February 25, 2018. Crystal Palace are preparing for a Premier League game at home to Spurs. They have more players on the treatment table than they have available for selection and a crisis in defence.
Ward and Martin Kelly are both out. Reds loanee Timothy Fosu-Mensah is
needed in central defence because so many other players are injured.
Eagles manager Roy Hodgson hands a professional debut to a player few in
the ground had even heard of: an English 20-year-old of Congolose
heritage by the name of Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
You’d have got long odds on
that very same young man quickly becoming Manchester United’s fourth
most expensive player ever. Only Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Angel Di
Maria have cost us more. Exalted company indeed.
Fast forward a year, and Wan-Bissaka is now among the most
sought-after young players in English football. He has the kind of vital
statistics that make football’s data analysts drool, and the Croydon
boy has burst on to the scene with a stunning breakthrough season in
south London, his first full campaign at the top level. ‘Rapid rise’
hardly begins to cover it. Leading the way for tackles, take ons and
interceptions, Wan – Bissaka, statistically at least, is the real deal.
saying goes that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Eight
years on from the retirement of the last Manchester United full-back
worthy of the name in Gary Neville, and following the signing of Wan - Bissaka, the Reds finally look set to once again possess a full-back that doesn’t make cover us our eyes in horror.
the reckless Rafael, the consigned to oblivion Matteo Darmian via the
never-quite-good-enough winger turned full-backs Antonio Valencia and
Ashley Young, the United right-back berth has gone from a beautifully
maintained, well trodden footpath of Neville and co. to a polluted and abandoned wasteland in recent years.
Consigned to the history books are the days of craned necks as
Young’s umpteenth cross ends up ten rows back in the Stretford End, and
the howls of derision as another corner trundles tamely into the shins
of the nearest opposition defender. Gone for good is United’s penchant
for the makeshift, the make do and mend that has epitomised our fall
from grace. No disrespect to Messrs Valencia and Young – both loyal and
long-serving – but both have become synonymous with United’s dated
Wan-Bissaka may be, in my view, £20m overpriced after
one season at this level but, still only 21, he is both our present and
our future. The second summer signing in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s new,
fresh transfer policy of recruiting the cream of young British talent,
Wan – Bissaka is well equipped to serve United for more than a decade.
When you look at it like that, and consider the fact that his fee
probably reflects the current going rate for any decent full-back, then
50 million doesn’t look so steep after all. If Juan Bissaka is worth
that much, then what’s the demand for two Wan-Bissaka’s (sorry, see what
I did there?).
Worlds apart from the moribund mob that
masqueraded as their predecessors, the prospect of Wan-Bissaka in tandem
with Diogo Dalot (one year AWB’s junior), is enough to have United fans
excited again. Regarded as two of the best young attacking full-backs
on the continent, the pair – together with Player of the Year Luke Shaw –
will ensure that United’s full-back positions are in rude health again.
There is lots to admire about Solskjaer’s Old Trafford ideology, now we
just need to crack on with getting a midfielder and a centre back or