The Busby Babe concludes our 2012-13 Manchester United player reviews with left-back Alexander Buttner.
I'm going to be dividing each of the player reviews into three categories: 'what was expected' will be a brief and general explanation of what the expectations were for the player prior to the season's start, 'what we got' will typically be the section with the most depth as this will be the heart of the review, and 'what's next?' will be an examination of the player's future at United.
What was expected
When Buttner was signed last summer from Dutch side Vitesse for a fee believed to be in the region of £4 million, most United supporters knew little about him (including me). What we did know, though, was that first-choice left-back Patrice Evra had made an incredible 242 appearances for the club in the past five seasons (an average of 48.4 per season)* and that the quality of his performances had regressed in the past few. The then 31-year-old was in need of a deputy after United decided to send Fabio da Silva on loan to Queens Park Rangers. Buttner, 23-years-old at the beginning of the season, would be cover for Evra but it was uncertain how much he would actually play. Would Sir Alex Ferguson cut back a bit on Evra's playing time and allow his new left-back to get a chunk of games? Or would the Frenchman approach near 50 appearances again while the Dutchman simply sat on the bench enjoying his front row seats?
* This doesn't even include the dozens of international appearances he also made for France during that time.
What we got
* GS: games started (substituted appearances), Avg P = average passes per game, Pass % = passing accuracy percentage, KP = chances created per game, C = accurate crosses per game, C% = accurate cross percentage, DRB = successful dribbles per game, TKL = tackles per game, INT = interceptions per game, AD% = aerial duels won percentage, G = goals scored, AST = assists
Evra's appearances dropped slightly to 42 this season (and that wasn't due to injury) and that bit of extra rest perhaps factored into his improved form. Buttner, though, was still only used sparingly as he made 13 appearances and just 8 of those occurred in either the Premier League or UEFA Champions League.
Even though we might have a slight idea as to what sort of player Buttner is, he's still a relative mystery. At the very least, I don't think one could say with any real conviction that they know for certain that the Dutchman can make it as a United player. That's not an indictment, nor is that to say that he won't make it at Old Trafford, it's only to say that the chances to adequately assess him in a United shirt -- particularly in important matches -- have been very limited.
The general assessment of the 24-year-old is probably something along the lines of this: He's an energetic and attack-minded left-back, he's able to go by defenders through a mix of dribbling ability and determined drive, he appears to be a good finisher for a full-back (he had two goals in five league games this season and he had five league goals last season for Vitesse), he's aggressive in tackle, but he appears to be prone to positional lapses.
Buttner's United debut, in a mid-September league match against Wigan Athletic, was hugely impressive as he was named man of the match. His direct surges down the left flank continually troubled the Latics and by the end of United's 4-0 victory, the Dutchman finished with a goal and an assist. After this performance, though, he only featured sparingly in the season's remaining matches and it often was in lesser domestic cup ties or relatively easy Champions League group-stage matches.
Well, if I had to give Buttner a player rating for this match, I'd probably go with a 5. He was decent enough for about 75 minutes -- although he didn't do anything significant during that time -- but he was woeful for the final 15 minutes or so in the first-half. Overall, I don't think we learned too much about Buttner in this match because his attacking instinct seemed to be shackled. The energy of the 24-year-old was never on full display and I would have been curious to see how he defended while still having the license to get forward. Perhaps though, that's something the coaching staff did not want to see. Maybe the slow tempo of this match and the defensive solidity is what was needed after two recent exhausting clashes against Real Madrid and Chelsea.
There's a good chance we'll see more of Buttner during the run-in so hopefully these upcoming matches provide more insight as to what kind of player the Dutchman is. If I were a scout, I'd report back to my employers that this outing did not provide much knowledge about the player. A long-term replacement at left-back will soon be needed for the 31-year-old Evra. Perhaps Buttner is in contention or maybe he was just brought in as cover this season as Fabio continues to develop with regular playing time while on loan to QPR. Thus far though, I've seen nothing yet that suggests to me that Buttner is a better prospect than Fabio. Then again, I still feel like I haven't seen enough of the Dutchman.'
By season's end, I still felt that I hadn't seen enough of Buttner to give a strong opinion about his abilities.
At this moment in time, it appears that either Evra or Everton's Leighton Baines will be United's first-choice left-back next season. Buttner will likely compete with Fabio to be the understudy.
If the 32-year-old Evra does stay, it may be prudent to give him even less starts next season -- say around 35 or so -- and then give the remaining starts to the Frenchman's understudy (or understudies). This could be mutually beneficial for all parties involved. Buttner does have four years remaining on his current contract, however, his wages are only £15k/week so that wouldn't be restrictive if David Moyes wanted to sell the player.
Buttner's United future is unknown and it's uncertain if Moyes and the club rate him or Fabio higher. Either way, neither player will be the first-choice left-back for United next season as one or both will simply be around for development and depth.