It was very evident that Manchester United needed defensive reinforcements after the last season where the club conceded 57 times to end up with a goal difference of 0.
Erik ten Hag was brought in to change United’s fortunes and he went about recruiting left-footed defenders as he felt his new club lacked variation with most players having similar profiles.
Harry Maguire was mainly deployed as the left-sided centre back in previous regimes but his overall lack of pace and an alarming drop in form meant a new defender was required while Luke Shaw‘s stop-start career did not impress the Dutch boss.
And Ten Hag promptly secured Tyrell Malacia‘s signature from Feyenoord and he has since usurped Shaw from the left-back spot.
Lisandro Martinez‘s capture from Ajax was a protracted affair but in the end, the Red Devils did secure his signature and the Argentine has firmly entrenched himself in the hearts of United supporters with his all-action displays.
Akanji sets the record straight
One defender who United could have pursued in the summer was Manuel Akanji, a self-confessed United fan. He had even mentioned in the past that he would love to make the move to Old Trafford.
However, it was cross-town rivals Manchester City who ended up signing the Swiss international for a reported €18 million fee, much lower than his market value.
Upon completing the move, the former Borussia Dortmund defender was invariably asked to clarify his past comments about him being a United fan.
Manuel Akanji: “[I am looking forward] to the Manchester derby [the most]. Beating Man United in your own city would be great.” [via @Blick_Sport]
— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) September 12, 2022
Akanji’s response as quoted by Blick was, “I gave this interview shortly after moving to Dortmund. I said that I was a Manchester United fan growing up – but that when you reach a certain level as a player yourself, you are no longer a fan yourself.
“Because then you play against such clubs, you don’t support this club like you did in your childhood. And then the second part was a misunderstanding.”
Regarding the misunderstanding bit, the 27-year-old further clarified, “In this context, I was also asked what my goal was. I said I would eventually play for the best club in the world.
“From this it was concluded that I consider Manchester United to be the best club in the world and that I really wanted to play for Manchester United one day, which I never said.”
Derby challenge up next
Often times, modern footballers end up competing against their favourite team from their childhood and Akanji was no different. Back when he was an FC Basel player, he had the chance to face-off against the 20-time English champions.
And matches like that was what ultimately changed the City defender’s outlook towards football.
“I played in the Champions League against Manchester United and that is when the idols became rivals. I got to a point where I stopped being a fan and wanted to do my own job well enough to beat teams like Manchester United.”
Interestingly, due to postponed fixtures following the Queen’s death, Ten Hag’s men will be facing their biggest test of the season as Premier League action is set to resume with the explosive Manchester derby.
“The game I’m looking forward to the most is the Manchester derby. To be able to beat United in our home city would be amazing.”
And Akanji will be desperate to prove his point in that contest.
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