LONDON (AFP) – Aaron Wan-Bissaka has become the most expensive defender in Manchester United’s history after completing a deal worth up to GBP50 million from Crystal Palace last Saturday.
Despite the huge fee, the 21-year-old made just 46 senior appearances for the Eagles and has yet to be called up by England.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling and an honour to call myself a Manchester United player and something I know that only a small number of players have the privilege to say,” said Wan-Bissaka.
AFP Sport looks at why have United splashed such a huge fee to kick off a major rebuild at Old Trafford after missing out on Champions League qualification last season.
Wan-Bissaka grew up in the surroundings of Palace’s Selhurst Park before joining the club’s academy at the age of 11. However, having started out as a winger, he did not stand out.
Indeed, his talent may have gone unspotted had he not been pitted against Palace’s star player Wilfried Zaha one day in training when he impressed coaches with his ability to nullify the Ivorian.
“I can remember watching the session and thinking afterwards, ‘He did all right at right-back,’” said Kevin Keen, who was Palace’s first-team coach at the time.
“The following week I took Aaron again, and he was playing against Wilf. Wilf didn’t get past him once.”
It still took an injury crisis to clear a path for Wan-Bissaka’s development. As fourth-choice right-back just 18 months ago he sought a loan move to League Two in January 2018, but was told to stay put.
A month later, Palace’s mounting injury list gave Roy Hodgson little option but to throw in the youngster for a baptism of fire.
In his first three Premier League games, Wan-Bissaka came face-to-face with Christian Eriksen, Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and Eden Hazard and impressed as Palace lost out narrowly to Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea respectively.
Last season he established himself as one of the best full-backs in the Premier League with his pace, strength and anticipation attracting interest from a host of top clubs.
Those performances are born out by the statistics with club’s ever more reliant of data when it comes to scouting the next big talent.
Wan-Bissaka completed the third most successful tackles in the Premier League last season and the highest number of any defender. His telescopic long legs earning him the nickname “spider”.
He also made more clearances, interceptions and take-ons than any other full-back in England’s top flight last season.
The Red Devils are in need of an overhaul after finishing sixth in the Premier League last season to miss out on Champions League qualification.
A long-term replacement at right-back for club captain Antonio Valencia, who left Old Trafford at the end of last season when his contract expired, was one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s priorities in the transfer market.
“Aaron is one of the best upcoming defenders in the Premier League,” said Solskjaer.
“He has the right work ethic, talent and mentality to play for Manchester United and he fits exactly the type of player that we are looking to bring into the squad to help us improve and push on further.”
That begs the question why Wan-Bissaka has not yet broken into the England squad given Gareth Southgate’s willingness to throw young talent into the full international fold.
The competition for a place at right-back is fierce. Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier was one of the stars of last year’s World Cup, but has since been overtaken by Kyle Walker, who was a mainstay of Manchester City’s treble-winning side.
And Walker’s presence is now under threat from Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, and is even younger than Wan-Bissaka at just 20.