Tyrell Malacia looks set to become Erik ten Hag’s first signing as Manchester United manager.
The 22-year-old was seemingly en route to Lyon from boyhood club Feyenoord — after their offer consisting of €12m plus €3m in add-ons was accepted — before United swooped in at the 11th hour.
United had proposed €17m (£15.7m) which the powers that be in Rotterdam shook hands on, with Feyenoord sporting director Frank Arnesen, saying: “The agreement is there. We are now waiting for Tyrell. If he says yes, then a transfer to Manchester United is imminent.”
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Malacia enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in the season just gone, featuring in all but two of Feyenoord’s league games, scoring once and providing four assists, having cemented himself as their first-choice left-back in 2020/21. His performances across the past two years also earned Malacia an international call-up and he has, to date, picked up five caps for the Netherlands. Making his debut against Montenegro in September 2021, Malacia provided one assist as Oranje ran out 4-0 winners, and he has since added another in the sensational 2-1 win against Wales in Cardiff in June.
The 22-year-old set up Wout Weghorst for the 94th-minute winner, just moments after Wales had equalised through Rhys Norrington-Davies, with Malacia failing to block Connor Roberts in the build up. At the moment Daley Blind is Louis van Gaal’s first choice at left wing-back, but Malacia remains a candidate for that spot long-term – though there should be competition from Owen Wijndal who could be Ajax-bound
As Ajax boss, Ten Hag would have seen Malacia up close on two occasions; although Feyenoord lost both games to Ajax — 2-0 at home and 3-2 on the road — he gave a good account of himself, and Ajax’s brilliant winger Antony found a worthy adversary.
“The Malacia you see against Antony is the total package,” former Feyenoord left-back Ruud Heus said. “Antony is fast, so is Malacia. Antony is agile, so is Malacia. This is a Brazilian winger, playing in their national team, who has trouble with this Feyenoord left back. That means Malacia is a force to be reckoned with. He has everything: speed, dynamic, agile and has a very decent technique.”
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A promising star
In fact, the bigger the match, the more Malacia seems to rise to the occasion — that was evident in Feyenoord’s run to the inaugural Uefa Conference League final. So, it stands to reason that in the pressure cooker environment of the Premier League, where every weekend is as intense as a Feyenoord-Ajax game, Malacia would be consistently performing at the level he’s shown in spurts. Malacia already possesses the physical attributes that will allow him to acclimatise in the Premier League. As ex-Feyenoord coach Dick Advocaat stated, Malacia’s strength is that he can defend like a defender and play attack like a midfielder. His tenacity, and willingness to face opposition forwards head on, earned him the ‘pitbull’ nickname by De Kuip’s faithful.
Given his age, it comes as no surprise to discover who Malacia grew up idolising and basing his game on.
“Tyrell is a fan of Marcelo and (David) Alaba of Real Madrid, full-backs who can defend and attack,” Feyenoord head coach Arne Slot told reporters. “He is and has always been strong as a defender, but now you can see him make progress on the ball as well.”
Adapting to England’s high-paced football is one thing, but doing so while excelling in a possession-dominating team is another question. With Malacia in the team, Slot’s Feyenoord were able to play on and keep moving forward. And then with his speed, he can compensate any mistakes. However, it’s fair to say 90% of the sides Feyenoord faced aren’t exactly of the calibre Malacia will face in the Premier League every other week.
Any fear of a lack of regular playing time at Old Trafford is alleviated by the notion his only competition, Luke Shaw, has recently blown hot and cold plus can be injury prone (although clear first choice when in form), while there’s every chance Alex Telles could be leaving United this summer.
Diamond in the rough
Every transfer comes with a risk. Understandably, there are concerns with how this move will do for Malacia’s development. It goes without saying that moving from the Eredivisie to the Premier League is a huge leap in level for an under-23 player compared to joining a Ligue 1 club, though some have made it work. Despite being a super talent, Malacia is still a work in progress with consistency an issue though that can be said for any young footballer. Even so, there are promising signs as, one some occasions, fans watching Malacia are witnessing a technically cerebral footballer albeit on other days a clumsy full-back. There’s no question Malacia has steadily grown into a respectable left-back but there will be some who feel that he’s not yet good enough to start for a side chasing a top four finish in the Premier League or more. Malacia’s overall game will undoubtedly be tested in England.
With the ball at his feet, Malacia can be hit and miss. An eye-catching dribbler, the 22-year-old is able to pick out a pass with only Dusan Tadic (nine) and Fredrik Midtsjo (seven) completed more through balls in the Eredivise last season than Malacia’s six, but his exuberance often gets him into trouble in dangerous locations. There was one particular game against VVV Venlo in which Malacia found himself playing on the right wing at one point. When confronted by then-Feyenoord manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the youngster could only apologise before promising to focus better. Another trait is taunting opponents a bit too much, almost showing too much of the ball, to get them to bite. At times it can be too much and makes him a bit complacent, although everything he does wrong can be coached out of him. Slot believes he can be a driving player, someone who can force the issue when his side is behind, or to ignite a spark with a run or a tackle.
But Malacia is sure to improve, already showing to have a good head on his shoulders as well as surrounding himself with positive people. If not for his father, he wouldn’t be making this big switch as Malacia wanted to call it quits in his first years at Feyenoord.
“Not so much the football was a problem, it was more the discipline, the rules,” he said. “I just wanted to play football. I threatened to quit a number of times, but my dad was always able to make me see the right path. I’m grateful I never quit.”
A move to Lyon would be far more beneficial regarding maturation (as pressure to succeed there isn’t as high), but he was thrown to the wolves as a youngster at Feyenoord and survived as Van Bronckhorst reminisces.
“I remember Tyrell from the youth teams. I had seen him play and I realised he did ever so well at that young age. He was able to be tight on players who needed that, but he could also defend zonal,” the current Rangers manager recollects.
“That is hard for young players. I thought he was very complete at a young age. I remember saying to [Jean-Paul] Van Gastel: there is our future left back. When [Ridgeciano] Haps was injured for the Napoli clash in the Champions League, I had no issue playing him. Sometimes, you can’t be too fussed and just give the boy your confidence.”
Considering all of this he could very well adjust quickly in his new English surroundings and prove to be one of United’s more astute signings in their post-Ferguson era.