man and lacks range of usage. His shooting and box-crashing threat is also low. Reminds me of Naby Keita in possession.

Out of possession: His physicality causes a lot of problems and that combined with his tactical intelligence are the reasons he is a good ball-winner and is usually at the right place to intercept, block or tackle. But he does lack that extra agility which proves to be an issue when faced with top dribblers like Musiala and results in him getting a little leg-tied. On occasions, his average acceleration results in him being late to block a quickly played pass or cross. Feels like Axel Witsel out of possession.

Verdict: I’m not surprised Aster ranked well for the things we were looking for. On paper, he is great at P1 and D1 actions. But his overall package and other attributes didn’t add as much as I would have hoped. This is why we need to dive deeper after shortlisting via stats. There are visible limiters to being a world-class starter for Manchester United. But he’s 22 and could improve more too. All in all, I think there are better options but I wouldn’t mind a punt on Aster if he’s available for as cheap as rumoured. That would safeguard us in the situation he remains at his current level (aka Man Utd backup).

The Devil’s DNA Score: 7/10

Marten Hjulmand, 24, Sporting CP

Career: A Copenhagen youth product, Hjulmand’s first 5 senior years saw him function as the mainstay of Admira Wacker for 2 years and Lecce for 3 years. His final season with Lecce after they got promoted to Serie A especially grabbed a lot of attention and Sporting moved for him in summer 2023 as a Ugarte replacement. Within less than a year, Hjulmand has become a key member of a high-performing Sporting side. 


  • Ground coverage and physicality
  • Positioning and awareness
  • High volume retention passing
  • Ground duels
  • Off-ball movement to free himself and receive
  • Wide combination play and crossing
  • Ball shielding and foul-drawing
  • Great mix of aggression and composure when defending
  • Clean switches and lobs when in space


  • Aerially suspect
  • Vertical passing/carrying progression
  • Final third entry and creativity
  • Top end speed and agility
  • Too safe under pressure especially back-to-goal

In possession: Hjulmand does what we needed of our Build up DM well. He is very consistent and mature with his receiving, carrying and passing without being fantastical at any of it. He won’t be gliding like Frenkie De Jong or creating expansively like Pirlo but he keeps things sage and ticking in metronomous fashion. When in space, he does execute some nice clean switches, long balls and through balls but that isn’t his primary intent, especially when under pressure. He does lack a bit in terms of creativity and vision while his go-to move when back-to-goal and under pressure is to pass back safely, so don’t expect heavy progression or dribbling. But he has a good ability to shield the ball or draw a foul using his body expertly, so these instances rarely lead to any issues. He’s a nice pass-and-move player and likes to create triangles and combinations. Especially when these are in wide right-sided areas, he can put a nice cross in too. Very much like Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in possession.

Out of possession: This is where Hjulmand really shines. He’s a perfect mix of a terrier who’s constantly tackling, pressing and being a nuisance and also a composed high IQ defender who intercepts, shields and covers with a very nuanced understanding of space. He plugs gaps proactively, senses danger like it’s first nature to him and uses his physicality to come out better in duels time and time again. Sporting’s tactics also leave him with a lot of space to cover as he’s often the lone DM standing in a high-press tactic. But he still manages to cover space expertly, defend transitions, stop dribblers and clear danger from his box. My only con would be him not having the jump and agility to win aerial duels consistently, which is a shame given his frame. Reminds me of Patrick Vieira defensively. 

Verdict: Defensively, Hjulmand is almost everything you want in a DM while in possession he ticks the basic criteria of what we wanted in terms of retention, circulation and safety. I’m going to cut two marks due to the lack of vertical progression, aerial prowess and creativity.

The Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

To sum up the Build up DM targets, I came out most impressed with Joao Neves and Daniel Boloca. The former is a superstar but so is his fee. Boloca feels like an absolute no-brainer and I’d start putting low bids on him immediately if I were Manchester United. After them, Hjulmand is a superb no-nonsense option. Palacios can do the job as well, with a few adjustments to cover what he can’t do. I’d keep Aster Vranckx as the last option with caveats of his ceiling. 

In the final piece of this 3-part series, I will take a look at the Hybrid DM list before spending some time on the ideal Build up DM + Hybrid DM combination that would make Manchester United’s midfield elite again.

Previous part: Part 1 – Profiles, tasks & gaps
Next part: Part 3 – Hybrid DM targets 

If you’re here from any other place other than Twitter then follow me on @TheDevilsDNA and interact with me on there.

(All stats from Opta via fbref.)

Rebuilding Man Utd’s Midfield: Part 1 – Profiles, tasks & gaps

For my first scouting exercise of 2024, I decided to go in a different direction from the usual method. My scouting articles from last year included DM, DLP and CB

This time, I’m going to tackle Manchester United’s midfield rebuild as a whole and cover the following in a step-by-step manner:
1) Analyze what encompasses a good midfield in terms of tasks and duties
2) Figure out what Manchester United already have in terms of profiles
3) Identify gaps to build required profiles
4) Use data to create shortlists to uncover targets based on above logic
5) Go through some mini scout reports of the best and most realistic targets 

As you can see, this already sounds like a long read, which is why I’m going to be dividing this exercise into 3 parts. In this part, we will focus on what we have in our midfield and what we need.

The tasks and duties of a midfield

While there are a million things a player playing in midfield might be tasked with doing, I’ve tried to divide the universe of midfield duties into 6 broad tasks which encompass the numerous duties associated with it. Here they are:

3 possession and 3 defending tasks have been split as per the areas/phases in which they occur. Let me give a bit more explanation of each.

P1: 1st phase progression – Basically duties that help the team go from their defensive third to the middle third safely. These include receiving back-to-goal from GK or defenders, being able to retain the ball under pressure, being able to circulate possession safely and handling large volumes of passes consistently. Highest safety task.

P2: 2nd phase progression – Duties that help the team advance from the middle third of the pitch to the attacking third. These involve being progressive while being safe, being able to play switches, line-breaking passes or long balls that help the team enter the opposition territory and having vertical passing/carrying power to break lines. An even mix of safety and risk-taking.

P3: 3rd phase progression – Duties that help the team create or score. These include playing killer balls, finding attackers in high xG locations, having game-breaking ability to unlock defences, having good off-the-ball movement to get into dangerous areas and having shooting ability to score. Most risk-taking task.

D1: Deep defending – Out of possession, this task coincides with the deepest midfielder who has duties that can range from shielding the back 4 or joining the defence line, forming the rest defence i.e. defending transitions when his team loses the ball, being positionally sound to intercept, block and recover dangerous opponent passes and having the strength and defending technique to stop dangerous dribblers and off-ball movers when 1v1 with them.

D2: Middle defending – Ideally the second deepest midfielder out of possession who has duties that include large space-covering ability to be able to run, press, tackle and recover the ball consistently, being able to provide extra defensive security to the deepest midfielder and coming out on top of duels in the middle of the park.

D3: High defending – Out of possession, this relates to the midfielder who joins the high press, has a good sense of how to disrupt the opposition’s build up and progression, has the tenacity to press, chase and man-mark key opponent players and the ability to lead his team’s counter-press strategy.

You’ll notice that I’m defining tasks instead of profiles. This is because of the numerous ways in which profiles can fit together. You can have various combinations of these 6 tasks fitting together in a midfield to make it work. If it’s a 4-2-3-1, the base midfielders might have more tasks deeper while the AM might dominate most of the P3 and D3 duties. If it’s a 4-3-3 the DM might dominate most P1 and D1 duties. But there could also be cases where build up duties are split or transition defence duties are shared. For these combinations to exist, I’ve preferred to think in terms of tasks rather than profiles. The profiles get created based on how good players are at these tasks.

Taking stock of Manchester United’s midfield

So, how does all of this apply to us? Let’s get into that.

But firstly, let me simply put down all the midfield options at the club currently with their respective ages and contract end dates.

While this looks like a large group of midfielders, the ones we can count on to remain at the club for the near future are actually very few.

Casemiro and Eriksen are now 32. The struggles for both in terms of physicality, fitness and intensity in games has been clear for a year. In general, moving them on to reinvest in younger players makes sense. I’m assuming they’re not here beyond the summer or at most a year. Not counting both.

Amrabat hasn’t really set the stage on fire in his loan spell. In general, this feels like one of those loan deals that ten Hag simply likes to make to have injury cover and won’t really sign on (like Weghorst and Reguilon). Not counting him.

Donny van de Beek has not seen regular United first-team activity in many years. There’s a good chance the club will hope his loan deal converts to a permanent move. In case it doesn’t,  we can assume he’ll be sold or sent on loan again until his contract expires. Not counting him.

Mejbri and Gore are a little more tricky. There’s a good argument they can come back and stake claim for a spot in midfield especially, as a backup. Mejbri even got some first-team involvement. I’m not sure if either makes it here under ten hag or a new manager. For now. I’m not including them in the main calculations. If they do make it back, they can be extra cover beyond the first-team midfield that we plan for. 

Essentially that leaves us with Bruno, Scott, Mount and Mainoo as midfielders we can count on for the next 2-3 years. Mount and Mainoo are simple to explain – they’re young and have just started their United careers. They should be around for a while. Although Bruno is 29, I don’t think the time to move on from him is near. He’s at his peak and nothing about his physical or technical abilities have taken a hit. Building around him is sensible for 2-3 years. After that, he can be replaced if needed. Scott probably invites most discourse. I would have got why he was sold to West Ham last year if that move panned out. But over the course of this season, he has shown his value. He is an academy player with certain reliable traits that are unique and impactful when used well. I would keep him around for at least 2 years until the major gaps are sorted and then look to upgrade him.

Analyzing the midfield by tasks

With that in mind, I’m going to divide the 4 midfielders we have into the aforementioned tasks. Let’s look at it.

First, some notes on the scoring. I have taken a 5-point scale from ‘4’ to ‘0’ with 4 referring to a player who is highly capable at the mentioned task and 0 referring to incapable. These aren’t absolute ability scores. All 4 midfielders scoring 12 doesn’t mean they are equal in ability. It’s just a notation to indicate what they’re good and bad at. For example, Scott scoring 4 for D2 doesn’t mean there are no midfielders who are better at D2 than Scott. It simply means within his skillset, Scott is best doing D2 compared to D1 and D3. So, please read the chart as task capability within a player’s skill set and not as a comparison to all midfielders. 

A few notes on each player’s scores.

Bruno Fernandes: Probably the simplest one to divide. Bruno is worse as he goes deeper, both in and out of possession and best as he goes higher up the pitch. He gets a straight 0-2-4 split in both categories. He’s best in the final third whether it’s creating, scoring or leading the high press. He is fairly capable in the middle third with his passing range to enter final 3rd or ball-winning intensity. He’s highly incapable in the deepest third whether it’s build up or transition defending.

Kobbie Mainoo: Another easy one to analyze. In possession, Mainoo is remarkable in the deepest third thanks to his press-resistance, carrying and composed circulation ability, decent in the middle third when tasked to progress and probably not a final 3rd player. Out of possession is almost similar, but I wouldn’t say that he isn’t the best at defending deepest due to his small physical frame and tendency to get dribbled past when 1v1. I also think he’s shown decent high pressing ability in recent games when he was the highest deployed midfielder.

Mason Mount: Contrary to popular perception, I do not think Mount is a Bruno copy or that their skill sets overlap highly making them tough to play together. I don’t think Mount is as effective in the final 3rd as Bruno, but I think he’s very underrated in 2nd phase progression and has shown that in games this year. Out of possession, I’d say they are similar in that both are great high pressers and decent middle third defenders.

Scott McTominay: I’m sure this will be debatable, but hear me out. In-possession, I think Scott is decent in all 3 phases but really shines higher up the pitch. While he doesn’t have the creativity or passing technique of Bruno, his game-breaking ability in terms of being a good target man, having great ball-striking ability and possessing an underrated hold-up trait make him a very useful final 3rd player as shown many times this season. Out of possession, he’s excellent at the middle 3rd defensive aspects of duel-winning, space coverage and second-ball pick ups. I’d rate him much lower for deep defending and high pressing due to his poor positioning and awareness.

Now, look at the totals. What we are left with are huge gaps in the deeper third tasks in and out of possession. Which makes sense since the DMs for our current season, Casemiro and Amrabat, aren’t included in the assessment. We’re well covered in other tasks.

The midfield profiles that United need

If we assume an ideal midfield of 6 players for 3 slots, then we need two more players to complete the above set. The best fitment would be if they could cover the task gaps adequately enough to result in a wholesome midfield set of 6 befitting a treble-aiming club.

Here’s what we get.

Simply entering the numbers to create a wholesome total of 12 across the board vertically and horizontally results in the profiles of 2 new players that I feel United should buy to complete their set.

The common denominator for both comes out of possession. Both score a 4-1-1 in defence which hints at both needing to be extremely capable deep defenders to stop transitions, shield the back 4 and be positionally solid. That’s the reason I’ve called both positions DM since without the ball they will be the deepest player in midfield. It makes sense too considering them as replacements for Casemiro and Amrabat.

In possession is where the differences arise. The first player needs to be extremely adept at first phase progression aka build up so I’ve named him the Build up DM. This is the player who will most likely play exclusively as the deepest player in and out of possession. You can think of him as the #6 with two #8s ahead of him or the deeper member of a pivot. 

The second player can have distributed tasks in possession and reads like an all-phase player. This represents a player who has the defensive ability to sit like a #6 if needed but can also play as the #8 beside a #6 and contribute in advanced phases of progression. As a result I’ve named him as the Hybrid DM. 

So there you have it. These are the 2 profiles of players I feel United should target to have a well-rounded high-impact midfield for the next 2 years.

Finding our targets – A preview

Before I wrap up part 1 of this series, I’d like to explain how I’m going to go about finding these players so that you have something to look forward to for part 2 and 3.

We already know the tasks to look for and the duties associated with them. That leads us to looking at the stats that indicate the successful execution of such duties. So, the next step will be stats-led where I’ll use data to crunch numbers for the 6 tasks I defined above and then create a shortlist using weighted formulas for the Build up DM and Hybrid DM.

The stats I’ve used for each task:
P1: Pass %, Passes Attempted, Miscontrols

P2: Progressive passes, Progressive carries, Dispossessed

P3: Key passes, Shot-creating actions, Shots

D1: Dribblers tackled, Dribblers tackled %

D2: Tackles, interceptions

D3: Attacking third tackles

All the data for midfielders from Europe’s top 7 leagues was downloaded from fbref and the stats were converted to per touch or possession-adjusted versions to eliminate big team bias. Each task percentile was created by weighting the above mentioned individual stat percentiles. Two formulas for Build up DM and Hybrid DM were created using the weightages for the tasks that we mentioned before. Finally a league coefficient weighting was used to boost performances in tougher leagues among the top 7 leagues.

Here’s a preview of how it’s coming out.

In the next 2 articles, I will create shortists for both profiles and then cover some mini scout reports that make most sense for Manchester United.

Watch out for the upcoming pieces in this series.

Part 2: Man Utd Midfield Rebuild: Part 2 – Build up DM Targets

Part 3: Man Utd Midfield Rebuild Part 3 – Hybrid DM Targets

Follow me on Twitter – @thedevilsdna and drop your feedback and suggestions there.

Rasmus Højlund: The Spark

Wout Weghorst – Age 30 – Loan

Cristiano Ronaldo – Age 37 – €17m

Edinson Cavani – Age 34 – Free

Odion Ighalo – Age 31 – Loan

These have been the players signed by Manchester United to lead their attack in the past 4 years. Currently none of them are at the club. The lack of seriousness in plugging a major starting XI gap has finally been addressed this summer. 20 year old Danish wonderkid, Rasmus Hojlund was unveiled at Old Trafford before the pre-season friendly vs Lens to an excited Old Trafford crowd. 

Thanks to the deal costing €75m as a package, the hype and expectations from an excited fanbase who have been yearning for a young high ceiling line-leading CF, are quite high. In this article I break down every aspect of Hojlund’s game and point out his key strengths and the areas he needs to improve on.

Career so far

Born in Copenhagen, he joined their youth system in 2020 at the age of 17. He made his debut for them later that year and went on to feature 27 times over the next season. Sturm Graz picked him up for €1.8m in Jan 2022 and he recorded an impressive 12 goals in 21 appearances for them across 2022. That was enough for Atalanta to shell out €17m in August 2022. 22/23 was his breakout year where he bagged 10 goals and 2 assists in 21.1 90s for the Serie A club which was enough for United to come knocking. He has also started playing regularly for Denmark in the past 2 years racking up 6 goals in 6 games for his country so far.

22/23 Stats
Before we begin, let’s take a look at his stats for 22/23. I will dissect them in detail soon, but here’s a snapshot.

Excellent movement and shooting, great carrying and good passing – is how I’d summarize this chart. This already paints a good picture of the type of striker we want to lead our line. Let’s get into his traits now.

NOTE: For the match examples in this article I’ve stuck to two full games – Atalanta vs Salernitana from Serie A GW37 and Denmark vs Kazakhstan 2023 Euro qualifier. I wanted to highlight all of Rasmus’ pros and cons using two full 90s instead of cherry-picking good moments across a year.

Attacking Movement

Let me say upfront that this is Hojlund’s best trait and the one I think he’s already at par with compared to the best strikers in the world. His consistency, willingness, IQ and variety of movement are all top-class and this is one of the main reasons I’d say his profile is so attractive for a top team. 

Now, let me back these positive statements with some proof.

This is how Atalanta lined up in the end-season league game vs Salernitana and generally how they’ve lined up in Serie A last season. There are some variations where they play a front 2 with an AM behind them but largely speaking they fielded 3 narrow attackers with Hojlund most central among them as a line leader.

Atalanta play a very attacking and transition-based brand of football. The wingbacks provide the width while the back 3 and pivot take care of the build up and progression. The front 3 have a lot of license to roam in the opponent half to pick spaces between the lines, on the wings or half-spaces between defenders. The 2 support strikers are usually narrow like attacking midfielders. Hojlund was usualy the line leader CF, playing on the shoulder of the last opposition defender.

Now let’s look at some movement patterns Hojlund often executes.

This is his bread-and-butter move. Hojlund curves around a defender to attack the channel or half-space between the center-back and the fullback. The support striker responsible for that halfspace usually takes Hojlund’s central spot to prepare for the cutback or offer a box target. Lookman often shared this equation with Hojlund and this is something we could see a lot with Rashford at United. When Hojlund runs the channel, he provides an immediate outlet for the team to pick out, stretches the opposition defence and creates space for his support attackers to occupy.

Let’s look at some match examples.

A bursting Hojlund run into the right channel attracts the defender towards him, which creates space for him to play the channel pass to his teammate who runs there. Notice how Hojlund also attacks the box after his pass, expecting a 1-2 or someone to find him there later. Offers the channel run but immediately wants to attack the box as well – that’s Hojlund.

Notice the sharpness of the run here. The space isn’t big and there is a narrow window to angle his run to avoid being offside and yet beat his man and receive the ball. Hojlund’s movement IQ and awareness is excellent enough to nail that window consistently all game. It’s one reason I’d put him up there with the best movers in the game already. His pass could probably have been better, which is an erratic part of his game, but the support wasn’t great too.

Once again, notice how Hojlund starts peeling away from his marker the moment his teammate is about to receive the ball on the flank. That enables the first-time pass into the right channel. His movements are so quick and sharp, they are designed to attack those short moments when the space is available. United’s players will have to be quick in noticing those moments and playing him early when he has the run on the opposition defender.

An example on the left side. Notice how good Hojlund’s control and carrying is after receiving wide. To end up with a strong shot on goal from that wide position highlights what a good dribbler and shot-creator for himself Hojlund is.

This is a great example of his movement. Notice how he tears away from his CB with the perfect angled run that not only beats the CB, but also lets him receive cleanly behind the RB.

An example from the Denmark game. Notice how he suddenly changes direction and darts towards the channel, inviting even the simplest of chips in the half space to become a great tool of progression. A hold up action and pass to winger later, Denmark are in the final 3rd.

Let’s get into his second movement pattern.

A more direct move where Hojlund stands in front of his CB marker and turns him to run into the space right behind facing the goal. This usually ends up in a shot on goal or final ball or foul won. It is one major avenue for Hojlund’s shots. The acceleration he generates from a standing start to a turn-and-run behind his man is what sets him apart from other strikers who do this.

Let’s look at some scenarios.

Classic move ahead of the CB where he turns around him for a clear path to goal with his left foot in striking position. The CB has no option but to take him down. Hojlund wins a penalty which is dispatched by Boga. In general, he’s drawn 32 fouls and won 2 penalties in his 20 90s for Atalanta this year. It’s tough to handle someone as smart and quick a mover as Hojlund. Bruno could be taking some extra penalties this coming year.

Another example where his turn-and-run leads to a foul drawn in a dangerous area.

An example from the Denmark game where he darts across the CB and uses his pace and physicality to maintain his run and emerge goalside. A random long ball punt becomes a 1-on-1 with the GK thanks to Hojlund’s run. He also has the composure to chip and earn his goal.

Let’s move to another pattern.

This is the one you all must be waiting for. The classic poacher move – Penetrative run between defenders when the ball is in wide areas. Hojlund is excellent at this and keeps making these runs often. Many of his goals are from this movement and often finished with a speedy dart and an extended leg to tap in a pure striker’s goal.

Let’s see some examples from the same games.

The Boga low cross wasn’t able to beat the CB in this case, but look at Hojlund’s acceleration and extension attempt. Would have been a poacher’s goal if not for the interception.

Another example where you can see his patience to wait for the final ball before executing the quick burt-and-stretch in front of goal. 

From the same game. Hojlund is always attacking the ball across the face of the goal. This time the goalkeeper being brave prevented a tap-in.

Here,within 2 seconds, Hojlund attacks the gap between both defenders and finds himself in pole position for a 2-yard finish. A last-ditch interception prevents the shot, but Hojlund will keep making that run all day, which is a reason why he gets goals.

As you can see from the examples, there’s a good reason Hojlund is at 99 percentile for ‘Progresses passes received’ in his Serie A pizza chart. Here’s how his movement compares to attackers in Europe.

In summary, he’s an excellent mover with many various movements to receive dangerous balls in good areas. The output of these moves are usually excellent – either a shot on goal, or foul won or final ball chance or space for another attacker to finish. Movement is Hojlund’s best trait and what makes him so valuable. Especially in the context of playing ahead of progressors like Bruno Fernandes, Luke Shaw, Mason Mount, Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro, who have the passing range to pick him out regularly, It’s a finger-licking aspect of his profile.


We’ve seen how he gets into shooting positions. But how does he shoot after getting there?

These are his fbref shooting stats. What is very promising is the combination of ‘shot on target %’, ‘NPxG’ and ‘NPxG/Sh’. Together they indicate a player who gets his shots on target often and racks up high shot quality with each attempt, and this results in him accruing a healthy amount of non-penalty expected goals. It’s a very attractive shooting profile. I personally don’t mind the total shots percentile being a little low. It just indicates he’s not very trigger-happy and prefers to move or carry to get into good positions and attempt high quality shots. It meshes well with our attack since we already have shoot-heavy profiles in Bruno and Rashford. A third attacker who prefers to move or carry closer to goal and enhance chance quality is welcome.

He was 5th when it came to collecting non-penalty xG on a per 90 basis in Serie A last year. Moving with established strikers on this metric as a 20-year-old in his debut league season says a lot.

Let’s look at his shot map.

These are all his open play shots in Serie A in 22/23. What’s most satisfying is the number of shots inside the box. Only 3 shots are outside the box. He does have a slight preference to shoot from the left half-space compared to right. But his major chunk of shots being in the central zone around the penalty area is a clear signal of the kind of striker he is. 7 of his 9 goals have come from shots within the central zone and within the box – the area you want your line leader to score from, whether it’s from clever movement, a strong carry or just being in the right position after a penalty box scrimmage. An example of that last point from the Denmark Kazakhstan game:

I have a final viz to present before rounding up the shooting section.

This is another representation of what I was saying earlier – Hojlund doesn’t need too many shots to score. He roughly scores a goal every 6 shots. The only player who is in the same range and surpasses Hojlund on shots and goals per 90 is – you guessed it – Victor Osimhen. He’s the red dot on the far top-right corner. I know that we all wanted Osimhen at Manchester United, but I’m here to tell you that we’re probably getting the second-best option when it comes to shooting profile.

Carrying and dribbling

Let’s move on to another trait of Hojlund which I consider a big strength. I’m referring to dribbling as the action to try and beat a man or get into a good area and carrying as a generic ball control in any direction regardless of opponent.

These are his carrying stats from fbref. Firstly, his touches geared largely towards the penalty area and then the attacking third are a huge plus. And if you read those in combination with take-ons attempted (i.e. dribbles), we can understand that Hojlund attempts many dribbles in dangerous areas close to goal. These are not random dribbles in deeper or wide areas. They have goal scoring or assisting intent to them and are often in crowded areas where most opposition defenders are parked. This is also why his ‘Miscontrols’, ‘Dispossessed’ and ‘Times tackled’ look bad. Not only is he attempting a lot of take-ons, he’s also attempting them in areas usually swarming with defenders. So the success rates might seem low but the reward element is high, usually resulting in a game-opening move. The low percentiles make sense in that context and aren’t an issue of concern in any way.

Let’s see some match examples.

Another example of his turn-and-run move, but here he has the ball control ability to take down an awkward bouncing ball and push it in a dangerous area, beating both the men putting pressure on him. The result – he’s taken down in the box to earn another penalty.

This example is a good combination of the three traits we have discussed so far – the movement to dart between the CBs in transition, the carrying power to dribble and put distance from them and the intention to get close to goal before shooting with the knowledge that he will score – a microcosm of everything Hojlund is about. 

Hold up and link up play

So far, the 3 traits I discussed are clear strengths of Hojlund, which he’s touching top attacker levels for. But from now, we’re starting to go into the territory of traits he can improve more on. 

I’m referring to hold up play as the act of holding onto the ball until support arrives, often when back-to-goal and while battling a defender. I’m defining link-up play as the ability to see a pass and execute it after receiving or holding the ball.

And with that i need to say this – Hojlund’s hold up is average.

I’ve seen a lot of takes citing his hold-up as excellent, but I think a lot of it is based on an imagination of how his profile combination of physique, technique and speed will ensure that in the near future. It’s probably not a representation of what he’s shown so far.
Let me show you some examples to explain what I mean.

Hojlund tries to use his body to do a leave-and-run move on a high ball and loses possession. He often tries to use his physicality and speed on the break to tackle high balls but the results are pretty inconsistent.

Another example where Hojlund tries to push back on his man instead of going towards the ball and using his chest to control. The defender wins the ball with an outstretched leg.

Here, he’s again focused on using his physique, but judges the ball poorly again and ends up giving it away after a mistimed header.

The issue isn’t limited to aerials alone. Even on the ground, Hojlund often loses the ball with an awkward touch.

A simple pass that he fumbles and ends up losing possession.

Another comparatively straightforward pass to his legs that he’s unable to hold on to. To be fair, this is a tougher ask, but the point is to highlight how his technique when faced back to goal needs more work. He can get more consistent in trapping balls at an angle away from goal at a standing start. 

Next, let’s move to link-up play. Is Hojlund a good passer? Can he find others with good vision and execution?

There isn’t much to read in his passing stats. We can conclude that hes no great creator or progressor on the ball, but all his stats also indicate that he’s above average at most passing metrics and can handle his own easily.

Let’s see some match examples.

One of those instances where Hojlund does control the ball very neatly and releases a player highlighting good vision and technique. He has it in his locker for sure, even if he’s not very consistent in all situations yet.

A smart move where Hojlund recognizes his teammate stuck in a bad spot and offers short support. A cool 1-2 flick is executed smartly. These are the touches and flicks Hojlund is better at compared to aerial ball battles with CBs.

Probably my favorite example in this section. Hojlund controls and holds the ball in time for his teammate to make the run, before executing a brilliant backheel key pass that almost led to a goal.

Pressing and defending

This is another trait which has been blown a little out of proportion. While Hojlund is a very willing defender and showcases bursts of intense pressing from time to time, his consistency and reading of the game when pressing is pretty lacking, while his success of actions is also very hit-and-miss.

His fbref section for defending stats compared to Serie A attackers doesn’t indicate much in terms of defensive actions. While this doesn’t give us any idea of his pressing numbers or reading of the press, it would have looked better if he was actually winning the ball from the front and generating turnovers for this team. It’s safe to say that he’s not great at that.

Let’s look at some match examples.

This is the kind of press you can expect from Hojlund. He can use his speed to bear down on the last CB or GK with single-minded intention. At the very least, he will offer this simple movement in the high press.

In many other games, he’s instructed to not press too much and just cover his marker. This happens a lot for Atalanta who don’t press too high, since they want to encourage the opponent to advance before hitting them in the spaces they leave behind. Hojlund often clings to the central CB to deter passes from wider players or GK to this CB. Another simplistic man-marking job that Hojlund can pull off without fuss.

In summary, we don’t have too much evidence of a great front defender. His defensive output is below average while his pressing, while intense, lacks intelligence. That said, it’s also fair to say that Atalanta’s tactics to not press too high or engage in the counter-press play a big part in these stats. It’s something that can be easily coached and I don’t think there should be an issue if he’s asked to press high and regularly. 

Aerial duels

Another aspect of Hojlund’s game that can be better. We’ve already seen some examples from the hold up section where he struggles a bit to take down the aerial ball.

His stats for aerials read average. His win rate doesn’t seem to be particularly high or low.

But there’s more to this than meets the eye. I’m going to take the help of my good friend Ben Griffis for this next viz.

These are all the passes leading to Rasmus Hojlund aerials in Serie A in 22/23. Within the box, Hojlund has received 7 aerial balls successfully from a total of 10. That’s pretty good for a striker. Many of his aerial duel losses are in the middle of the pitch where he has to contest outballs and clearances from his GK and backline. 

Like this for example.

For aerial duels, I’d be a little less harsh on Hojlund, although I think he will keep getting better as his physicality improves.


If I had to summarize all of Hojlund’s traits discussed so far, I’d score them as:

Movement: 9/10
Shooting: 8/10
Carrying: 7/10
Link-up: 6/10
Pressing: 5/10
Aerial: 4/10
Hold-up: 4/10

With 10 being best, and 1 being worst, in the top 5 leagues at that trait.

The good news is that the first 3 traits are harder to find, have a great synergy with what we have in attack and are simply more important for a line leading CF. It’s also easier to expect a lot of the other traits to improve as Hojlund ages. Pressing is very coachable, link-up should get better as he matures and aerial and hold-up might never become a 10 but they can definitely improve to the point of being a non-issue. For a 20 year-old, this is a great set of traits to have.

If I had to predict how Hojlund’s 23/24 could go, I’d say that 15 goals in 30 games would be a great start. He will take time to settle, has a lot to perfect in his game and has just come off 1 Serie A season of 10 goals in 21 90s. Extrapolating the same form to 30 games out of a possible 60 for United in the coming season would be a good Premier League debut season at this age.

(Credits: fbref, Opta Analyst, Ben Griffis, Understat, Manchester United Twitter)

5 Sporting Directors Manchester United Should Look At

“@ManUtd, please hire a Sporting Director #GlazersOut #FullSaleOnly”, 

“Hire Michael Edwards while he is free, I am on my knees @ManUtd”, 

“Hire Paul Mitchell @ManUtd and we are cooking”. 

You must have seen such a trend of tweets getting spammed down your throat if you are active on Football Twitter. Even at times, you must have had a question that what even is a Sporting Director, what even he does and why is such a position becoming a norm at not only the top level but even at lower levels of modern-day football, that even clubs at bottom tiers are now hiring the same to help them punch above their weight in an efficient and sustainable manner on small fractions of operating budget.  

What is a Sporting Director?

As the name suggests, a Sporting Director means a person at Director level responsible for the sporting activities. In Basketball (especially College Basketball), you have Athletic Directors who work closely with the coaches, analysts to see the progress and readiness of the college players and also spot up and coming superstars in order to lure them to represent their respective colleges on scholarships. And also help the young and budding college players to land professional contracts through their contacts with professional teams. 

In baseball, you usually have your General Managers (GMs) who operate as a managerial/directorial level professional to oversee the sporting activities for a franchise. That means working with the coaches, scouts and analysts to solve both performance and recruitment related problems and come up with efficient solutions by working in tandem with the aforementioned departments. 

In football, there is actually no such direct definition for a Sporting Director because of how rapidly this sport evolves and takes up influences from everywhere. Sure, you have a Director of Football or DoF (which has become a new trending lingo among the fans, casuals and die-hards alike). But not every Director of Football is alike because of so many variations when it comes to day-to-day operations of a Football Club. There is no defined way of ownership model in Football. Every club has a different way in which the operations are carried out, hence different hierarchies and different roles.

Types of ownership models

For example, you have some local businessman who made it big and wants to pump the money into his local side in order to break the barren streak of no trophies and buy off the competition as soon as possible using the age-old flawed logic of buying best players = winning trophies left right and centre straight away; fail at this attempt, lose your own wealth in the process and putting your beloved club in peril of folding off from existence because of financial irregularities. 

Then you have your usual Sugar Daddy owner, some hot-shot billionaire of a mega corporation owning various Franchises in USA, thinking that demographics of sports culture in Europe is same as in USA, make the institution which has been there for years, a personal cash-cow of the theirs by bleeding the fanbase dry and alienating the working class people who piss blood and sweat all week long just to enjoy a game of football on the weekend: a young man stuck in his dead end desk job who wants to enjoy some quality time with his mates in either a pub or in the stands by watching the game or a single parent of two who has to work an extra shift in one of their jobs just to earn that extra bit of money so that they can surprise their kids by taking them to their first ever match and buy official merchandise from the club shop or an elderly couple who has been going to watch every home game for decades but cannot renew their season ticket because of unregulated pricing.

Or some Venture Capitalist owning a hedge fund ready to take over the club which was brought down to its knees by the previous owners who wanted to scratch their itch of being the alpha by taking decisions in capacity of a role about which they had no qualification or experience; at a cut price deal in order to make it their personal investment just to be sold off for a profit later or used in some financial deal to get any other coveted asset. 

And then you have the imperialistic, despotic and murderous regimes of some country who made their wealth by exploitation of their own people; who have the realization that the natural resources which they sold to the world in return for money and political favors are depleting fast. So, they are now ready to diversify their own wealth into various other sectors, ready to pump billions in order to earn not just the money back but also buy off political favors for the future and mask their bloody stains of generations of exploitation, discrimination through goodwill and positive PR. In short, sportswashing. And football as an industry has provided a great opportunity for actual nations to pump off clubs and bypass the financial rules which have been put to make It an even ground for all to compete, money made by exploitation, while pushing their own degrading political and discriminating beliefs under the pretence of religion and the banner of “Sports and Politics must not be mixed together”

Last but not the least, you have fan owned, fan funded clubs as well with various different types of fan-led coalitions and ownership models. The co-operative model in Germany where the club members, i.e. the fans have the final say by having more voting rights just that the institution cannot be overtaken by a hostile takeover from any external body. Then, you have the Socios of the club in Spain and Portugal; who vote to elect the sporting body who will then run the operations of the club.

I don’t want to generalize that external ownership is BAD and fan ownership is GOOD. There are various cases of external ownerships being good and delivering results by not putting the club at peril by gross mismanagement. And there are various cases of fan-led clubs who had best interests of the club and the community they represented but weren’t fit for running the club. One major difference maker in such situations can be a competent Sporting Director. 

But how do you know that a Sporting Director is competent and the ‘right fit’. And again, I have to be the bearer of bad news; that there is no straight answer to that. 

Types of sporting director models

Various factors are involved in finding the right person fit for the role of a Sporting Director in Football. But the biggest factor is to know what you actually want the club to be! Yes, the basic SWOT analysis is needed to be done by the administration by keeping in mind all the other factors (I’ll come to some of those in a while, later on in the article) in mind before choosing the candidate. 

Do you want the club to be a self-sustainable one, which earns of money through some initial investment at start but then you need to wait for some years to get the return, both in terms of prestige (i.e. trophies) and money through organic growth of the club so that it can fund itself and be competitive both and off the pitch? 

Or go for the short-term route by straight-away investing huge sums and win the lot but also comply with financial rules of the competitions it takes part in by selling and buying strategically and not lose the competitive edge? 

Or invest in youth by revamping the grassroot level programmes to nurture the next generation of superstars such that they make up the core of the team for years to come and this cycle keeps on repeating. Is it also another way of becoming self-sustainable?  

Or if you have a plan of implementing a multi-club model where you want to theorize a certain brand of football and strategically target to buy youngsters and train them in same kind of football; right from youth teams to senior team by providing a pre-planned development plan for them to grow and move up the ladder by joining the bigger club as part of the multi-club model? 

There are pros and cons of every kind of model which the said club wants to implement as a ‘philosophy’ and that has to be weighed down first and foremost by the administration. Then, only you can hire a person who may be familiar with that philosophy. Or hire someone who may have a set philosophy of their own (similar to what you wanted) and the experience plus qualification to mould the club in the way you want (given you have the clarity yourself beforehand about what you want) but at the expense of that candidate, i.e., handing him the key responsibilities of sporting matters and at times, even some key financial matters. Or maybe someone with contacts in the industry who will get you brilliant deals on players and sell off assets on profit; to keep the cash flowing into the club for the investment on players and coaches. Or someone, who knows it all- right from managing stingy bosses who have the tendency to scratch their itch by poking their noses where it is not required to managing the needs of coaches and players; and also, coordinating with the recruitment staff to plan for upcoming seasons. 

In all of this, the tendency to do proactive planning and being transparent to every stakeholder is of utmost importance for a Sporting Director.

Why do Manchester United need a Sporting Director?

Now, coming to the curious case of Manchester United. A legacy club with a lot of prestige, hailing from a major town with working class roots who take pride in having a tradition of integrating young and budding youngsters from nearby areas of Manchester into the senior team, the tradition which has been diluted under the current ownership of Glazers Family from USA. Their cross-town rivals, Manchester City have completely overtaken them in a lot of areas; a state-of-the-art training and youth facilities, a world class modern stadium. All of that, although has been funded by every kind of financial doping known to mankind and it goes unchallenged because their owners have bought off the people who govern not only the sport in the country but also the leaders who actually run the country. But their owners knew what they wanted from day 1 and got the right set of personnel to execute it, which Manchester United owners haven’t done in their entire span of ownership. And they still don’t know what they actually want from the club; hence the strong backlash (18 years too late) from the fanbase to sell off and not dilute the identity of the club while their rivals keep on outclassing them on and off the pitch.

This year may finally be the year where the huge fanbase of Manchester United will see the end of the ownership of Glazer Family and their gross negligence in keeping the club competitive on and off the pitch despite spending 1+ billion pounds of the club’s own organic financial resources and still getting inconsistent results. But then, their options for replacement are also limited; final shortlist of new stewardship being the INEOS group led by Sir Jim Ratcliffe (who is a proclaimed Manchester United “supporter”) and “Sheikh” Jassim, a mysterious Qatari bank manager (not associated to Qatari state fund and royal family as per his own claims), who just happens to have 6 billion pounds (asking price set by the Glazers Family to sell their entire stake in the club) of the King’s finest pounds in a bank account somewhere, also a proclaimed Manchester United supporter. The fanbase is so angry with the ownership of Glazers Family (which is justified given the mismanagement) that they will even go in favour for some Regen of Hitler/Mussolini as owner of their beloved club, just to see the back of Glazers. In that comparison, some Qatari bank manager whose real identity isn’t even known to the masses or a Petrochemical conglomerate is just a level 1 evil boss. But “we want our club back”, eh? (Via some superficial external party as “owner”). 

While both parties have laid out their plans of redeveloping club from scratch: redevelop the facilities and stadium, write off debt (by debt, the debt put on the club by Glazers as part of their leveraged buyout back in 2005 and not the transfer debt because it can’t be written off in one go), back the manager in every possible manner and taking the Alice back to Wonderland but there is still no coherence in how they exactly want to achieve all this. It’s like selling a project to potential clients at high margins but without any set deadlines and not enough clarity of requirement for the development.

And that’s where they will need the expertise of Sporting Directors: not just a Director of Football (focused more towards recruitment side and finding best possible finds as per the needs of the manager and his preferred coaching philosophy) but also a Technical Director (who should be the main person to identify and negotiate the contracts for the staff as per the “philosophy” and push for the said “philosophy” at all levels of the organization. Darren Fletcher and John Murtough are not at all qualified to play their respective roles) in order to gather that functional requirement in order to kickstart the development; so that once all the development is done- it can go through QA testing and then finally getting deployed in the Production environment.

And there has to be complete transparency between all the stakeholders here, from clients about what they actually want from their downstream application (the fanbase) to the parent company (the prospective new owners) about how they want to develop the required application and the developers (Sporting Directors) hired to do the requirement gathering and do the development using best possible and effective industrial practices; keeping their leads and client informed at regular intervals about everything and also help the junior developers (The coaching staff, performance and recruitment analysts, scouts) at all steps possible.

What Manchester United have

  • A great grassroots structure which helps them to scout and provide scholarships to budding schoolboys, providing them with the opportunity to earn a full-time professional contract with the club and rise up the ranks.
  • A more than decent scouting system (both in the UK, Ireland and abroad). Just, that they lack the structure above them to make the final decisions as per the basic reports handed over by the scouts. 
  • Current manager in Erik ten Hag. He knows what he wants and till now, has shown flexibility to get results but at the end of the day, he is a specialist manager and will always need certain players with a specific skill set in some positions without which his plan A may become redundant. Hiring such managers means you will eventually buy into their philosophy (which you think will yield you results that you want), not the other way round.

What Manchester United don’t have: 

  • Idea about what they actually want the club to be. And this discussion has to happen, and the executives have to initiate it. And they cannot neglect the fans in this, because the identity of the club is because of the community. Of course, a club this successful wants to win trophies but how to reach that stage? How to reform the club so that they can reach the stage of challenging in all competitions every year. Such kind of discussions.
  • Lack of Coherence from executives. The current ones, the prospective new owners. Just blank promises but when you go to ask how they will achieve those? No strategy, just plain old; throw the money and buy success. 
  • Lack of any sporting structure. Letting people do things, which they are not qualified to do and eventually that affects their own job. For example: Erik ten Hag knows about what he wants in the players but he can’t identify the best possible player (not just tactical fitment but financial package as well, which you don’t expect a manager to know) as per his expectations. And that isn’t the role of managers. Jurgen Klopp with Michael Edwards and Jurgen Klopp without Michael Edwards is yet another example; the way Liverpool have done transfers which haven’t fixed their gaping holes and the financial package offered to players going against the structure set by Michael Edwards. With. more money spent; Liverpool still looks bereft of challenging.
  • Wrong kind of appointments done at administration level: For example- Ed Woodward before and John Murtough, Richard Arnold, Darren Fletcher et al now. All are good at the commercial side but that doesn’t equate to them calling all the shots at recruitment and do that without any qualifications and/or experience for it and also without scrutiny from higher ups when the club has spent upwards of one billion pounds without any efficiency. Money isn’t an unlimited commodity, no matter how big of a club you are, no matter how prestigious you are. As someone said, “the dildo of consequences never comes with lubrication” (Pardon my French)
  • Patience. Neither do the fans have enough patience, nor do the people running the club. Everyone just wants more of this, more of that. Too many ingredients but not enough time for them to cook together (and most of the time, even ingredients are also wrong. Or the amount of each ingredient is wrong. Or sometimes, even the recipe itself is altogether wrong).

What kind of Sporting Director do Manchester United need?

Now that we know of the dos and don’ts, let’s look at the certain qualities which are a must in finding a Sporting Director for Manchester United, no matter who is the owner of Manchester United. 

  • Should have great knowledge about scouting, recruitment (yes scouting isn’t equal to recruitment, both are different but both terms are thrown around very casually). Candidates should be flexible enough to learn about new innovations being implemented in the industry which can help the club provide a cutting edge against their opposition. 
  • Ability to work with the manager, understand his requirements and then work in tandem with the recruitment team to deliver those targets. Not just the new shiny toys but new shiny toys who are best possible fit as per the tactics/playing style and the best possible option financially as well.
  • Candidates shouldn’t just be good at buying but equally good at selling as well. This is one area where Manchester United have struggled a lot. Selling when opportunity arises is also an important factor in order to keep healthy finances and raise the transfer kitty as well in order to upgrade the squad. 
  • Candidates are required to have a great Talent ID. Sometimes, the player you want may just be laying there in the academy, just that you need to create a pathway for the player and a positive environment for the prospect to thrive in. Plan transfers in the position of the prospect in such a way that his playing time isn’t neglected or that the pathway you had devised isn’t affected with future signings. 
  • Knowledge of not just Sports but knowledge of Business side of the Sport and Management is also a must. Candidates will not just be working closely with the coaching staff and recruitment team but even with the executives who work directly with the owners. The job of the candidate will be to keep everyone on the same page and define boundaries whenever possible, so that work doesn’t get spilled over and picked up by people who don’t know how to do it.

We know about the Michael Edwards’s, Paul Mitchells, Luis Campos of the world and while everyone of those is a great Director on their own and if hired; will easily fix many underlying issues when it comes to football matters at the club. But I want to look at other (you can say ‘gone under the radar’) Director of Footballs who can work with either ownership (given they are aware about the direction in which they want to go in order to meet the targets, as promised by them to the fanbase).

So, here we go.

5 Sporting Directors Manchester United should look at

  1. Florent Ghisolfi  

Age: 38 years

Nationality:  French/Italian

Current Club: OGC Nice

Current Contract: 3.5-year contract running till 30th June, 2026

Previous Clubs: RC Lens, FC Lorient (as a coach)

Franck Haise led RC Lens has become a household name in not just France but even across the English Channel with his modest side punching well above weight in Ligue 1 ever since the side hailing from the North of France has won back the promotion to Ligue 1 in 2020. A major reason in Lens re-writing their underdog story has been their strategy in doing shrewd transfer business relying on not just purely old school method of scouting (the ‘eye test’) but also incorporating modern approach to scouting and then making their recruitment strategy. RC Lens have had a great grassroot programme which has yielded them many talented players over the years. Coupling that with strategically targeted players who have been undervalued and fit the manager’s game plan and promoting players from youth teams has yielded them great results; UCL Qualification is secured in just the 3rd season after getting promoted; that too by scoring 80+ and going neck-to-neck with Paris St. Germain (there is a possibility of ending just 1 point behind them)

The main man pulling the strings in the background? A 38-year-old ex-Footballer: Florent Ghisolfi. RC Lens appointed the former SC Bastia and Stade Reims player as Director of Football in 2019 right before their start of Ligue 2 season under Phillipe Montanier (yes, the current Toulouse manager who won them their first ever trophy recently- the Coupe de France). Ghisolfi’s first step as DoF was cashing in on their 2 youngsters- Modibo Sagnan and Jean-Rincer Bellegrade to Real Sociedad and RC Strasbourg respectively in order to raise some capital in order to invest into the squad. A cut-short 2019-20 season due to Covid-19 saw LFP call off the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 and award the winners, European qualification, relegation, promotion spots as per the current standing. And RC Lens were 2nd in Ligue 2 at the time and a promotion was on the cards. 

But Phillip Montanier departed to take over as manager for Standard Liege in Belgium. And, its your first season back in the top flight after a controversial period in the history of the club. Now, your gut feeling will say to go for some survival expert who can ensure that the club doesn’t get relegated and become a yo-yo team. Instead, Ghioslfi promoted the B team manager, Franck Haise to take over the vacant managerial position at senior team. 

Some brilliant transfers followed after this, a certain Jonathan Clauss on a Bosman transfer from Arminia Bielefield, Loic Bade from Le Havre on a Bosman transfer again. Seko Fofana, Ignacius Ganago, Facundo Medina, Wulker Farinez, Arnaud Kalimuendo, Corentin Jean, Gael Kakuta also joined the team in order to make the squad competitive for top-flight football. And RC Lens surprised everyone with their free-flowing football, patiently waiting to hit the teams on the break through their use of wing backs as a primary source of creativity. A 7th placed finish was well above their pre-season targets. Yet another season in Ligue 1 beckoned. Although, team had to cash out on some players, Ghisolfi’s eye for undervalued players who fit into the manager’s playing style eased that transition very easily.  

South America, lower divisions in France, Scandinavia and Polish players became the target for recruitment in order to replace the outgoings and keep a net positive in terms of expenditure. Yet another 7th placed finish followed and yet another successful transfer window saw the Lens side punch even above their ability and they are now looking at UCL qualification. 

This great work in arguably your first ever job as a Director didn’t go unnoticed. That Petrochemical Conglomerate who is looking to buy the majority stake in Manchester United? Well, he owns OGC Nice as well. And, they hired Florent Ghisolfi as their new Sporting Director; especially with focus towards recruitment in December 2022. 

Now, Sir Jim Ratcliffe is currently in pole position to take over as Manchester United with aims of making a strategic partnership with OGC Nice, given UEFA is looking ease their rules on having multi-club ownership model exist in the market (cough-cough Please the same despots, sugar daddies to pay UEFA their royalties and cut to make it even more of a closed shop cough-cough). Having Florent Ghisolfi as a Director overseeing the operations at each club isn’t that much a farsighted thing given both clubs have a big weakness; which are Ghisolfi’s strength: Recruitment. He has been able to deliver results with a modest budget, does a deep dive into the youth system to promote highly rated youngsters and work with the coaches to provide a pathway to the first XI of the senior team. Imagine the sheer potential of a relatively younger person who will stay for years with you as a Director of Football with a large kitty at his behest and letting him lay down a structure to provide his insights, a structure which both clubs lack.

To summarize. 

Recruitment Knowledge: Central Europe, South America, North America, North Africa

Shared Vision with Board: Help the club to punch above weight by using the combination of smart transfers and utilizing the youth academy.

Pros: Good Talent ID, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game

Cons: Relatively Inexperienced (but everyone is at one stage of their career), A possible Language and Cultural Barrier

Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10

  1. Florian Maurice

Age: 49 years

Nationality: French

Current Club: Stade Rennais

Current Contract: A contract running till 30th June, 2025

Previous Clubs: Lyon (as a scout)

Just like Florent Ghisolfi, Florian Maurice is an ex-footballer and in his first ever role as Director; managing the day-to-day operations of Stade Rennais. But, in comparison to Florent Ghisolfi; Florian Maurice has a lot of experience in working in other roles post playing career. A local boy from Lyon, Florian enjoyed a decent playing career, playing for OL, PSG and OM and also plying his trade in Spain with Celta Vigo. He also won 6 caps for Les Bleus, scoring one goal. Once, he hung up his boots; he straight away joined his local side, Lyon as a scout- with his main focus being spotting young players from various grassroot programmes deployed by the club. 

He then rose up the ranks and became a chief scout for OL- before the start of 2014-15 season; a post he held till 2019-20 season. Meanwhile, in the same time period; Stade Rennais slowly grew as a club, from being one of the relegation fodders to mid table stability to challenging for European places, peak being the 2019-20 season where they secured a UCL spot.

In order to make the club grow even further and stick with their philosophy of using the club’s famed academy and policy of buying exciting U23 players for the first team. Rennes turned to Florian Maurice to take over as their Sporting Director. His official title with the club is that of a ‘Technical Director’ but he oversees not just the recruitment but also finding the manager and coaches for not just first team but B team and youth staff, to keep the continuum between the set philosophy by the executives of the club.

He is like the one -man army, sandwiched between the club owners and footballing division of the club. Under his tutelage as ‘Technical Director’, Rennes have grown in reputation; regularly challenging for European spots, promoting highly rated prospects from the academy and providing a clear-cut path for them to regular first team football and also signing some exciting U23 players from abroad. Although, many in the industry will call a club like Stade Rennais as a ‘stepping stone’ but with such kind of footballing operations, club is still investing like crazy in their own youth setup while doubling down on scouting budget to find great prospects from abroad, making the club self-sufficient in the process. 

And some of the transfers done by Rennes against some stringent competition is all down to Florian Maurice being able to sell the project to prospective players and their camp. Jeremy Doku, when Liverpool was negotiating with Anderlecht and his camp; convincing Kamaldeen Sulemana to snub a club like Ajax to join Rennes; snooping right under the noses of various German clubs to seal the signing of Lovro Majer, getting a left footed ball playing center back in Arthur Theate for a cut price knowing very well how big the market for such players is and even to some extent, sealing the signing of Amine Gouiri under the noses of various PL Clubs is all down to Florian Maurice. Along with dipping their noses in the transfer market to find such gems and providing them with a pathway to take that next step in their budding careers, the ex-World Cup winner has also provided many youngsters from the academy with first team opportunities. The likes of Eduardo Camavinga, Mathys Tel, Desire Doue, Guela Doue, Lesley Ugochukwu have taken their chances to step up to the first team and make their place in the squad. And Camavinga, Tel have even sealed moves to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich respectively and made a name for themselves at the grandest stages of all. Even players like Martin Terrier and Benjamin Bourigeaud have seen a renaissance ever since Maurice has come at the club and hired coaches who prefer a patient possession-based setup, which suits the players and their technical skillset.

Now, Manchester United do need a commanding figure in between the manager and their new owner, who help them keep the continuation without losing any competitive edge. Someone who can appease the owners and the managers, keep them on the same page and listen to the fans as well; all while doing the thing they are good at. An already brilliant youth system in place, an already existing scouting system which is decent but can be improved and you get a person who has loads of experience when it comes to scouting and recruitment to lead the operations. Florian Maurice can be a decent punt to lead the footballing operations at Old Trafford.

Recruitment Knowledge: Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, UK & Ireland, North Africa, South America

Shared Vision with Board: Help the club by appointing technical staff who help to impose the philosophy of integrating younger players with high potential in the First team and provide the team with undervalued, high potential youngsters from abroad who can be integrated into the playing style preferred by the club.

Pros: Brilliant Talent ID, Brilliant Negotiator, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game, Highly experienced when it comes to recruitment

Cons: A possible language and culture barrier

Devil’s DNA Score: 8.5/10

  1. Phillip Giles

Age: 47 years

Nationality: English

Current Club: Brentford FC

Current Contract: A 3-year contract signed in 2022, lasting till 30th June, 2025

Previous Clubs: N.A.

I have nothing but respect for Brentford and how they have played a massive part in removing the stigma around the amalgam of Data and Football, delivering results left right and centre. What Matthew Benham (at Brentford) and Tony Bloom (at Brighton and Hove Albion) have done is nothing short of commendable. A decade back, both clubs were sitting in League 1 with nothing but dark and gloomy days ahead of them. But then both of them came with their different (but somewhat similar) theory to integrate the use of data in making efficient decisions and minimize the margin of error which has impacted their respective clubs and taken them to uncharted territories. Both clubs are flying high, albeit the route they have taken to reach the Premier League has been different but their main base of running footballing operations has been to include the use of Data. (No, they haven’t done a ‘Moneyball’. It’s a different concept altogether). 

Both Matthew Benham and Tony Bloom made their investment in the sports betting industry, understanding the complex nature of a game as volatile and unpredictable as Football and broke it down through the use of the principles of Statistics and Probability. While Tony Bloom stuck through with Brighton, Matthew Benham first implemented his theory with Danish club FC Midtjylland. Once, he was able to find success there He turned to his boyhood club Brentford and completely restructured the running of the club.

And here comes the hero of this section of the article, Phillip Giles. A Mathematician by profession with interest in football, Phillip joined the sports betting industry in the hopes of combining his expertise in maths and football, eventually landing a job with SmartOdds, a company owned by Matthew Benham. Eventually, Benham got to know of the work done by Giles over the years in the industry and his theory of combining data with football; eventually landing him a job in football with Brentford. 

After joining the club, Phillip realised one thing which was very different from his previous job, that in his previous role managing a ‘regular business’; they are trying to build a product and sell it off to interested buyers. But in football it’s about people management. Using the services of SmartOdds as a data vendor, Brentford under the leadership of Phillip Giles has used this data to hire people who are the most efficient in their roles and fit the club perfectly. At the end of the day, it’s about managing the people, just that you have used data to minimize your margin of error to get them. It counts from hiring technical staff to coaching staff to players. And his track record with such methods is there to speak. 

When Brentford completely annihilated Manchester United at the start of the season, it was a tale of 2 very different clubs. Manchester United lack in all the departments where Brentford have become the experts. Manchester United have spent bucket loads of money without any efficiency for the last 10 years. They will keep on spending that kind of money irrespective of any ownership, just that they need someone to help them realize their inefficiency, rectify their mistakes and improve the efficiency of the process. For once, why not price out a certain Director who has developed into an expert in such a role. Club has no strategy and even lacks that human touch, that sense of togetherness and they desperately need such a personality who knows the best of both worlds.

Recruitment Knowledge: UK & Ireland, Scandinavia, Central Europe, Africa (through shared knowledge with FC Midtjylland) 

Shared Vision with Board: Help achieve the objectives of the board on season-by-season basis by bringing in required personnels who align with the same objectives; who have an open mindset when it comes to integrating data with the conventional methods of recruitment and coaching, to take best possible decisions with minimum margin of error. 

Pros:  Extensive networking and contacts with the industry, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game

Cons: None

Devil’s DNA Score: 9.5/10

  1. Simon Rolfes

Age: 41 years

Nationality: German

Current Club: Bayer Leverkusen

Current Contract: A 2-year contract running till 30th June, 2024

Previous Clubs: N.A.

An industrious defensive midfielder in his playing days, now working his way up the corporate ladder at the club where he found success as a player. The rise of Simon Rolfes in his role as Sporting Director over the years may not have eclipsed the topsy turvy ride of Die Werkself on the pitch but many of his decisions when it comes to recruitment and defining the playing style has been a positive for the club. 

The ex-Germany international hung up his boots after playing for 10 years with Bayer Leverkusen, spending 10 of his 12 years as a professional footballer with the club while enjoying a decent international career with Die Mannschaft, 26 caps and 2 goals with runners up medal in Euros 2008 and semi-finals in 2010 World Cup. After the retirement, the then 32-year-old wanted to get into an administrative role so he started to prepare for life after football. 1 year as a head of youth development for Bayern Leverkusen saw him attract the attention of higher ups at the club, especially that of Rudi Voller who was at that time Managing Director of Sports for the footballing division of the institution. 

Simon was quickly appointed as Sporting Director of the club, working up close under the guidance of Rudi Voller and given the free roam at re-defining the direction of the club. In his 3.5 years as a Sporting Director, Rolfes has spearheaded the restructuring of the recruitment team. Inculcating modern practices of identifying not just the exciting U23 youngsters from abroad but even in his native country, especially in the region where the club is situated. 

According to Rolfes, there are 3 key pillars to the ‘Leverkusen blueprint’: Atmosphere, Development, Performance. 

When looking for the perfect player, Rolfes and his team have the club’s culture as much at the forefront of their mind as the potential signing’s ability and its threshold. That’s why Leverkusen’s player care department travels with Rolfes when he speaks to targets- not just for senior team but also for U19 and/or B team, immediately looking to make the fit as perfect as possible for both the club and player. This process of selection not only aids the dressing room harmony in the first team, but also provides young players at the club with both a welcoming environment to grow into, as well as model professionals to show them the way when they make the step up to senior football.

Club lost Julian Brandt to Borussia Dortmund and needed a new player who can fill in as #10, in came Kai Havertz (although both players are very different in terms of playing style but Rolfes helped to spearhead a change in playing style to get the best out of Havertz). Now, Kai Havertz was out so Rolfes easily could have spent megabucks which Leverkusen received from his transfer but he rather turned his attention to North Rhine Westphalia again, the province where Leverkusen are based. Rolfes travelled to Cologne to convince a 16-year-old local lad in Florian Wirtz, trying to sell the project to him and get him separated from Leverkusen’s arch rivals, FC Koln-promising him an accelerated pathway to senior football and straight away replace Kai Havertz. And boy, were Leverkusen successful in that! 

And now comes the other 2 pillars in the picture- Development and Performance. Both go hand-in-hand. As per Rolfes, whether it’s a new arrival, an academy player or experienced pro, once someone is in the club, it is their development that takes precedence. As Leverkusen’s academy head, Thomas Eichin, puts it: “You can have the best strategy, the best philosophy but if you don’t have the best coaches, you cannot reach your goals. It’s crucial that we bring players to the next step.”. 

In order to track the development and performance; Leverkusen have made in-house bespoke software, using data pipelines and workflows deployed using Amazon Web Services like EMR and EKS. (To give some clarification, AWS’s EMR is used to automate your bulky Big Data driven workflows and EKS- in simple words is a service to host the workflows developed for usability in multiple zones from around the world, without any hindrance). It has helped the club to identify a lot of players who may not have the experience under their belt but are still ready and well rounded for their age to play at a high level. The likes of Edmond Tapsoba (just half a season as a senior in Vitoria Guimaraes side), Piero Hincapie, Odilon Kossonou, Amine Adli, Jeremie Frimpong have risen to the occasion for Die Werkself and are making a name for themselves. 

Leverkusen are using all the cutting-edge innovations to not just player recruitment but even coaching appointments. Not just stuck to a fixed coaching style or tactical setup or playing style, Leverkusen have gone on from Roger Schmidt, famed for his heavy octane direct playing style to Petr Bosz, famed for his similar style but 3x and a structured possession shape to more pragmatic Gerardo Seoane. While Seoane’s first season was a successful one and he got the best out of players, his second season’s start was a cataclysmic one which eventually led him to get the sack- leaving Leverkusen in relegation spots and dropping down to Europa League. Now, Bayer Leverkusen and Rolfes could have easily replaced him with any coach who could have salvaged their season but they again took the risky option (but a calculated one, given all the tech. which they use to minimize that margin of error)- appointing a novice, Xabi Alonso. Now, everyone was raving that Xabi Alonso will be a manager who relies strictly on Juego de Posicion (Positional play), given his nationality and the managers he played under but then he took to the pitch in reality, everyone was proven wrong. His coaching philosophy is completely opposite to that of many of the “managers” he played under. A pragmatist who prefers to first create a defensive solidarity and then focus on dominating the possession. Leverkusen knew what they wanted and what Xabi Alonso had been doing as a manager, and backed it up with the tools which they developed to further strengthen their decision. And we have the results in front of us. 

I mean you have an ex-footballer turned Sporting Director who is flexible to learn about Cloud Technology and Machine Learning to get cutting edge over their opponents, with the penchant of further strengthening his craft and still very young to have a long last career in football. Manchester United could do something here…………..

Recruitment Knowledge: Central Europe, South America, Scandinavia, England

Shared Vision with Board: Help the club by appointing technical staff who are flexible and pragmatic but also share the philosophy of building a competitive team with a mix of both: youth and experience. Hence providing the coaching team with players who align with the philosophy of everyone involved in the process 

Pros:  Extensive networking and contacts with the industry, Knowledge of different markets and finances involved in the game, highly flexible professional.

Cons: None

Devil’s DNA Score: 9.5/10

  1. Christoph Freund

Age: 45 years

Nationality: Austrian

Current Club: RB Salzburg

Current Contract: A 3-year contract running till 30th June, 2026

Previous Clubs: N.A.

When the Red Bull group decided to venture into football, Dietrich Mateschitz turned to his native country and found various loopholes in the existing ownership models of football club in the country, which he exploited in order to form Red Bull Salzburg (and few years later in similar manner took over a club in Germany and renamed it- “RasenBallsport” Leipzig). What Dietrich Mateschitz didn’t know that he was on the verge of devising an ownership model which will become the base for many others to copy and perfect in near future and also devise their own, unique coaching philosophy which perfectly mimics the brand bankrolling millions through those same loopholes and creating an uneven competition. 

But their starting journey was completely different altogether. When RB Salzburg was created; they wanted to win titles in the country straight away so they often went to buy veterans who were in the twilight years of their careers; same for coaching appointments. All of this changed when the management brought in Ralf Rangnick in 2012. Ralf Rangnick isn’t an unknown name in the industry anymore. He had a free hand to mould TSG Hoffenheim (again bankrolled in same manner Red Bull clubs are; by the German Billionaire and founder of SAP- Dietmar Hopp) from a regional side into a Bundesliga side in short time and building a core of talented youngsters- both from local areas and abroad; moulded into a specific playing style. And he was hired by the Red Bull group to do the same thing with the clubs under their management (Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Leipzig). 

Ralf Rangnick took an unknown identity (back then) under his wing to oversee the “re-branding” of Red Bull clubs; Christoph Freund. While Rangnick isn’t associated with the Red Bull group anymore but Freund has taken the work done by him and Rangnick notches above and streamlined the kind of brand Dietrich Mateschitz wanted. 

A retired footballer, Christoph Freund has a modest playing career; playing for a host of top division sides and lower regional sides before retiring and joining the Red Bull group as a sports coordinator. He straight away started working with Ralf Rangnick to change the structure of the club. Ralf Rangnick’s influence as a coach who relied on heavy octane direct and vertical football with intense counter pressing was imprinted on every level of the club, from youth teams to senior teams. Next step which Rangnick took was to completely change the recruitment model. Move away from the approach of buying veterans and invest in youth. In a short time (and with unlimited back-funding), RB Salzburg created the best youth system in the country and during the same time period have even invested heavily in youth academies in Africa- creating strategic partnership with academies in Mali, Zambia and providing the youngsters with a clear pathway to first team football. 

While Rangnick was Sporting Director of RB Salzburg from 2012 to 2015, post that he moved to RB Leipzig (and then at company level role with Red Bull as an advisor). His protégé, Christoph Freund took over the responsibilities from the German, becoming the Sporting Director of Red Bull Salzburg Under his supervision RB Salzburg have become the club in its present-day form- a side built from heavy investment in youth, reaping the rewards for the same by winning titles, may it be the senior side dominating the domestic scene or their U19s winning not just at home but even in Europe. Both the Red Bull clubs have created a pipeline for players to move from Salzburg to Leipzig once they have matured enough, playing consistently in the same brand of football which eliminates the extra period of getting adjusted to new surroundings. But they have also sold players for massive profits to non-Red Bull clubs, encashing them at the right moment while keeping their replacements ready to take over immediately. 

During this period, Freund has been successful in recruitment at both front- players and coaches. Pushing for implementing the Red Bull way of football- many coaches have made their breakthrough at Salzburg and then went on to do very well abroad- from Roger Schmidt to Adi Hutter to Marco Rose; while also coaching their replacements in-house. For example; current senior team manager, 32-year-old German Matthias Jaissle has managed the U-19 Side then FC Liefering (the club whose license Red Bull club bought and now use the club as their B-Team, playing 2nd division of Austrian footballing pyramid), now managing the senior side and under him, team has done very well in Europe as well.

Freund likes to work up close with the scouts, who use both the conventional methods of scouting as well as modern approach of data-driven video scouting, signing as many youngsters as possible; given they are a natural fit for their intense playing style and moulding them into superstars for the future. 

The Red Bull story has given the world a glimpse into the multi-club model and its various advantages (at the cost of sporting integrity). No wonder, every big club now wants to implement it and even UEFA is also relaxing their rules around the same kind of ownership model. The prospective new owners of Manchester United have hinted at a possible multi-club ownership model. From that angle and the current landscape surrounding the club, it makes perfect sense for them to go for Christoph Freund; given Chelsea wanted to hire him for similar reasons a year back. His track record with player and coaching recruitment is there to speak for and his way of working will immediately fix the issue of managing transfers, a department where Manchester United have always struggled immediately. 

Recruitment Knowledge: Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, North and Central Africa

with that of Red Bull group or can be moulded into the same by investing resources on them. Same for player recruitment.

Pros: Brilliant Talent ID, Good negotiator, exposure to Multi-Club Model

Cons: Just knowing one kind of footballing ideology can be a con if you don’t evolve with time in a sport as volatile as football.

Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

Honourable Mentions:

  • Cristiano Guintoli, Napoli (he has a verbal agreement with Juventus already so haven’t covered his work in detail, in the article)
  • Max Eberl, RB Leipzig
  • Pedro Marques, Benfica
  • Max Huiberts, AZ Alkmaar
  • Stuart Webber, Norwich
  • Pol-Eduard Caillot, Stade Reims

(Image Credits: Getty and social media handles of clubs

Transfer data Credits:

Search for a CB: RCB & LCB Shortlists

Welcome to another one of these scouting exercises. In case you missed them, I’ve previously done RB, GK, CF, DLP and DM lists for Manchester United. Today, I’ll be diving into a position which might not seem as urgent as some of the aforementioned critical starting gaps, but is a genuine area to be addressed in coming windows – Centerback.

I’m going to go out on a limb here to make a prediction – I think Ten Hag will want a new right-sided centerback (RCB) and left-sided centerback (LCB) within the next 2 years. 

The LCB need comes from his preference of wanting a set of 2 left-footed CBs and 2 right-footed CBs for each side. We have seen that he likes this setup for 2 reasons 

1. For the passing angles a left-footer provides from LCB
2. Based on the recent reveal of why he plays Lindelof at LCB instead of Maguire – for rest defence reasons when a CB has to press ahead and cover his side with his dominant foot.

The LCB would ideally be a backup to Lisandro Martinez, who’s had an excellent season and looks set to remain our mainstay for a few years, so we can afford a younger or more raw backup type profile here.

The RCB need has a more starter-level concern. While Raphael Varane has been excellent in helping United defend in their box, the concerns on the ball have shown up from time to time, especially in the last few months without Eriksen ahead of the defence. Varane is limited in build up and that coupled with De Gea being poor at it, often puts heavy responsibility on Lisandro to get us out of our half. Ten Hag’s plan of keeping club captain Harry Maguire as the designated RCB backup to give him the chance to usurp Varane and partner Lisandro, hasn’t worked either. Maguire hasn’t seemed as good from RCB as he used to be from LCB under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. There is a RCB gap. A high ceiling wonderkid or straight up starter level talent who can take over sooner rather than later would be one idea on Ten Hag’s mind.

The shortlists

If you’ve read any of my previous scouting pieces, it might come as a surprise to you that I’m not going to follow the same stats-heavy process for center-backs. My reasons:

1. Defensive stats make no sense for CBs
A player with more tackles or interceptions doesn’t make him a better defender. Defensive volume is a bad way to judge defensive quality. Usually top CBs have the lowest defensive volume in the league. It could also really vary based on their roles (stopper, cover). And even less doesn’t mean good. There is just no correlation

2. Fbref’s progression stats are not ideal to judge defenders

Fbref’s new definitions of progression cut the defensive 40% of the pitch and include passes to the byline. Defenders and especially center-backs suffer the most from these changes and only very high line CBs who pass a lot from the center of the pitch (usually top team CBs) accrue.

Taking these out of the equation leaves almost nothing for a stats-based methodology, which is why I’m going with the eye test (rejoice, eye test > stats folks!) for this position. I have gone through center-backs in the top 7 leagues who were U27 and right-footed or U25 and left-footed and scored the realistic options on 4 basic criteria based on hours of footage of each of them.

1. Progression – Their ability on the ball both in terms of passing and carrying to handle build up and advance the game comfortably and consistently 

2. Security – Their security on the ball during progression

3. Aerial duels – Ability in the air to win duels and be a set piece threat

4. Ground duels – Ability and positioning on the ground to press, cover or tackle well

Without further ado, here are the results. 

Let’s take a look at the RCBs first. Probably not a big reveal, but I was most impressed by Napoli’s Kim Min-Jae and think he’s the closest thing to a full package, who is also near the peak age for a CB. Nianzou impressed me more than I thought. Timber is a name that has been thrown around a lot and he looks good. 

It’s really tough to pick just a few players to highlight. But I’m going to do mini profiles for the best + realistic options: 

RCB 1: Kin Min-Jae

RCB 2: Jurrien Timber

RCB 3: Kevin Danso

RCB 4: Antonio Silva

Next, let’s take a look at the LCB list.

The LCB list is shorter due to two issues – our restriction of players under age 25 and there being less left-footed players in general. Lot of teams play with multiple right footers in the back line. I’ve already done a scout report for Facundo Medina here. Other than him, I will be detailing the 3 best options: 

LCB 1: Goncalo Inacio
LCB 2: Castello Lukeba 
LCB 3: Calvin Bassey

Mini Reports

As mentioned before, since I’m not using stats to assess CBs in this piece, I won’t be posting pizza charts either. They’ll just be misleading. I’ll try to detail the reports a bit more to compensate for that.

Let’s start with the RCB targets first.

RCB 1: Kim Min-Jae, Napoli, 26

Career History: Born in South Korea, Kim made his way to K League club Jeonbuk by the age of 19. A key player for the 17/18 season, his performances earned him a K League Young Player of the Year and K League Best XI for the year. In January 2019, he moved to Beijing Guoan in the CSL. His impressive performances caught the eye of Europe with Tottenham strongly linked but unable to negotiate a transfer fee. Fenerbache was the club to profit from his services as he played the 21/22 season for the Turkish club and was once again impressive, making it to the Süper Lig Team of the Season. In July 2022, Napoli paid €18m to replace the outgoing Kalidou Koulibaly and have since been enjoying a great year from the South Korean who should again make the Serie A team of the season easily. There’s no surprise every top club wants him.

On-ground defending: Kim’s biggest strength is his defending on the ground. He is very positionally aware and mixes aggression, speed and strength to constantly flush out dangers when the opposition has the ball. He is very comfortable stepping out and tackling an oncoming dribbler. He ranks 97 percentile for % of dribblers tackled and 96 percentile for challenges lost. It is really tough to get past him. He has a very keen sense of the game and challenges the moment he sees a bad touch or an opponent he can overpower by speed or physicality. Using a mix of defensive combinations like this, he is able to come out best against different types of attacking players. His good positioning also allows him to make many shot blocks.

Aerial defending: Aerially, Kim is good. He ranks 75 percentile for Aerial win % even after facing a lot of aerial duels. He doesn’t shy away from them at all and from what I’ve noticed, even the duels he doesn’t win cleanly, his upper body strength destabilizes the opponent enough for it not to become a problem. His willingness to get into duels and trouble the attacker as much as he can or simply win it cleanly, make getting into a tussle with Kim almost a zero-reward situation.

In possession: Kim is an excellent passer. He is a volume passer (ranks 99 percentile for passes attempted and completed) while being very safe (ranks 93 percentile on pass %) and progressive (99 percentile on progressive passing distance). He can constantly receive the ball in good areas and pass out of them, whether it’s crisp short passes or long switches to the wing. Having played a lot of LCB this year, he loves the switch to the right flank. Combined with his excellent carrying, Kim is really a modern CB who is very comfortable with the ball. He boasts 99 percentile on carries and 96 percentile on progressive carry distance as well. He is very comfortable playing out under pressure or driving into space if he isn’t under pressure and then picking out smart passes of all ranges. 

Verdict: I didn’t highlight any cons for Kim, because honestly, there are none. What you’re looking at is a complete CB, capable of defending on the ground and in the air, has the physicality to match his defensive IQ, is a dream on the ball in terms of passing and carrying, has the technical range and execution to be a starter for a top possession based team and is at the perfect peak age to take a gamble on. And it’s not even a big gamble! Apparently, Kim has a release clause of €45m that activates for 15 days when the summer transfer window starts. At that price, this is simply a steal for a world-class player. Such opportunities don’t come around often. Manchester United have to consider this. I rarely score a prospect 10, but this is as perfect as it gets from all angles.

Devil’s DNA Score: 10/10

RCB 2: Jurrien Timber, Ajax, 21

Career History: Born in the Netherlands, Timber joined the Feyenoord academy at 6, but was picked by the Ajax academy at 13. At 18, he made his Ajax debut in the 19/20 season. Since then, his importance and involvement have only increased as he featured 30 times in 20/21, 43 times in 21/22 and has already featured 41 times in 22/23. With 100+ appearances for Ajax, 15 appearances for the national team, a contract till 2025 and constant links to top clubs, a summer 2023 move is likely.

On-ground defending: Timber reads the game well and has a good command of his area. His pressing, speed of coverage and intensity in the duel, help him step out and flush out danger early. His anticipation is at a very good level. You can expect the proactiveness and pressing ability of Lisandro Martinez here. One issue though is Timber’s positioning and concentration. He is prone to the odd error which usually stems from either poor positioning, over-zealous pressing or simply a lapse in concentration that allows a runner or a pass in his blind space. It’s one area he needs to improve on, but given his young age, it seems realistic for this to get better as he gains experience and maturity.

Aerial defending: Timber is below average in the air. While he has a good jump and willingness to duel, he loses aerial duels more often than not (Aerial win % of just 48% this season in the Eredivisie). His balance, upper body strength and heading technique seem to be the major issues that limit him. He doesn’t generate enough power even in the few times he wins the ball in the air. Like Lisandro, he tries to avoid the necessity for aerial duels via proactive challenges and pressing, but he’s comparatively less effective at it, as of now.

In possession: This is where Timber really shines. His passing, close control and carrying technique are reliable and on the higher side for center-backs. He ranks 99 percentile in the Eredivisie for progressive passes, progressive carries, carries, passes completed, pass completion % and passes received, which indicates a technically sound defender who can guarantee progression and safety in volume. He is the epitome of the new breed of center-backs (like John Stones) who are simply so good on the ball, they are as good as midfielder playmakers in build up. His press resistance is a big reason why he rarely loses the ball in possession. His tactical awareness when playing out from the back, in terms of positioning to receive passes or movement to create spaces for the team to progress, is excellent.

Verdict: I have read many takes online on Timber as a RB or DM for United, and I have to say that I don’t see it. He’s not played RB more than 6 times in any given season and didn’t look any better than he does for CB. The mental math to want him to join, but keep him away from CB due to the combined height issue with Lisandro, doesn’t have a great tactical justification. I think we’re looking at a new age wonderkid CB and if United do buy him, Ten Hag will utilize him at RCB most. A few years of rotation with Varane, as Timber gains some experience and maturity to work on his weaknesses, would be a decent deal, all things considered.

Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10

RCB 3: Kevin Danso, Lens, 24

Career History: Danso was born in Austria before moving to the MK Dons academy at 6. His first taste of senior football came at Augsburg where he was a rotation player for 3 years until the age of 20. Then came the ill-fated Southampton loan term where he had only 10 appearances. But RC Lens took a punt at him in 2021 and they have been rewarded handsomely. Danso has finally found a home at Lens and has appeared 36 times in 21/22 and 31 times so far in 22/23 for the French club while being their mainstay in defence. At 24, he seems to be peaking and this might be the right time for a top club to take a chance on him.

On-ground defending: Danso is very good at engaged defending. He has good physicality and pace which helps him close down dangers early, win the ball with good strength and outmuscle opponents when they try to dribble past him. He’s an aggressive tackler and very aware blocker. Once Danso has locked on to the attacker, it’s really hard to get past him. But Danso can be better when it comes to positioning and defensive space, when he doesn’t have an obvious opponent to lock on to. His reading of the game, especially when there are quick passes and switches going on, can be improved. He often recovers with his physicality and speed, even if he judges the danger late, but on some occasions, that isn’t enough.

Aerial defending: Danso is strong in the air. Not only does he boast a very good aerial win % (72.2% in Ligue 1 this year) but he also does so after attempting many aerial duels. And it’s no surprise when you see him in action. He boasts a great mix of jump, strength and technique to constantly outmuscle and head cleanly. He has a few headed goals from set pieces as well. This is one category with no issues at all.

In possession: Danso is deceptively technical. His lanky frame and running style don’t suggest so, but he’s very good on the ball and has the confidence to carry and pass under pressure. He often dribbles his way out of tense situations and is able to kickstart the attack from the back with an aggressive carry and pass. He comes across as a better carrier than passer, capable of driving his way through the middle easily. His passing is good without being great. He is safe, tidy and progressive enough. He has some signature passes through the middle, but probably isn’t as varied in his switches and passing angles on either side. His passing is definitely good, but maybe not as strong as some of the others on our list.

Verdict: Danso came across better than I imagined. He’s improved leaps and bounds at Lens and is well-rounded enough to not have any weaknesses to his game. He has slight improvements to make in his defensive awareness and passing, to really be at home in a top team, but he has enough quality, traits and personality to take a chance on.

Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10

RCB 4: Antonio Silva, Benfica, 19

Career History: Born in Viseu, Portugal, Antonio played in multiple Portuguese youth clubs until being picked up by Benfica academy at the age of 12. He made his professional debut for Benfica B in April, 2022 and was a key player for the side that won the 2021-22 UEFA Youth League. He defied expectations by impressing manager Rodger Schmidt in the 22/23 season and leapfrogging Tomás Araujo and Jan Vertonghen to play for the senior team. An Otamendi suspension gave him the chance to start in August, 2022 and since then he hasn’t been dropped even after the return of Otamendi. He’s racked up 39 appearances this season and won Primeira Liga Defender of the Month for September 2022 and October/November 2022. His performances made him sign a contract extension to 2027, increasing his buyout clause to €100m. At the rate at which he’s going, a top team could be tempted to pay that amount soon.

On-ground defending: Antonio loves a tackle. He ranks very highly for dribblers tackled and has a very no-nonsense approach to get stuck in and not allow dribblers past him. His strength, aggression and defensive awareness are key to ensure he comes up with the ball more often than not. That said, Antonio isn’t the fastest player in the world. At times, very quick dribblers have shown to beat him especially if he’s dragged into wider areas on the right. Antonio avoids such situations with proactive tackling and smart positioning IQ. His body orientation and awareness always give him a great chance to avoid getting beaten, as he showed many times in Benfica’s game against PSG, where Mbappe couldn’t beat Antonio as often as he would have liked. Antonio is also very smart in playing the offside trap and is usually the positionally-aware cover player beside Otamendi, who is more aggressive. His maturity in marshaling the defence even at such a young age, shines through.

Aerial defending:.Antonio is aerially good. His positioning and tall frame usually put him in the right spot to clear away danger. He’s great at winning headers at both ends, boasting 5 goals this season with 4 of them being strong headers and 1 being a cheeky backheel in a crowd during a set piece. He has generated 18 shots from set pieces, which is more than what Maguire, Lindelof and Varane have generated combined this season. His aerial ability in defence isn’t as great as his on-ground defending. His 62% aerial win % this year isn’t that high and it can be argued that for a well-built tall defender, he can be more physical in the air to put off competitors, but that can be expected to improve since he’s just a teenager.

In possession: On the ball Antonio is extremely secure. He boasts 98 percentile for pass completion while having pass attempts in the 90 percentile. But it’s his passing range that stands out well too. He loves playing switches and diagonals and executes medium and long passes with precision. He has played the most accurate long balls per 90 in the league (6.2). Antonio is great in the 1st phase. He asks for the ball and uses smart positioning and carrying to beat the press. For a tall guy, he dribbles out of pressure well and is able to be decisive in build up. His composure and intellect show in possession nicely.

Verdict: Antonio’s profile is excellent and he is a very high IQ and technical CB. His mental aspects in terms of taking the opportunity he got this year, staying in the team and displaying top consistency, composure and game reading, are excellent for a youngster. The few aspects he can get better on are just a function of experience and maturity. While he may not perform as an elite top team starter immediately next year, he could become one of Europe’s best in 2 years time. Any interested club’s main decision revolves around spending €100m with that caveat in mind. The price and immediate readiness are the only reasons I cut 2 marks.

Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

Now let’s move on to the LCB targets.

LCB 1: Goncalo Inacio, Sporting, 21

Career History: Born in Almada, Portugal, Inacio played for his local youth team until Sporting’s famed academy picked him up when he was 12. Making his debut in July 2020 for the senior team at the age of 18, Inacio hasn’t looked back since, racking up 115 appearances by the age of 21. After his debut season where he rotated a fair bit, he’s now had 2 seasons as key starter with 42 and 48 appearances each and a league title win under his belt. With Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool linked, the time for a step up may be close.

On-ground defending: During defence, stepping into midfield is one of Inácio’s top qualities. He’s a player with excellent mobility and body shape. He anticipates play well and is prepared to intervene. For someone who lacks the size of a typical centerback, showing the aggressiveness to step into midfield and end plays is critical. Inácio is a very good athlete who covers ground well. He adapts his positioning and body orientation at an above-average frequency, putting him in a better position to scan his surroundings and identify potential threats. He’s very aggressive, very confident in the tackle and is quick to apply pressure on his opponents without leaving his teammates vulnerable. On the ground, he is a very good defender.

Aerial defending: Inacio isn’t great aerially. His 185 cm frame and weaker upper body strength are big reasons for why he has a low 60% aerial win % this year, which puts him at 45 percentile among Primeira Liga centerbacks. It is one aspect he needs to improve on and it also shows in attacking set pieces where he isn’t a great threat. While one can expect him to gain some strength as he ages, it might be worth noting that he will have to learn to get around his height the way other shorter CBs (Like Lisandro) do and he definitely has the traits for that.

In possession: Inacio is a gem in possession. He boasts 95+ percentiles for Passes attempted, progressive passing distance, progressive passes, passes into final third, carries, progressive carrying distance, progressive carries and carries into final third. If that doesn’t convince you, let me detail further on why he’s one of the best CBs in possession in Europe. He likes to dribble to draw out the opposition towards him, which goes in line with what top coaches like Pep Guardiola and Robert de Zerbi are doing. As he dribbles, he has the technique and vision to scan for teammates and play a pass between the lines or a switch to a wide area to release a winger or fullback. He does this often and that’s the reason he’s trusted a lot with the ball and is often the main receiver in the first phase. What sets him apart from other CBs who are just good passers, is that Inacio knows how to break a press with careful movement, baiting, skill and foresight on where the ball needs to go to progress up the pitch. In that sense, he is the leader in build up – something United need badly

Verdict: Inacio is a gem on the ball and is versatile enough to play as wide center back or central CB in a back 3 or LCB in a back 4. A build up leader and on-ground defensive monster, the aerial gap is the only reason he doesn’t get a 10 from me, but I feel that’s a gap that can be improved on and mitigated via team defence . In fact, he’s probably the most similar player to Lisandro Martinez in terms of profile and potential. With that in mind, it would be a great signing to alleviate Ten hag’s needs for 2 high-level left-footed center-backs in the squad.

Devil’s DNA Score: 9/10

LCB 2: Castello Lukeba, Lyon, 20

Career History: Born in Lyon itself, Lukeba joined the academy at age 8 and has featured for the club at every level since then. He made his professional debut for the senior team in Aug 2021 and hasn’t looked back since, racking up 29 appearances last year and already clocking 30 this season, all while being nominated for 2021/22 Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award. With Chelsea, Manchester United and Inter Milan linked, the youngster is catching attention all over Europe.

On-ground defending: Castello is a fighter. He has confidence and attitude in spades and never shies away from a duel. His standout attribute is his pace. He is lightning quick on the ground and that solves a lot of problems on its own. He’s able to press proactively knowing he can cut out danger early. He is able to commit to a tackle knowing he can win it and even on the chance his aggression or positioning fails him, his recovery pace to handle the situation is great. As a result he’s a great 1v1 duel winner and a smooth sweeper of the back line. He boasts a lot of interceptions and recoveries thanks to these traits. His positioning can still go up a level as there are rare occasions where his reliance on his pace and composure isn’t enough, but that’s normal for his age.

Aerial defending:.Castello is aerially weak. He records a 51% aerial win % in Ligue 1 this season which puts him in the bottom 20 percentile for centerbacks. Lukeba can improve aerially and all-around in terms of physicality, with strength, size and jumping height standing out as particularly weak areas of his game right now. His timing of the jump is also an issue – often seeming late or early in a duel. While he has time to fill out physically and find better ways to get around this weakness, he will have to actively do so in the near future to not let this be a gap.

In possession: Lukeba is a very progressive passer and carrier and is capable of handling a lot of passes as well. I’d say he’s a better passer than carrier, preferring to pass his way out of trouble than dribble. He has a good passing range and can comfortably pick out wingers or midfielders. His build up ability is good without being great. He’s a decent carrier but his receiving back to goal and his ability to carry under pressure can improve more. I think he’s a good passer and able carrier but modern demands at the highest level could require more improvement in this regard.

Verdict: Lukeba is good without being great. A lot of his game needs more maturity. His positioning, aerial prowess and build up play can all do with improvement with aerial duels especially needing massive improvement. But his pace, energy, on-ground dueling and technical floor on the ball are good traits to work on. For a backup role with potential to improve, it’s not a bad move at all.

Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10

LCB 3: Calvin Bassey, Ajax, 23

Career History: Born in Italy, Bassey is a product of Leicester City’s youth system but didn’t make a senior appearance before joining Rangers on a free transfer in July 2020. He made 65 appearances over 2 seasons for Rangers and won the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Cup. In July 2022, he signed for Ajax, with Rangers receiving the highest transfer fee in their history. Slotting straight in as the departing Lisandro Martinez’s replacement, he’s racked up 37 appearances in the same role. Should Lisandro’s replacement become Lisandro’s deputy? Let’s find out.

On-ground defending: The Nigerian is brilliant at tackling, intercepting, and helping his team in pressing the opposition. He is not just a no-nonsense defender and has a method to his madness. His exceptional ball reading skills allow him to time his move ideally to stop the opposition. At Rangers, Van Bronckhorst’s decision to play a more attacking side has inadvertently helped Calvin become a brilliant defender, who is at his best in one-on-one situations. Bassey has great strength and physically dominates a lot of opponents. His tackles won and recoveries are in the 90+ percentile this season, showcasing his great awareness coupled with his ready aggression. The Nigerian defender steps up very often and is a very proactive and aggressive defender. Bassey relies on his physical strength a lot and probably needs to be more cautious in duels especially higher up the pitch, where the chances of getting caught up and conceding a turnover are high. But overall, he has the right mindset and a good reading of the game, coupled with great physicals. Some maturing in terms of timing and willingness to duel is all that’s needed.

Aerial defending: Calvin Bassey is pretty strong in aerial duels, he has a good leap and often jumps higher than his opponent. He defends set-pieces really well and is almost always well-positioned. For most part, Bassey has great anticipation when dealing with crosses and his positioning is great. He is composed and comfortable in his own box and looks very dominant. In fact, it can be said that this year Bassey has improved upon an Ajax squad gap of being aerially vulnerable, an issue with the previous pairing of Lisandro-Timber.

In possession: On the ball, Calvin Bassey is not a very adventurous passer. In build up, he mainly goes for the safe option which means that he plays plenty of sideways passes or even backwards to the goalkeeper. When he receives the ball in the build-up, he often takes a few touches forward assessing his options. Bassey has decent vision – he spots his teammates in space well, but his delivery is pretty inaccurate, despite having a good long passing technique. His short passing technique is also good and is capable of playing one-touch passes with both his right and left foot. Sometimes he seems to take too long before releasing the ball. It has happened a few times that he got himself into trouble as the opponent managed to pressure Bassey into making mistakes on the ball. Despite this, Bassey generally is pretty composed on the ball and does not panic if he is being put under pressure near his own penalty box. His receiving skills from ground passes are good, but he occasionally struggles to control aerial passes. This can be a problem if he’s put under high pressure. He needs to be more comfortable playing forward passes and release the ball sooner at times. It would take some time to get used to playing progessive passes, but I think he has the potential to get better at this. This is one aspect he lacks a bit compared to Lisandro/Timber.

Verdict: A different profile from our other targets, Bassey is strong aerially and is a great, albeit slightly over-zealous, defender on the ground. Most of his improvements are required in carrying and passing, but even they are above average at the very least. He’s a well-rounded profile, who’s not elite at anything yet, but also has no weaknesses. It’s a decent option for a reliable backup with room to improve.

Devil’s DNA Score: 7/10


For the RCB role, with a view to immediately or eventually take over Raphael Varane, the best option is Napoli’s Kim Min-Jae. He is competent and consistent in all the parameters required for a top team CB today. At the rumoured release clause, United have to put in a bid for sure. Rated lower mainly because he’s more expensive and younger, Antonio Silva, Benfica’s wonderkid, is the next big thing and has amazing traits and elite potential, if United have the money for him. After them, Ajax’s Jurrien Timber and RC Lens’ Kevin Danso are great options who each have solid traits to fit in, with a view to getting better as they peak. Beyond these options, Tanguy Nianzou, Jean-Clair Todibo and Axel Disasi, should be monitored.

For the LCB role, with a view to obtain a backup for Lisandro Martinez who can satisfy Ten hag’s 2 left-footed CB options requirement, Goncalo Inacio of Sporting is the best option, who’s profile and ceiling are very similar to Lisandro. After him, Lyon’s Castello Lukeba is a good option who seems to have many desirable traits but needs maturity and improvement in some of them to shine. Finally, Calvin Bassey, Lisandro’s replacement at Ajax, also has good potential to be Lisandro’s backup at United. Facundo Medina, Arthur Theate and Stanley N’Soki should be monitored as well.

Thank you for reading this far. I hope the new style of scouting and assessing and the long detailed explanations were more help than a turn-off. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter. (@thedevilsdna


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