During the long, lonely summer without Premier League football, United are linked with dozens of potential signings to improve the squad, especially after disappointing seasons (trophy wise) such as the one we have just had. While it is not the main point of this piece of writing, I would like to make the point that, since United spent £50m on the squad after securing a record 19th title and Champions League final place, it is unlikely that Sir Alex will only spend money in acquiring Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell in the 2012 summer transfer window.
One of the names linked to United since just before the 2011/12 season ended- I believe it was Saturday May 12th when the first links appeared- is Fulham’s central midfielder Moussa Dembele, converted into the position by Martin Jol after signing for the club under Mark Hughes, who employed Dembele in a support striker role.
The reaction on Twitter amongst United fans to the potential signing of Dembele has puzzled me. Essentially, the collective response of those Twitter users who follow United can be summed up by the word “Meh”; they seem underwhelmed by the prospect of Dembele joining United. This attitude appears to show little regard for the Belgian’s qualities, and a quick look at some of his statistics for the 2011/12 campaign show that he is deserving of more respect. Last season, of all the players- in every position, not just central midfield- in the Premier League, only Yohan Cabaye (116 tackles) attempted more tackles than Dembele (113 tackles). Given the tough-tackling players playing in the Premier League- for example Alex Song, Cheik Tiote, Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure- this is an impressive statistic for a player who was consistently playing in a somewhat unfamiliar position for the first time. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Dembele, with 86 successful tackles, won more tackles than any other player in the Premier League last season.
When that facet of the debate has subsided, Dembele’s detractors then tend to state that his passing is not good enough for a central midfielder. This, another myth, is disproven by the fact that, last season, Dembele had a pass completion rate of 88.5%, impressive by any standards, especially given that the 2011/12 season was his first with central midfield as his principal position. Dembele managed an average of 1.4 key passes per game, only misplacing passes to opposition players an average of 1.1 times per game. Rather surprisingly, Dembele carried out a greater number of dribbles than the likes of Sergio Aguero and Nani last season, with an average of 2.2 dribbles per game, the third highest in the league. This appears to suggest that Dembele would bring a certain drive to United’s midfield that has arguably been lacking since Roy Keane left the club in November 2005.
I hope that, with the statistics provided above, I have been able to dispel some of the myths surrounding Moussa Dembele. Personally, I would be happy if United were to sign the powerful Belgian; yes, his goals and assists tallies for 2011/12 were low but, in my opinion, Dembele has the potential to be United’s powerful, box-to-box answer to Yaya Toure. In my opinion, it is vital that United find a powerful presence in the centre of midfield, someone who could come close to matching Toure’s power and pace; the events of April 30th were, quite frankly, embarrassing, with the United midfield dominated physically by both Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry.
Dembele’s tackling success and number of successful dribbles show that he could provide both the defensive influence to disrupt opposition attacks and the driving force to power United forward from the centre of midfield. Yaya Toure is arguably the best box-to-box central midfielder in Europe, but I believe that at United, Dembele, with his physique and skilful play, could flourish into the powerful box-to-box central midfielder that United need, able to drive the team forward and potentially come close to matching Yaya Toure’s influence at the heart of Manchester City’s team.