Why Lindelof can shine for United next season
The World Cup ended with a host of headlines in honour of Paul Pogba, but the imperious midfielder was far from the only United player to excel in Russia…
Our sizeable Belgian and English contingent reached the semi-finals, while Marcos Rojo gifted the thirsty Argentinian public with the greatest moment of their campaign, by rifling home a late winner against Nigeria in a must-win group-stage clash.
However, flying stealthily under the radar was Victor Lindelof, who was an essential component of the industrious Swedish side that made the last eight, and established himself as one of the tournament’s best defenders in the process.
Our no.2 endured a testing first term in M16, but the assuredness and steel he displayed on world football’s biggest stage this summer bodes well for his sophomore season. And Victor wouldn’t be the first Red to return from the World Cup with a renewed sense of conviction in his own abilities.
Victor celebrates Sweden's goal in the 1-0 win over Switzerland in the last 16.
Could Lindelof use FIFA’s showpiece competition as a springboard to help establish himself at the heart of United’s defence?
The man known as ‘the Ice Man’ during his time at Benfica – presumably due to his cool demeanour, or the fact he hails from the chilly climes of Vasteras in central Sweden – turns 24 today (Tuesday).
Lindelof missed the 1-0 victory over South Korea that opened Sweden’s campaign due to illness, but was a towering presence alongside former Wigan Athletic centre-back Andreas Granqvist for their subsequent four matches. Against Switzerland in the last 16, BBC Sport viewers voted him as the Man of the Match.
“Victor has been the pick of the bunch,” remarked Lindelof’s compatriot and ex-United midfielder Bojan Djordjic. “People speak about our captain, Granqvist, because he’s been like a cult hero after Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] and all that, but Victor has been amazing.”
The relationship with 33-year-old Granqvist is not a new development. The two were also at the heart of Sweden’s surprise victory over Italy in the two-legged play-off last November that ultimately earned them a place at the finals in Russia.
At Benfica, Lindelof shone alongside another relative veteran, 37-year-old Brazilian stalwart Luisao, whom Jose Mourinho has long admired.
Both partnerships enjoyed the kind of consistency that United have been unable to regularly find at the back, largely due to injury issues. However, the hope is that in the 2018/19 season, Lindelof can find a similar rapport with one of his club colleagues and solidify a clear first-choice partnership.
Victor showed strong signs of his fierce personal determination last season, responding to a difficult afternoon at Huddersfield Town in October with strong performances against Brighton & Hove Albion and Watford the following month.
A crunching tackle on Anthony Knockaert in the former game had the Old Trafford crowd on their feet, roaring with approval, and was vital in creating the momentum that led to United’s opening goal, which proved decisive in the 1-0 victory, soon after.
During the 4-2 win at Watford three days later, he unfurled more of the cultured side to his game, starting several of United’s exhilarating counter-attacks by threading precise passes through to the midfielders and attackers.
“His technique, left and right foot, is great,” purred Jesse Lingard, when we spoke to him in December 2017. “He plays the ball forward and will always look for that forward pass, which is obviously good for us attackers.”
Other impressive matches followed, against Chelsea and Arsenal in the second half of the season, indicating that the Swede was adjusting nicely to the distinctive challenges sometimes posed by top-flight English football, after predominantly featuring in the Champions League during the season’s early stages.
Now a second term at Old Trafford beckons and, after a well-earned break, the hope is that Lindelof can deliver the form he produced at the World Cup on a weekly basis for United.
The tournament acted as a spur for David Beckham to produce his very best, after a turbulent France ’98, while Cristiano Ronaldo seemed to make his final leap to greatness after soaring at the 2006 edition in Germany.
Can Victor do the same? We’re about to find out.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.