Monday, 20 February 2012

A top summer transfer target and where he could fit in at United

By Jonas Giæver

If I mentioned Nicolás Gaitán to the average United fan last season, I would've recieved a puzzled look, and perhaps a snarky grin. Now he seems to be on everyone's lips as this mysterious enigma that may be heading to Old Trafford come the summer. Perhaps not the highest of profiles, Gaitán is still regarded as one of the true diamonds in the rough world of football.

I remember watching Gaitán as he was part of a frontline that included the likes of Juan Román Riquelme and Martin Palermo at Boca Juniors. A speedy, devious little trickster, unafraid of trying to beat his man. He did seem a bit frail in terms of stature, and his understanding of the game was not as developed. To me, he seemed way too direct, and way too adament to stick to his guns. Not to mention, he was a lefty who lacked a right leg to spare. Much like in my assesment of Angel di María coming through at Rosario earlier, I was to be proven wrong.

When Di María was sold to Real Madrid, Benfica brought in «El Zurdo» (The Lefty) to replace him on their left flank. I saw this as selling a Ferrari and buying a Hummer. Not as much flash, not as much speed, but a more powerful, and perhaps hard-working and grunty style. Gaitán proved last season that the step up was nothing to worry about. He shined in a Benfica side that had sold vital players such as Ramires and Di María, and was to sell David Luiz mid-season as well.

Gaitán is a player whos position is not really defined, and there are some worries as to what position fits him the best. At Boca Juniors he was compared to Riquelme due to his playmaking skills, and his abillity to pick out passes and thread balls through defences. At Benfica he's become more of a winger who enjoys to drift inwards with the ball, and often switches flanks throughout the match to keep his defender guessing. In many ways he's a David Silva type. Silva also started out as a winger, and drifted inwards the pitch and now has an undefined role between midfield and attack. Left flank or right flank is no difference, he will keep his defender guessing by swinging in beautiful crosses, find his back on the overlap, go inwards, or play a one-two. He's not one to hold on the play, which has been the Achilles heel of a player such as Antonio Valencia when not in form.

If United decide to sign him, it could prove to be the marquee signing in attack this summer and we will probably see the end of Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov. I imagine him being touted as a possible player to have in between attack and midfield, the same position that Rooney plays. That will free Rooney up, and make him another alternative in terms of who spearheads our attack. The role of striker is Rooney's primary position, as we all remember from the 2009/2010-season when he was absolutely unstoppable in front of goal. A possible signing of Gaitán may prove to be just what United need in attack, both in flair and creativity, as well as efficiency (not taking anything away from Hernández and Welbeck).

Gaitán is a tricky little handful, not afraid of tracking back. His big downside is that he's not consistent enough for my liking. He loses his touch, runs cold and disappears. He's a player that needs to be involved in order for him to maintain his form. Lat week we saw what happened when Zenit locked him off. He ran cold, was not as good on the ball, and struggled to make an impact on the game. To be fair, the pitch did not help him either. It's stll one of the things that he needs to work on. Gaitán is not a high profile player, and he won't make any of your «top 10 lists» any time soon, but his dedication, and sheer hunger to succeed is something that can't be ranked in any list.

Jonas is a Latin American football buff living in Norway. He writes for various outlets and is a lifelong Manchester United fan.

Please leave any comments or questions for Jonas on Gaitán below.


  1. Top article. It's quite refreshing to read a bit about Gaitan's Boca career at last. Do you not think he and Rooney can co-exist in a United line-up with a striker up front? Let's say, Rooney in the middle, double-pivot behind him, Nani and Gaitan on either sides and a striker up front?
    It's just that I'm still not sure Rooney's a lone-striker material. And since United rarely use two defensive minded players as double-pivot like Dortmund, the player in the middle should be equipped with a certain level of defensive application, which I don't think Gaitan has at the moment.

    1. Hey there! Very glad you liked the article!

      I believe they could exist as long as Rooney moves wide when Gaitán drifts inwards. They need to have that type of understanding, which is obviously developed over time. If you have a quick look at City and Barca, you see that their offensive players, besides the striker, have very undefined positions, meaning that they keep defenders guessing more than they'd like. Gaitán can play as an out-and-out winger as well, but he's not as good as he is when giving more range, I believe.
      Great point you make there! Gaitán is not as good as Rooney on the defensive (then again, what offensive player is?). The idea of United making moves for a defensive midfielder (Javi Garcia, Yann M'Vila, Cheick Tioté all linked), it could mean that Ferguson wants to adapt into a Dortmund-type style. It would certainly be interesting, and make for a more compact midfield with Rooney behind the striker.

      Anyways, to sum it up quickly, I believe Rooney and Gaitán would work together, but it would need a bit of training wheels. By that I mean that their chemistry would serious patience, and develop over time. The reward of it could be immense, however.