During the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United became synonymous with an eye-catching, attacking brand of football which saw them win many trophies both domestically, and in Europe. In other words, they had developed an identity, one which origins were tied to the days of the Busby Babes. It’s an identity entrenched deep in the minds of most United fans. When people think of Manchester United, they think of very specific attributes which set this identity apart from the test. Perhaps the attribute that best encapsulates United’s identity is width.
Manchester United, especially under Ferguson , became feared because of their wingers, with players like Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo becoming well known for being direct runners who terrorise defences with their pace and trickery. What set them apart from the rest was their ability to stretch the game, which is something which is clearly lacking in United’s current squad. At present, and really since Ferguson retired, United have lacked this width which makes up such a key component of Manchester United’s identity. However, with the transfer window being open and United willing to throw down the cash, that could finally be about to change. Enter Ivan Perisic.
Ivan Perisic has been linked with a move to Manchester United since early April, when Jose Mourinho was spotted watching Perisic’s Croatian National Team in person. Since that moment, speculation of a potential transfer has only intensified and in recent weeks United have had a handful of bids rejected, with Inter Milan holding out for their asking price of £48 million. United tried to use Inter’s Financial Fair Play situation as leverage, with the Milanese club needing to raise €26 million before the end of June. This approach while clever, didn’t pay off as Inter raised the amount required. This didn’t deter United however and negations continued. In recent days Inter have even been ambitious enough to request Anthony Martial on loan as part of the deal. However, as close as the transfer has seemed, the one constant remains. At the time of writing, United still haven’t reached an agreement over the fee with the Milan side. If the difference in fee as reported really is £3-4 million, then why are United so reluctant to pay it? The answer to this question remains to be seen. The latest is that Perisic has flown with the Inter squad to China for preseason as the wait goes on for an agreement to be reached. As it stands the transfer still seems likely to go ahead as United have been persistent in their approach thus far.
Ivan Perisic is clearly a primary target for Mourinho as United have still not given up on signing him and pursued other options. But why is Mourinho so keen to obtain the services of the Croatian? To answer this question we must first analyse the options Mourinho currently has at his disposal. Last season, Jose rotated his wide options very often with the likes of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all sharing the two wider roles on offer. Whilst these players are great options to have, none of them are actually what would be recognised as a winger in a traditional sense. In the role of left winger, Martial and Rashford are essentially strikers playing wide who like to cut inside to present themselves with scoring opportunities. Lingard is by no means a winger either, offering more work off the ball, whilst Mkhitaryan and Mata are both playmakers who like to come centrally to get the ball and create chances rather than stretch the play. Perisic in many respects is an archetypal Manchester United winger who could provide the width and adept crossing ability the squad lacks.
Ivan Perisic offers something entirely different to these mentioned players, as someone who is more than capable of taking the ball wide right to the byline and whipping the ball into the penalty area. Bringing in someone who can cross could quitely be United’s best signing this season , all due to the signing of striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian scorers a high proportion of his goals from crosses which makes Perisic even more attractive as an option.
As well as getting to the byline, Perisic is also very effective at cutting inside and shooting and he also likes to attempt long range passes to switch the play. It is these exact attributes that make Perisic so appealing to Mourinho.
Much has been said on social media about Perisic being a “work-horse”, which he undoubtedly is, but that isn’t the reason Mourinho is so insistent on his purchase as claimed. Perisic is much better technically than people give him credit for, being a completely two footed player, a rarity even in the modern game. This allows him to be able to play very effectively on the left, on the right and as a second striker. Being just over 6 foot, he is also tall and strong, so the physicality side of his game shouldn’t be an issue should he make the move the Premier League.Even more notably, Perisic is rapid and could be a serious threat for United on the counter-attack, a huge pull for Mourinho who almost always approaches big games to do just that.
Ivan Perisic managed 11 goals and 8 assists during last season, creating more than 60 chances along the way. Output of goals and assists from out wide is another reason why adding Perisic to the squad makes so much sense for United, with the likes of Martial and Mkhitaryan in particular disappointing in this regard in the League last season.
There are some fair concerns about Perisic however, the blatant one being the steep price tag of £48 million being widely regarded as being overpriced, even in the current market especially considering Ivan is 28 years of age. There is the hope that with such a level of investment, United could pursue a bigger fish, such as Alexis Sanchez but Mourinho clearly sees something very specific in Perisic that he has pursued him to such an extent. Whilst offering plenty of experience at both club and international level, there is a sense that Ivan isn’t a world class player or has never truly been a dominant force in a league before. There also appears to be panic amongst fans that the arrival of Perisic may see the end or at the very least the benching of Anthony Martial, which is quite hyperbolic given the amount of games United will have to play next season. Speaking to Perisic’s specific qualities, he is a high volume player who achieves high numbers in both crosses and shots and has been known to be at times lacking consistency in performances.
Ivan Perisic may not be world class but he brings a very specific need. He is a very quick and highly functional footballer and a team-player who has all the physical and technical qualities to succeed in the Premier League. His crossing ability may just be the key to unlocking a lethal Romelu Lukaku next season and his role in providing defensive graft as well as being able to provide natural width in attack is something United have been crying out for since Sir Alex retired. Age, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic would remind you, is but a number and Perisic is still very much in his prime as a footballer at 28. He may only have a few years left at the top level, but as of right now he is ready made. He is a traditional winger and a traditional United one at that. United fans over the years have been most excited by flying wingers who get them off their seat by beating players and taking the ball to the byline. This is a strong factor in the formation of this great club’s identity and a player like Ivan Perisic could reignite the nostalgic flame and remind us all what it means to have a true winger once again. Ed Woodward, it’s time to get the cheque-book out.