The transfer market dominates discussion in pubs, offices and playgrounds across the country, despite the fact that football fans know so little about what goes on in this murky realm. For every transfer that is completed, there are a hundred that almost happened but not quite. Transfers require a tenuous agreement between the buying club, selling club and player, and if there is a snag anywhere in this sequence the move can fall flat on its face.
This morning, reports emerged that Sadio Mane received an offer from Manchester United before deciding on a move to Liverpool in a deal worth £36 million. Instead, United pressed ahead with their pursuit of Borussia Dortmund playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Their chase was successful, which begs the question of which North West behemoth got the best deal.
So, merely comparing transfer fees does not get you very far. Far more informative is to compare the two players in question; not only in respect of their individual quality but whether they are a ‘good fit’ at their new employers.
It is not too controversial to suggest that Mkhitaryan more multi-dimensional than Mane, and his career to date is superior to that of the former Southampton man. The Armenian racked up 15 Bundesliga goals and 11 assists last term. That was the first Bundesliga season in which he had reached double figures, with his critics claiming that he lacked a clinical edge.
Mkhitaryan is an agile dribbler, capable of taking opponents out of the game both through incisive passing and direct ball-carrying; which borders on that dreadful cliché of a ‘typical Manchester United’ player. Mourinho’s Chelsea (first time around) rarely carried this type of player, preferring to attack through two traditional wingers such as Arjen Robben and Damien Duff, backed up by a solid three-man central midfield.
However, during the Portuguese’s second spell at Chelsea, he demonstrated that he could accommodate creative forces in his team, opting for a triumvirate of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian behind Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas in central midfield. Mesut Özil flourished under him at Real Madrid, so Mourinho can work with players of Mkhitaryan’s ilk.
As for Mane, the Senegalese attacker enjoyed two consistent seasons at Southampton, scoring 21 Premier League goals in his time on the south coast. Mane played anywhere in the three behind the centre forward in Ronald Koeman’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.
His main asset is his speed, but he has proved himself to be more than just another streaky winger – there is genuine end product and he has even played in the No. 10 role with great aplomb. Klopp’s team are very offensive but not obsessed with excessive possession. He is on record as saying that the counter-attack is his most creative player.
Klopp’s philosophy is based upon having players who can sprint to pressurise opponents and then have the pace to exploit the space they leave when the ball is turned over. Mane seems well suited to this.
In terms of individual quality, Manchester United have themselves a more rounded footballer in the form of Mkhitaryan and a player ready to make an instant impact next season, but this does not diminish the fact that Mane could well fit perfectly into Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.
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