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Diogo Dalot can learn from Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw’s shortcomings

As Diogo Dalot begins his Manchester United chapter under Jose Mourinho, most fans will agree it’s one of the key areas the club needed strengthening, albeit with the future in mind. Before reports started circulating of the impending arrival of the U21 Portugal international, it is unlikely a majority of United fans would have heard of him. But then again, this seems to be a common thing for Mourinho and United now; in the summer of June 2016, he took many fans by surprise, signing little known current fan favourite, Eric Bailly.

Dalot will certainly be conscious of the fact that United have been down this road before, and breaking into Mourinho’s first eleven will require more than just the desire to live up to the standards that elevated him from Porto’s academy to the first team. His arrival alone further cast doubts on the futures of two players, Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw; both of whom were once heralded as the strongest Manchester United full-back partnership since the 1990s era of Gary Neville and Denis Irwin.

The two have since become peripheral figures throughout Mourinho’s two-year reign at Old Trafford, failing to live up to their hype. Like Shaw at the time of his arrival in 2015, Dalot is seen as one of the best young full-backs in the world with the potential to develop into a world-class player. On Shaw’s part, it’s a pity that three years down the line he is yet to cement his place as a regular at United.

Within that same period, Ashley Young has reinvented himself as a versatile fullback, capable of playing on both flanks; something that has limited both Shaw and Darmian’s playing time. Shaw’s fitness also remains an ongoing concern, and both Louis van Gaal and Mourinho have questioned the player’s attitude in training under their stewardship. His worth has fallen down the pecking order to the extent he is fourth-choice left-back behind Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, and Darmian.

It’s been over two years since he sustained that horrible leg break in a UEFA Champions League match against PSV Eindhoven, and you wonder whether he’ll ever become the player he was before that injury. Darmian, a Van Gaal signing, is another player who has failed to win Mourinho’s trust, something which saw him spend more time on the bench last season than he would have wished for. A string of inconsistent performances has seen his stock come down tumbling.

In December last year, he came under intense criticism from fans after Bristol City sent Manchester United crashing out of the League Cup. Meanwhile, as Darmian and Shaw’s shortcomings dragged on, Young and Valencia have faced almost no challenge for their positions as full backs. The two are, however, not really suited for these roles for a number of reasons and pressingly, both of them turn 33 years old in a couple of months. Perhaps Mourinho may have had this in mind when he sanctioned the purchase of his compatriot from FC Porto.

Dalot may however not be a direct replacement for Antonio Valencia, at least not straightaway; my view is he will be eased slowly into the Premier League with the help of the Ecuadorian. He is a versatile player no doubt, and can play on both flanks; but it’s not just his defensive aptitude, rather what he does in the offensive sense that will eventually make him a real bargain for United. He’s a decent crosser of the ball with an appetite for goal, he’s pacey and more than willing to venture further forward when needed.

For someone with minimal top-flight minutes under his belt, Dalot has done remarkably well; deservedly rising through the ranks of one of Europe’s best academies. For now, we can only wait and see if he can live up to the hype around his signing and make a name for himself at United.

Written by George Oduor

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