Victor Lindelöf’s debut Manchester United campaign was a mixed bag. The Swedish defender hardly hit the ground running, as José Mourinho held him out of the matchday squad for several weeks at the start of the season, and when he finally was involved he looked...alright. Eventually, Lindelöf grew in stature and confidence, and he put on more assured displays at the back as the season went on.
Still, for a €35m player supposedly brought in to challenge for a first team place, it’s not unreasonable to expect him to be clearly better than, say, Axel Tuanzebe, who was sent out on loan. Instead, what we’ve seen is a player who - while a vocal organizer with good ability on the ball - is not especially quick or strong, and who is prone to lapses in concentration. It is still very early days, but this writer remains wholly unconvinced. BM
There is a strange limbo which can consume central defensive prospects, if not carefully avoided. It is the void that blooms between “they just need a run of games” and “well, they haven’t done enough to justify getting a run of games”.
This abyss is a particular risk at clubs like Manchester United, where the requirements are so exacting, so quickly. It is worse at clubs — like Manchester United — that lack an established, senior defender for a prospect to play against. And the void’s hunger is only increased by managers who aren’t particularly focused on (or capable of) the careful development of young players. Like, er, Manchester United’s.
(You have to wonder why on earth a young central defender would move to United in the first place. Go to Spurs! If you’re any good, United will pay four times as much for you in two seasons time!)
As Brent points out above, there were early clownish moments but he did improve as the season has gone on. He has probably earned a second season. But if the rumour mill is right, and United are looking to add Toby Alderweireld over the summer, then the competition for the place next to him is going to be a tight one. That run of games might remain a dream. AT
It’s certainly worth remembering that Lindelöf is only 23, and it could still be a couple of years before he really hits his footballing peak. That’s not to suggest that he’s going to become the next Rio Ferdinand, but rather that it seems perfectly reasonable to expect him to take a while to bed in. The Premier League is quite a step up from the Portuguese top flight.
Though we haven’t seen it all too often this season, it seemed last summer that Lindelöf was signed on the grounds that he’s a more expansive, ball-playing defender than Mourinho’s other options. A creative centre-half can be a huge asset in tight games, stepping up into midfield to create another angle of attack against disciplined defences. It’s something that neither Chris Smalling nor Phil Jones are able to provide.
So, in sum, this writer likes the idea of Lindelöf; let’s hope he’s given a chance to become more than that. JS
Verdict: KEEP IN PREFERENCE TO SOME OF THOSE OTHER CLOWNS, YES PHIL, WE’RE LOOKING AT YOU, YOU CLOWN