Red Devils turn their attention to Dutch star after cooling their interest in Arnautovic
United are on the hunt for greater attacking threat with Cristiano Ronaldo’s future and role in the team uncertain. Strengthening central midfield remains a key priority, with a deal for Juventus’ Adrien Rabiot progressing and interest in Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. United’s forward line needs additional potency, though, and this is why Gakpo has become a person of interest.
What type of player is Gakpo
Cody Gakpo, 23, is a flexible forward who has played most of his football for PSV Eindhoven on the wing, generally off the left. He is unusually tall for a wide player at around 6ft 2in, leading some to wonder if he could move through the middle as he gains experience.
Given Manchester United are struggling for options in the No 9 role, Erik ten Hag may want to convert Gakpo, but that would be a major gamble. He produced 12 goals and 13 assists in the Dutch league last season, but this was the first campaign in which he reached double figures. He has yet to play 2,000 minutes in a league season and sceptics might wonder why a player with seven international caps is still in the Netherlands at 23, which is verging on a wide-forward’s prime years.
Gakpo was extremely productive last season, boasting the best minutes-per-goal-involvement ratio in the Eredivisie with a goal or an assist every 76 minutes. It should be noted that he played significantly fewer minutes than Ajax attackers Sebastien Haller and Dusan Tadic.
Gakpo can accelerate away from defenders and has the frame to hold them off once they have been beaten.
His ability to travel with the ball is an attribute that will have caught United’s eye, although as a natural right-footer many of his dribbles take him inside from the left. This comfort in central areas need not be a bad thing, and has been the reason some have considered him a potential false nine.
The Dutch connection
Ten Hag, who shares an agency with Gakpo, is not the first coach, and will not be the last, to go shopping in a familiar market. There are some worrying precedents for buying straight from the Netherlands, with the likes of Steven Bergwijn, Memphis Depay, Davy Klaassen and Vincent Janssen falling short of expectations in the Premier League.
Ten Hag wants multi-functional players who can operate in different zones across the attack. This is in Gakpo’s favour: he can play left or right but is also not lost receiving the ball with back to goal against centre-backs.
Wingers who can isolate opponents one-against-one have been a feature of the Dutch school since the early 1970s, and it is no surprise to see Ten Hag targeting this profile.
Rashford should be worried
With Ronaldo on the bench for the opening Premier League game of the season, it was telling that Marcus Rashford was not even considered a viable option for central striker.
The England forward has not played there for some time, admittedly, and was desperately short of confidence and sharpness last season, but he is still a player who has exceeded 20 goals in all competitions twice in his United career. Yet there were few calls to see him given a chance. This suggests Ten Hag sees Rashford as a left-winger, and a look at Gakpo’s touch map for PSV shows he favours similar zones of the pitch. A rangy, quick, right-footed forward who can beat players from the left and curl shots towards goal? It certainly sounds familiar, and that should concern Rashford.
A problem for United in recent seasons has been a plethora of players – Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, Rashford – who want to drift left, leaving a shortage of players who can hold up the right side of the attack.
Jadon Sancho looks certain to fill that role for now, and is currently one of the first names on the team sheet, but there is a strong case that he is also most effective from the left.
While he may be right-footed, Gakpo does not look like United’s next right-winger. That means serious competition for Rashford from a player with a comparable skill-set. (© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2022)