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Aaron Wan-Bissaka Can Shine at Old Trafford but Patience Will Be Needed

Aaron Wan-Bissaka Can Shine at Old Trafford but Patience Will Be Needed

Monday, 1 July, 2019 - 05:45
Aaron Wan-Bissaka playing for Crystal Palace last season at Manchester United, who have agreed a deal to buy the full-back. Photograph: Andrew Yates/Reuters
London - Dominic Fifield
There is no real preparation for what is about to happen to Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Sure, he had been offered a glimpse of what is to come while drawing the focus with that stoppage‑time own goal which condemned England’s under-21s to a damaging defeat by France at the European Championship. Aidy Boothroyd put an uncharacteristically frazzled display that night down to the unsettling nature of the tortuous negotiations over his transfer to Manchester United. In effect, the full-back had been distracted in Cesena.

Yet, now that a compromise over a fee has been thrashed out and the youngster from New Addington is about to be confirmed as a United signing in a £45m deal that could rise to £50m, the real scrutiny kicks in. A player with only 46 senior appearances, and a solitary full season with Crystal Palace, will be expected to hit the ground running at United.

After all, his purchase has demanded a significant chunk of the money allocated for the revamp of Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s backline. The tackles and interceptions which drew warm appreciation at Selhurst Park will suddenly be the bare minimum expected at Old Trafford. Heaven forbid anyone actually succeeds in dribbling past him.

Not that anything, to date, has really fazed Wan-Bissaka. He is quiet and unassuming, mature beyond his years and far from flash off the pitch, and those he has left behind are convinced he will have what it takes to thrive in the spotlight. On the field, the 21-year-old is raw. He has established a reputation as a fine tackler, a player who has thrived in one-on-one situations from the moment he was thrust in against Christian Eriksen, Alexis Sánchez and Eden Hazard on his first three senior outings in the spring of 2018. No defender in Europe’s elite leagues came close to matching his 129 tackles last term, earning him the award for player of the year at a club apparently utterly reliant upon Wilfried Zaha.

Some of those lunges were born of slight issues in positioning, but a player nicknamed “Spider” boasts telescopic legs and a burst of pace to help extricate himself from trouble of his own making, with those wonderfully quick feet adding to his armoury.

“You think you’re past him, but he’s got enough strength to get a last-ditch tackle in from nowhere,” said Zaha, who had been surprised at being relatively nullified by the former winger plucked from the academy building across Copers Cope Road to make up the numbers in training. A standard was set in those early sessions. In 3,135 minutes of Premier League football last season, opponents wriggled past the right-back 10 times.

The fact that, among defenders, his tally of 84 interceptions was bettered only by Dijon’s Wesley Lautoa, Armando Izzo of Torino and William of Wolfsburg suggests he is also developing a fine sense of anticipation. That said, a player only recently converted from life more advanced up the flank in Palace’s youth setup has benefited hugely from James Tomkins – so often his closest ally as the right-sided centre‑half – guiding him through testing occasions, whether with reminders of marking duties or retaining team shape. The younger man is not infallible. United and their support must be aware they are buying potential. They will need to be patient at times.

Solskjær will have been attracted to his energy. Wan-Bissaka boasts a presence, strong physique and that pace which is such an asset. He will be a threat down the flank, where he will always be an outlet whether those lung-bursting sprints are in possession or in anticipation of a pass.

He will need to improve his accuracy in delivery – there were three assists among 14 chances created from the right last term, albeit his crossing accuracy, relatively low at 21.4%, might have been higher had Christian Benteke played a full season – but United should be far more comfortable with the ball against the majority of opponents than Palace in the top flight. Those rough edges should be smoothed relatively quickly.

The boyhood Arsenal supporter, who was so prolific in junior football to attract Palace’s scouts when he was 11, has acknowledged he should add goals to his game. “They’re coming, don’t worry,” he offered through a smile when interviewed by the Guardian in February. Back then his priorities were still to build on a promising start to life in the Premier League, though his standards never dipped.

A youngster who was never taught how to tackle and was first offered his opportunity with Palace having seen 12 teammates ruled out through injury has become a £45m-plus full-back inside 16 months. His rise has been meteoric. There is no reason to think it will stop now.

The Guardian Sport

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