While Manchester United fans were busy scouring the internet for crumbs of information on Frenkie de Jong, the subject of their latest protracted transfer saga, they got a nice surprise. Contrary to the drawn-out machinations of the De Jong switch, reports emerged that United had moved swiftly and aggressively to sign Feyenoord left back Tyrell Malacia. The feted transfer gurus of the Twitter-verse had Here We Go-ed the 22-year-old to Lyon for a reported initial fee of €12 million. But the Red Devils swooped in at the last second, and the Dutchman now looks set to move to Old Trafford for an up-front cost of €15 million.
While the understandably-excited fanbase have been quick to label him as something akin to Roberto Carlos crossed with Denis Irwin with a sprinkling of Patrice Evra, few have seen him play. So who is Tyrell Malacia? What does his signing mean for his new manager, Erik ten Hag? How will his capture impact the futures of United’s other left backs? Let’s find out.
Malacia just completed his fifth season as part of the first team set-up at Feyenoord, amassing 136 appearances by the age of 22. Due to European exertions from his team reaching the final of the Europa Conference League, he played 50 club games last season. He also appeared in the Team of the Season for that competition. In terms of importance and influence, Malacia is peaking.
This increase in stature led to his first Netherlands cap last summer. Having represented the Oranje at every youth level from under-16s to under-21s, he now has five caps for the senior side. His emergence internationally as well as domestically bodes well for the huge step he must now take from the Eredivisie to the Premier League.
So Malacia is progressing, but why? What is his game about? A thoroughly modern full-back, United’s latest buy boasts impressive straight-line speed that allows him to be a factor in defence and attack. Malacia is known for fast interchanges with his winger, and is improving in terms of final-third ball deliveries. The 22-year-old notched five goal involvements in 32 league appearances, demonstrating a growing influence over games. With Ten Hag cherishing full backs who thrive in attack, this feels like a signing with his fingerprints all over it.
What could Malacia’s arrival mean for the left backs already at Old Trafford? Luke Shaw’s position looks safe, and it would be a shock if he does not start the season as first choice on the left-hand side of the defence. Injuries and conditioning have blunted his impact at times, but on his day Shaw is one of the finest full backs in the league. Alex Telles’ future looks less certain. Bought in October 2020 to provide cover for Shaw, he has never really established himself as a genuine alternative. Some nice set pieces aside, Telles lacks the guile and physicality to make it as a Premier League defender. Brandon Williams is also an option, but the 21-year-old has potential on his side and can also operate at right back. He is probably worth retaining for now, particularly with the further 29 games’ worth of experience he gained at Norwich City on loan last season.
So Malacia looks set to start the season as an understudy, but he will surely get plenty of opportunities to impress. A Premier League title win looks beyond United no matter who they sign for the remainder of this window. But there are three cups for Ten Hag to play for as he looks to crown his debut season with silverware. Expect Malacia to see action in the Europa League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup in order to give Shaw’s body the rest it needs to excel.
Hijacking a Ligue 1 side’s pursuit of a left back who will initially play second fiddle does not mark some great turning of the tide at United. But it is a statement of intent, and a hint that not every transfer the club makes this summer will be of the dramatised De Jong nature. Looking at Malacia’s experience, potential and attributes, this could end up being one of the smartest pieces of business the club does during this window.
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