Wednesday 1 February 2023

Marcel Sabitzer: An eleventh hour deal done in a day

Shortly before midday on Monday, the entire landscape of Manchester United's season shifted with confirmation of the extent of Christian Eriksen's injury.

Our Danish, string-pulling schemer has been one of the key factors behind Erik ten Hag's Reds revolution but, thanks to Andy Carroll's criminal act of thuggery, Eriksen faces a lengthy layoff. So long, there is doubt whether he will feature again this season.

The ramifications quickly began to sink in. With Scott McTominay also facing a spell out, Casemiro and Fred were United's only two fit senior midfielders. With respect to Fred, he simply cannot be expected to influence a match in the same way as Eriksen. Beyond the Brazilian pair, 17-year-old Kobbie Mainoo and Zidane Iqbal, 19, with one senior start between them, were our only other options. 

The club, as Erik ten Hag himself alluded to, had not expected to sign any more players on the final day of the window. But all that changed with the devastating blow that came with Eriksen's crippled ankle; all because of Carroll's out-of-control antics in the Cup tie. 

ten Hag did not want to risk his side's upward trajectory through a lack of numbers, so there was little option. United would have to dip into the transfer market and break with tradition by doing so at breakneck speed with a little under twelve hours to go. From the utter despair of Eriksen's heartbreaking news, came hope. Hope that, after all, we could still salvage the season with the latest of additions. But then, United are notoriously slow when it comes to this transfer malarkey, so there was always lingering doubt we'd fail to get any new signings over the line in time. 

To expect United to continue to challenge on four fronts with a game every three days with only Casemiro and McFred was, to be frank, delusion of the highest order. 

I'd like to think the club knew the extent of Eriksen's injury before going public with it and so it stands to reason they already had a few short-term targets in mind. We have long been admirers of Leicester man Youri Tielemans but the east Midlands club wanted a huge fee for the Belgian. Ryan Gravenberch of Bayern was also high on our list of targets but neither the club nor their manager Julian Nagelsmann wanted to part with the player. 

Attention turned to Marcel Sabitzer, a player well known to ten Hag and a man who also played under the Dutchman's ill-fated interim Ralf Rangnick during his time at Leipzig. Rangnick is now, of course, Sabitzer's national manager and recommended his former charge to United's powers that be back in the summer. United had been in communication over Sabitzer for a few days and, then, once the injury news broke, things really accelerated. 

United's scouting department was familiar with Austrian international Sabitzer's energetic style, pressing ability, and versatility from his seven-year stint at the Red Bull side - a side renowned for their intensity.

United may not have spent any money but reacted quickly in the transfer market when bringing in loan striker Wout Weghorst as cover for the injury-prone Anthony Martial. With the addition of Sabitzer, United's swiftness and sure-footedness is another indication the club is heading in the right direction. 

From reports first emerging shortly after lunch, to representatives of United and the player meeting in Munich to discuss terms two hours later, United's late swoop for Sabitzer moved at head-spinning speed. 

By 6pm UK time, Sabitzer was on a private plane from Munich en route to Manchester where he was driven to the training ground. There, the player underwent the formalities such as his photoshoot, medical and finalising the paperwork. A deal sheet was lodged to give the club an extra hour to wrap up the formalities before the deadline at 11pm. At ten minutes past midnight on Wednesday morning, a short statement on the club's website confirmed the arrival of Sabitzer on loan until June. There's no option to buy but the 28-year-old spoke of his clear pride in coming to the club despite the unexpected nature of the deal. 

His pedigree and 'big club' clout is impressive: a stable and skilful short-term solution, a league and cup winner at RB Salzburg and Bundesliga champion with Bayern having played at two major tournaments for Austria. 

With Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka holding the status quo in midfield for the perennial Bundesliga champions and Nagelsmann willing to let one of his squad players go, a move for Sabitzer made sense. Too much sense for Manchester United and a fanbase used to a club scrimping over every last penny. 

But the club acted decisively and with alacrity, trading players efficiently and as smoothly as Brad Pitt's Billy Beane in the film Moneyball. 

With an authoritative, decisive manager, a proper football director with his feet now firmly under the table, and a chief executive content with background duties, United, at last, resemble a fully functioning, professional football club.

Welcome to Manchester United, Marcel Sabitzer. 

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