Friday 24 November 2017

United's €35m new boy Lindelof taking metoric rise in stride

Victor Lindelof at Manchester United’s training centre to complete his €35m deal. Photo: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
Victor Lindelof at Manchester United’s training centre to complete his €35m deal. Photo: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images

Ed Malyon

There has rarely been any suggestion of Victor Lindelöf letting his meteoric rise to international renown go to his head, but even if he had done so on the eve of his move to Manchester United, he was keeping it well hidden in the basement of the Friends Arena after Sweden's dramatic win over France on Friday night.

Lindelöf, whose €35m move from Benfica to United on a four-year deal was confirmed yesterday, had just starred in a gritty, determined team display by Janne Andersson's team, confirming their evolution into a force to be reckoned with in the World Cup qualifiers.

Lindelöf exited the changing-rooms in the guise of reluctant hero, a bashful smile peeking from below the hood pulled low over his face, looking even more green than his 22 years would suggest. A couple of journalists keeping an eye out for United's imminent signing missed him completely, in fact, so unassuming was his manner.

This is the man that was nicknamed 'Iceman' at Benfica; the crazier that things around Lindelöf have become, the more his sang froid has shone through in stark contrast. After his initial breakthrough into the Benfica first-team, less than 18 months ago, a row developed between the Lisbon giants and his hometown club Vasteras SK (who sold him to As Águias for €60,000 in 2012) over bonus payments and sell-on cash.

Resolve

It took the best part of a year to resolve - the third-tier side will now become one of Sweden's richest as they stand to bank €4.1m of the initial €35m that United will pay - but the unseemliness of it all never affected Lindelöf.

As soon as the Liga season was done, he prefaced international duty by returning straight home, happily posing with starstruck local children for photos and autographs and visiting his former club.

He is worshipped in Sweden not just for his rapid development on the field, but in his continuing humility off it. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will always be a cherished figure for the nation, but Lindelöf (who has Zlatan's emphatic seal of approval, by the way) is one of the chief standard bearers for a new, very different generation.

Together with RB Leipzig's Emil Forsberg, Lindelöf brings a new image to this Sweden team. True, Andersson's side still tick all the requisite boxes in terms of industry and athleticism, but there's more of a cultured edge to them, and it starts with their young centre-back.

He has all the strength and speed that you would hope for from a defender with ambitions to become the cornerstone of a Premier League giant, but he has a rare poise as well.

Lindelöf is immaculate in his distribution, rarely giving the ball away - he completed 88pc of his passes in 40 games across Liga and Champions League last season - and has the sort of expansive vision that fires hope he might be the eventual successor to Rio Ferdinand's throne at the heart of United's defence.

He struck home a direct free-kick in the derby at Sporting Lisbon in April to take Benfica to the brink of the title.

Much of this fluency comes from his time spent playing a right-back. He was a fixture there in Sweden's European U-21 Championship victory in 2015, smashing in the fifth penalty in the shootout against Portugal in the final.

When he returned to Lisbon, he must have expected to finally step up to the first team, with first-choice right-back Maxi Pereira making a controversial switch to bitter rivals Porto.

But new coach Rui Vitória overlooked him and by the winter window, it looked as if - like Bernardo Silva before him - he would exit Benfica with just a single senior appearance under his belt, having played 25 minutes in a dead rubber in May 2014.

In January 2015, he was all set for a loan move to second-tier Middlesbrough, with a €3m purchase option included, when a Benfica injury crisis saw him pressed into service as an emergency centre-back.

Lindelöf has never looked back, playing as if he's been there for a lifetime as Benfica marched to third and fourth successive titles, while also performing laudably in the Champions League.

A frantic Benfica rushed to sign him to an improved contract as his initial €30m buyout clause started to look inadequate, and now it seems like United got off fairly lightly by paying what they have.

None of this has affected Lindelöf in the slightest, of course. That sense of calm will stand him in good stead as his career changes dimension again. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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