Manchester United have been told to cough up £35 million to sign Norwich City defender Max Aarons. Is it an investment worth making for the Red Devils?
There’s still a good chunk of the 2020/21 campaign left to be played. There are still quite a few months for the summer transfer window to open. But the rumour mill is already churning out some interesting links and speculations.
One such speculation involves Manchester United and Norwich City youngster Max Aarons. The 21-year-old Englishman has been on the radar of the Red Devils for quite some time now. In fact, it had also been claimed that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had made it a priority to sign him in the summer window.
And, according to an update from The Sun earlier this week, the Canaries are set to demand a transfer fee in the range of £30-£35 million for their youth academy product. This comes after the EFL Championship had turned down an offer of £20 million from Serie A giants AS Roma during the January transfer window.
Apart from Manchester United and Roma, there is significant interest in Aarons from Bayern Munich and Everton as well. Given the number of suitors for his services, Norwich are likely to hold firm on their valuation for the young defender. So, should Manchester United shell out £35 million in order to sign him in the summer? The Hard Tackle takes a closer look.
Who is Max Aarons?
Aarons started out at the academy of Luton Town before making the switch to Norwich City’s youth setup in 2016. The young right-back slotted into the club’s Under-18 setup that very year and enjoyed a decent campaign which earned him a promotion to the reserve team for the next term.
Having made over 50 appearances combined for the Under-18s and the Under-23s, Aarons made his first-team debut for Norwich in a Carabao Cup game against Stevenage in August 2018 aged 18 years and 7 months. A few weeks later, the defender made his Championship bow and has not looked back since.
The 21-year-old had played a key role in their promotion-winning campaign in his debut season, missing just five league games and contributing with a couple of goals and six assists. As a result, he won the EFL Young Player of the Year award fo 2018/19, along with making the EFL Team of the Season and PFA Team of the Year for the Championship.
Having helped the Canaries return to the Premier League, Aarons enjoyed a positive campaign at the highest level even though the 2019/20 term ended in relegation for the Canaries. Indeed, along with the likes of Emiliano Buendia and Todd Cantwell, Aarons was one of the few positives from a disappointing campaign in the top-flight for Daniel Farke’s side.
Back in the Championship this term, the 21-year-old has once again been an integral part of Norwich’s promotion bid, starting in each of their 32 league games as they sit atop the table. To date, Aarons has made 117 senior appearances for the Canaries, contributing with four goals and eleven assists in the process.
Manchester United’s right-back situation…
Manchester United, for the majority of the season, have played with Aaron Wan-Bissaka as their right-back. Last summer saw the Red Devils let go of Diogo Dalot on loan to AC Milan, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemingly deciding to bank on Timothy Fosu-Mensah as his cover at right-back. However, the Dutchman too was out of the club last month, sealing a permanent transfer to Bayer Leverkusen.
The Red Devils do have Brandon Williams as an option, but Solskjaer has largely used him at left-back since his first-team debut last season. Furthermore, the 20-year-old hasn’t gotten much of a look-in into the starting lineup either.
There is another promising young option coming through the ranks in Ethan Laird as well. The 19-year-old made his senior debut last season but did not get many opportunities thereafter. Last month saw Laird move to League One side MK Dons on loan where he has managed to make a solid impression, most recently being in the news for his brilliant assist for Will Grigg against Shrewsbury Town.
Ethan Laird, what a baller😍 pic.twitter.com/XOOyUQz49I
— Alfie🇾🇪 (@aIfiemufc) February 24, 2021
With both him and Dalot returning from their loan spells at the end of the season, it would seem that Manchester United will be sorted in the right-back position for the next season. However, uncertainties remain around the future of Dalot, with AC Milan hoping to sign him permanently, while the fact that he wasn’t a regular under Solskjaer previously indicates that he might not be in the picture.
Laird, on the other hand, is impressing in League One, but the step up to the Premier League could be a big challenge. So, another temporary stint away would be the better option for the 19-year-old, which would once again leave Wan-Bissaka as the solitary senior option at Solskjaer’s disposal at right-back.
What would Aarons bring to the table?
All things considered, bringing in another right-back, who is further in his career progression than Ethan Laird, in the summer transfer window would make sense for Manchester United. Aarons, to that end, can be a viable candidate for them to consider.
For all of Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s positive attributes and defensive skills, the former Crystal Palace man does not offer much in terms of attacking contribution – something that has become a major gripe among the Manchester United fanbase. Admittedly, he has shown improvements on that front this term.
|2019-2020||1. Premier League||34.1||47||1.38||6||0.18|
|2020-2021||1. Premier League||23.0||34||1.48||5||0.22|
Wan-Bissaka averages 1.48 Shot Creating Actions (SCA) and 0.22 Goal Creating Actions (GCA) per ninety minutes this season in the league, rising from 1.38 and 0.18 in his debut season at Old Trafford. But, those do pale in comparison with Luke Shaw on the opposite flank who has an SCA of 3.89 and a GCA of 0.54 per ninety minutes, providing an indicator of the ground he still has to cover.
And, bringing in someone like Aarons could do the trick for Manchester United on a two-fold level. Firstly, the Norwich City youngster is much more attack-minded than Wan-Bissaka and more natural to those aspects of the game. Indeed, the 21-year-old had posted an SCA per ninety of 1.53 in his debut season in the Premier League last year.
Jumping to this season, Aarons has averaged 1.3 key passes per ninety minutes in the Championship while Wan-Bissaka has managed just 0.7 key passes every ninety minutes in the Premier League. The 21-year-old comes out on top when comparing the dribbles-per-90 parameter as well, averaging 2.3 to Wan-Bissaka’s 1.7. Luke Shaw, meanwhile has managed 2.4 key passes and 1.6 dribbles per ninety.
The above numbers make a good case for Aarons being a better attacking full-back in comparison to Wan-Bissaka. And signing him should equip them with more venom pushing forward from the right flank as well, making them less dependent on Shaw, as has been the case at times this term.
The second advantage for Manchester United from signing Aarons would be that their current right-back, Wan-Bissaka, will be pushed to up his game a level. Any squad hoping to challenge for titles needs competition within the ranks. One only need to see Manchester City, who have almost two strong starting XI’s, which keeps players on their toes and spurring them to get better.
Much closer to home, Manchester United can look at the impact that Alex Telles’ summer arrival has had on Luke Shaw. The Portuguese was brought in to challenge for a starting berth at left-back and his arrival has served to Shaw taking his game to a new level and becoming the undisputed starter. That should provide Manchester United with motivation to try and repeat the trick with Aarons and Wan-Bissaka for the next season.
An investment worth making?
In recent years, we have seen players making an impression in the Championship transitioning effectively to Premier League football. James Maddison, Reece James, Mason Mount (both loan stints in the second division), more recently Ben White, Ollie Watkins to name a few have become important players for their respective clubs after having used the Championship as the launchpad for their careers.
Aarons himself showed plenty of promise in his debut campaign with Norwich in 2019/20 and has continued to progress at an impressive rate in the second division. Add to it, the fact that the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona have taken an interest in him is a further indicator of the potential he possesses.
So, Manchester United taking a punt on him in the summer can prove to be a shrewd move. The Red Devils need another senior right-back to challenge and cover for Aaron Wan-Bissaka. And even though the £35 million price tag might seem steep for a player who would be playing backup, Aarons’ potential and scope for development would justify the investment in him.
Aarons would provide Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a more attack-minded right-back, which would improve the team in an overall sense. And his presence in the ranks should drive Wan-Bissaka to up his game as well, in a similar fashion to the impact that Alex Telles’ arrival had on Luke Shaw.