Scorn and venom have been poured over the performances of Manchester United defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The former Crystal Palace defender is certainly enduring the most testing, unpleasant and dumbfounding period ever since his £50million move from Selhurst Park in 2019.
Roy Keane has regularly derided the 23-year-old’s performances throughout the campaign, often following up justified criticism with overly simplistic taunts of him “not being good enough”. The former United captain may do well to remember a time when Wan-Bissaka was not only deemed good enough for the Red Devils, but he was often regarded as the ‘best one-on-one defender as a full-back in the world’.
Those were the bold words of former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, after the United right-back silenced the contributions of Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling in a way most defenders would not be able to dream off. But how have things gone so wrong for Wan-Bissaka, whose performances have crumpled along with his confidence?
“In that position I think any other full-back in Europe Raheem is away because of his pace but even when you actually get past Wan-Bissaka look at his legs coming from nowhere,” Carragher said about Wan-Bissaka in 2020. “I actually think Wan-Bissaka is the best one-on-one defender as a full-back in the world. I don’t think anyone would get the better of him.”
Very few questioned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ’s decision to bring Wan-Bissaka to Old Trafford. He enjoyed an outstanding campaign for Crystal Palace, locking down his right flank with old fashioned, no nonsense defending which would have likely seen him emerge on Sven Goran Eriksson’s England radar.
While Wan-Bissaka has regularly found himself in an unpleasant defender’s no man’s land this season, a situation where the player neither holds his position to protect the space in behind or presses the opponent to win the ball back, the United full-back was an expert in using the bi-lines to shepherd the ball and the opponent out of play.
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Except, Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick have tried to turn him into an attacking full back whose contributions in the forward areas are as much as those in his own half. It’s a plan which has seen a defensive phenomenon turn into a so called ‘modern full-back’ who is regularly confused, out of position, and most damningly, out of confidence.
Wan-Bissaka’s performances under the strong and stable leadership of Roy Hodgson were hardly enigmatic. Refreshingly, he performed his most important defensive duties perfectly and took pride in doing the simple, but important things, to a tee.
But two managers at Old Trafford have tried to turn him into something he isn’t and now many loyal to the red side of Manchester want to show him the door. Wan-Bissaka does not strike the outsiders looking in as a particularly arrogant or disruptive individual, who ignores coaches and does his own thing – he may have even enjoyed a better season had he done so.
But the next United manager, if they choose to give Wan-Bissaka another opportunity, will extract more quality and solidity out of the 23-year-old if they allow him to go back to what he knows and does best – shutting out attackers and blockading United’s right flank.