By Pratyush Anand
The period where teams either go full throttle with due diligence and planning or go full throttle with nitro boosters without any succession plan has finally arrived. Manchester United have been on the latter side for quite a few years, but for once, there is a feeling that even a rigid institution like them is trying to be more flexible in its approach towards the transfer market.
Erik ten Hag has officially taken over the reins with his first ever training session at the club in June. The current squad is far from the ideal Ten Hag team, with some massive gaping holes that need to be fixed, especially in the areas where his playing XI likes to build up the game.
The fullback department is one such place, Ten Hag or not, where the club needed a massive investment (and the right kind of investment). One player that the club is actively pursuing is Tyrell Malacia of Feyenoord.
Born and brought up in Rotterdam, Tyrell joined the famed Varkenoord academy of his boyhood club Feyenoord in 2008 as a 9-year-old kid with the ambitions of making it big with his hometown club. He rose through the academy over the years, eventually signing his first ever professional contract with the club in 2015. Tyrell was impressed in his short stay at Jong Feyenoord, the reserves side of Feyenoord, getting promoted to the senior side at the start of the 2017-18 season. He made his debut in the Champions League in a famous 2-1 victory against Napoli, where he played for the full 90 minutes. A week later, he made his Eredivisie debut in a 1-1 draw against SC Heerenveen.
Malacia has enjoyed moderate success with his hometown club, winning the KNVB Cup in his first ever season as a senior player. He also won the Johan Cryuff Schaal (the Dutch version of Community Shield: league winners vs domestic cup winners). But his best season came under Arne Slot, who took a Feyenoord side to the finals of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League, eventually bowing down to the AS Roma side led by Jose Mourinho. But this younger Feyenoord side went down fighting till the very end.
For a fullback, being athletic and having brilliant stamina is a plus with the game continuously evolving. You can’t be just ‘failed centre backs’ and let the winger ahead of you do his thing. Modern football requires the fullbacks to be muddled on the entire flank, right from the start till the end.
The stamina and athleticism were present right from the start for a young player like Malacia, making his transition to the senior side very easy. This athleticism feeds into his defensive strengths with a brilliant recovery pace and an understanding of the game, making him a menace in one vs one situations. When you have the combination of not just the brute strength but the brains and the mental condition to make these skills work, you have a brilliant fullback on your hands.
Malacia has good anticipation skills but often gets caught out of position during transitions. He will avoid the opposition’s wingers getting into their preferred areas of the pitch pro-actively but can lack, making it a concentration issue and can be improved with experience. (2.jpeg below this paragraph)
In terms of attacking game, he has that burst of pace and acceleration to beat his man. The youngster has exceptional control over the ball to make dribbles down that left flank. His athletic build and dominance over the ball make him a brilliant ball carrier rather than a dribbler. He likes to stay wide and use the width of the pitch, sitting deep into the opposition half to receive the ball wide, allowing the winger on the same flank to keep the fullback of the opposition busy and narrow.
Malacia uses this created space to exploit to gain an advantage. The crossing is one of his good facets of the game. With a competent pair of wingers and a striker with a brilliant off-the-ball movement, Malacia’s deliveries into the box can yield him a lot of assists.
Malacia was lacking with progressive passing, but the past season has seen him improve a lot, but now it is down to the coaching under Arne Slot. Malacia, at times, used either under-hit a pass or over-complicate a simple pass when bombing forward. But this season has seen him fix this glaring issue in his game and take a U-turn in the possession phase of the game.
There was also a reason for this part of his game is underdeveloped. Malacia made his debut under Giovanni van Bronckhorst, but his stay was short when he jumped onto the scene. After that, he had Jaap Stam to Dick Advocaat, who didn’t emphasise a lot on the possession phase of the game, to the introduction of Arne Slot on the sidelines. It is not just Tyrell Malacia who has seen a massive improvement in his overall game. His teammate Lutsharel Geertruida has also improved his overall gameplay.
If we compare Malacia’s expected threat with fullbacks from the top 7 leagues, he doesn’t look bad. While league differences play a part, Malacia still looks good in the top-right quadrant of the above visualisation, being strong at creating threats both from carries and passes. Within the Under-24 age bracket, keeping aside the two ground-breaking wonder kids, Alexander-Arnold and Alphonse Davies, Malacia looks the next best. All indications are that he will become a well-balanced fullback who offers an exceptional attacking threat at his peak for a top team.
One facet of his game which requires attention is the positions where he should receive the ball. Malacia has always stayed wide and received the ball deep into the opposition’s final third. But for Oranje and bigger teams where he will need to see more of the ball, he will need to learn when to invert in-field while receiving the pass. Some improvement was made in this aspect under Arne Slot last season, but there is still some way to go.
A brilliant 2021-22 campaign has seen him win plaudits from his critics and has attracted the attention of teams from abroad. Lyon was already in agreement with Feyenoord for a transfer worth 15 million euros, but Manchester United hijacked the deal by offering a better transfer fee to Feyenoord. Malacia is himself in a similar situation to his Oranje teammate Jurrien Timber. Both players are rated higher by Louis van Gaal and are preferred in their respective roles.
At Manchester United, there will be a fight for a place with Luke Shaw being a senior player and Brandon Williams and Alex Telles also present at the club. Malacia’s skillset is scalable to both Lyon and Manchester United. But the settling period at the English club will be higher, given the jump from Eredivisie to Premier League is more challenging than the jump from Eredivisie to Ligue 1.
Malacia is a player who can usurp the place of long-serving Luke Shaw in 2-3 years by the higher-ups at Manchester United, with Erik ten Hag also a big fan of the player. The transfer is almost done and an official announcement from the English club’s side is imminent in Tyrell Malacia. Manchester United has secured a favourable full-back who has the potential to become a well-rounded, consistent player down the line.
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