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Man Utd & Donny van de Beek: Why Ole may've found his Bryan Robson

COMMENT: It's another throwback. This midfield search of Manchester United. Of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It's another plucked right out of the Fergie playbook...

Solskjaer found his Steve Bruce. It took record money. But United's manager did eventually burn off all competition to prise Harry Maguire away from Leicester City. But it's proved money well spent. In just months, Maguire fulfilling what Solskjaer had been banking on - and was rewarded with the club captaincy.

Now the search is on for one further afield. The 2020 version of a Roy Keane or Paul Ince. Both former teammates of Solskjaer's. Better yet, one to compare with a player the lad in Kristiansund would grow up admiring from afar: a modern day Bryan Robson.

Solskjaer doesn't want a 'sitter'. Nor a 'buzzer'. His idea of a midfielder is in the same vein as he had for Maguire and the archetype pre-2000 centre-half. It's a throwback. A player as good defending as he is attacking. One who'll win a 40-60 challenge in one moment and get up the pitch and power home a header in another. A young Keane would do that. As did Ince. And Robson carried the club on his shoulders for years doing the same.

It's why Solskjaer pushed so hard for Sean Longstaff, Newcastle United's young midfield tyro, last summer. He's still raw. It was to be a gamble. But what attracted Solskjaer was Longstaff's running stats. The 22 year-old covered as much ground last season as any player in the country.

This is the ideal model for what Solskjaer wants in his midfielders. Pure box-to-box. It's what has been at the heart of those talks and adjusted training sessions between Nemanja Matic and his manager. The Serb, even at 32, taking on-board Solskjaer's demands to reinvent his game from sitting in the defensive two thirds of the pitch, to pushing more and more into that final attacking third. It was that willingness of Matic to re-adjust late in his career that won him a recent new contract.

For Matic, you can also say the same for Scott McTominay. From his first days working with the Scotland international, Solskjaer was never short of saying there was more to his game. He wasn't a destroyer. A man-marker. "He can get the ball down", "we can make use of his passing", said the manager last season, "we need to encourage that". From there, Solskjaer would push McTominay to get himself further forward, a demand the player would acknowledge earlier this season: "It's always been part of my game, scoring goals from midfield and obviously making the box late and scoring from outside the box as well".

And this is what Solskjaer is now seeking in his next signing. Not a defensive deep-lying midfielder. Nor a goalscoring attacker. He wants both - and in the one player.

Which is why United's Champions League winner, Edwin van der Sar, in his role as Ajax's chief exec, was announcing his old club's interest in Donny van de Beek last week.

"It's clear that clubs like Real Madrid and United are showing interest in Donny van de Beek," declared Van der Sar ahead of news that Real Madrid, with Zinedine Zidane's cynicism persisting, had gone cold on the 23 year-old.

Real had had a €55m offer for Van de Beek accepted by Ajax in January, only for their coach to block the deal. Zidane likes Van de Beek, but the emergence of Fede Valverde had the Frenchman claiming overkill to his directors. His opinion hasn't changed.

In the England, many scribes are doing Van de Beek an injustice, describing him as an 'attacking midfielder'. But he's more than that. Much more. And you don't need to take our word for it.

Bryan Roy, the former Ajax and Nottingham Forest winger, coached Van de Beek as a youth teamer. He says: "Physically, van de Beek has always been devastating, as even from a young age he knew how to attack and defend. He was very shy, but strong on the field.

“He is a total player and specialises in pushing forward from midfield."

Former Holland striker Rene van der Gijp, who has seen Van de Beek develop over the years as a local pundit, says the Ajax man would be ideal for the gegenpressing of Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool.

"Donny van de Beek would be a perfect player for this Liverpool," states Van der Gijp. "Jürgen Klopp needs a midfielder with a lot of running power, who never fails and also has scoring power.

"Van de Beek, with his way of playing, is a player for Klopp. He probably does not like types like James Rodríguez."

Ronald de Boer, now an academy coach at Ajax, followed Van der Sar's comments about United and Van de Beek with further confirmation from inside the club. There's now an expectation that United will come in for their No6.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has indicated that he wants to go in a new direction," declared De Boer, "and wants players who are humble, as they say: love for the club, a team player. I think he's had enough of the Paul Pogba's out there. He wants players like Donny van de Beek."

Physically "devastating". Boasting "scoring power". "With a "humble" character that puts the club first. Van de Beek reads like a player Sir Alex Ferguson would be proud to sign.

United and Solskjaer may've just found their next throwback signing.


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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