Victor Lindelöf’s Rise Has Been Good News For Manchester United7 min read
José Mourinho knows the Portuguese market like the back of his hand. Along with his agent, Jorge Mendes, who represents former Primeira Liga players such as Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez, the two Portugal natives have an excellent understanding of the market and the players rising through the ranks who should be of interest to them.
In January of 2017, with the transfer window in full swing, Manchester United were linked with Benfica’s 22-year-old central defender, Victor Lindelöf. The Sweden international had already made his national team debut the year before, as well as featuring in the European Championship in France, and was beginning to build a reputation of playing beyond his years.
Nicknamed ‘iceman’ by Benfica fans, it was clear to see why. Lindelöf oozed confidence for a young buck plying his trade in Portugal and away from his comfort zone of Sweden. It takes a big leap for any 17-year-old to move countries, learn a new language and attempt to adjust to a completely different way of playing the game, but Lindelöf went through with it from his move from Västerås
SK to join Benfica’s youth ranks which would see him rise up the ladder incredibly quickly.
The Sweden international made his debut for Benfica two years later, in 2013, in the Portuguese Cup, playing the full 90 minutes in defensive midfield – he had already been used out of position for the reserves side the previous year as a right back. Lindelöf ended the 2013/14 season with 25 minutes in Portugal’s first division, playing at right back against FC Porto, which was quite the accomplishment given he was still only 19 years of age.
It was a slow burn for the Swede as he was plying his trade for Benfica’s reserve team for the following season, rarely getting a sniff of the action in the first-team. However, after his consistent minutes throughout the 2015/16 campaign, Lindelöf was well on his way to achieving his regular starting spot alongside Brazilian centre back Luisão.
The two would go on to form a formidable relationship in the heart of Benfica’s defence, with the Brazilian often forgetting that his partner was not a player in his 30s. Such was Lindelöf’s composure when put under pressure, scouts across Europe begun to quickly notice that he was different to most his age: he was beginning to make a real name for himself.
When Manchester United came calling midway through the 2016/17 season, Benfica refused to entertain discussions regarding the sale of their starlet. The Portugal giants were solely focussed on trying to retain the Primeira Liga after winning it the year before. Any notion of a sale in January could have derailed them magnificently and allowed their closest challengers in Porto and Sporting to gain the upper hand.
So the Red Devils waited. And on June 10, 2017, Manchester United announced that they had struck a deal with Benfica, and his former club Västerås SK, to take the player to Old Trafford. Mourinho’s side desperately needed central defenders and they had now acquired one who could fulfil the requirement of the manager’s wish to build from the back.
It took the Sweden international until late September to finally start a Premier League match, in which he was hooked after 67 minutes by Mourinho. Of course, as Lindelöf had discovered when first going to Portugal from Sweden, adaption takes time and the jump to the Premier League would only be greater than the leaps he has made previously in his career.
With inconsistent game time throughout the season and Mourinho making it very public that he had expected more, Lindelöf’s first season showed small glimpses of hope, but not enough substance to appease the United fans. The club’s recruitment cell had been under considerable criticism since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, and this new central defender brought in to tighten up the defence was appearing, at times, like Bambi on ice.
It always seemed strange that Mourinho bought Lindelöf as a marauding centre back that launches from defence into attack, but then instructed him to do the opposite. Under Mourinho’s reign, all players would remain in their set positions with very limited variations. The system came first and that is what the players had to stick with. Lindelöf is a creative defender and has the ball-playing ability to carve open midfields in order to release his forward runners, but it was seldom seen under the former Chelsea manager.
That is why when Mourinho was relieved of his duties and caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær arrived, a weight had been lifted from Lindelöf’s shoulders. His spirits were up and with Manchester United conducting attacking football once more, the Sweden international has been one of the club’s best performers, showing fans exactly what he is capable of.
Victor Lindelof or Nemanja Vidic?
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) January 14, 2019
What the Red Devils now have to do is to sign an experienced central defender – such as Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly – to partner Lindelöf in their back line. As well as the veteran Luisão at Benfica, the Swede played exceptionally well in the World Cup alongside 33-year-old Andreas Granqvist, suggesting that he needs an anchor next to him in order to get the most out of a defensive partnership.
There is still plenty to come from Lindelöf as he grows into the excellent player he has the potential to become, but Manchester United fans will be delighted with the growth they have seen from him this season. Best of all, Lindelöf is only just getting started.