clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

What should United expect from Marcos Rojo?

New, comments

Marcos Rojo is said to be in Manchester for a medical. What should the Reds expect from their new defender?

Netun Lima

Manchester United haven't had a great history when it comes to Argentinians. Juan Sebastián Verón arrived looking like a genuinely world class playmaker, but never found his place under Sir Alex Ferguson. Gabriel Heinze joined in 2004 and gave United three years of good service, but apparently tried to force a move to Liverpool near the end -- according to Fergie, a demonstration of his "mercenary streak." The less said about Carlos Tévez, the better.

Hopefully Marcos Rojo will rewrite history and slot in at Old Trafford just fine. The versatile defender is still only 24, meaning he still has plenty of time to develop. If he does go on to establish himself as a first-team regular over the next few seasons, the £16 million transfer fee will look pretty meagre.

However, United are undoubtedly taking a gamble in signing Rojo. It is a transfer that has the faint whiff of a World Cup glamour buy, with Rojo not seriously linked with any big clubs prior to his impressive showing in Brazil. One imagines that if Sporting Lisbon had received a £16m offer for him a few months ago, they'd have bitten Ed Woodward's hand off. Calling him world class, at least for the moment, would be overselling.

The good

But, of course, that doesn't mean he doesn't have what it takes to excel at United. Theoretically, he's ideal for a position as a left centre-back in Louis van Gaal's defensive trio. He's an excellent long-range passer and apparently just as important in the eyes of the manager, he's left-footed.

Van Gaal's 3-4-1-2 is a system that relies on the two wing-backs squeezing as tight to their respective touchlines as possible, with United looking to work the ball across the field with long, direct switches in order to penetrate out wide. Rojo's left-footedness means he'll be able to spread the play without having to check onto his right side, as we saw Jonny Evans have to do so often in pre-season.

He's also confident enough on the ball to carry it out of defence, and his performances at left-back for Argentina show he's got the nous to pick the right moments to break forward and supplement the attack. One of the strengths of playing a back three is the freedom that the wide centre-backs can have to break forward unmarked to support the wing-backs -- a role, for example, that Rojo's compatriot Hugo Campagnaro excelled in at Napoli. Rojo's versatility should mean he can do this.

What's more, when he's playing a centre-back, he's quick enough to push wide and halt any opposition attacks that bypass the full-back or wing-back. His pace is one of his greatest attributes -- according to FIFA, he was clocked with a top speed of 31.8km/h, making him one of the fastest players in the tournament.

Meanwhile, his height makes him strong in the air and a pretty good set-piece threat -- he scored four goals in the Primeira Liga last season.

The bad

Though he's a good passer, and surprisingly good at crossing the ball, he's not technically perfect. On close inspection it looks like he's not at all confident with his right-foot, which could well explain his brilliant-yet-terrifying moment of rabona madness at the World Cup. His first touch is also occasionally erratic, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him pressed pretty hard by opponents.

Defensively, he still has to iron out some positional issues. He has a habit of being too eager to close down players in front of him; pushing out of the defensive line and leaving space in behind to exploit. The good news is that in a back three -- or when he's playing as a full-back or wing-back -- that's less of a problem as he'll always have someone behind to cover.

Finally, his disciplinary record isn't great. This is partly linked to the previous point -- his tendency to be dragged out of position leaves him needing to commit a tactical foul to prevent the opponents creating a goalscoring chance -- though he's also more than a touch petulant. Over the last couple of seasons he's picked up a total of 18 yellow cards and four red ones, so van Gaal will have to try and tame him.

If the Dutchman can iron out some of Rojo's flaws, £16m may well turn out to be a pretty good price to have paid.