Andre Onana has the potential to be a transformational signing for Manchester United.
That’s not something said about a goalkeeper too often, but the Cameroonian, who United are hoping to sign from Inter Milan for around £43m, could take Erik ten Hag’s side to the next level.
Onana, 27, is well known as the United manager since they spent four and a half years working together at Ajax, but it’s fair to say it wasn’t always easy between them.
However, it is clear that Ten Hag wants Onana to succeed David de Gea as United’s number 1 and this offers us many clues as to how the Dutchman wants his team to play in the future.
In many ways, Onana has a totally opposite style to De Gea.
Follow Mail Sport on Threads here: https://www.threads.net/@mailsport
Manchester United are hoping they can close a deal to sign Inter Milan goalkeeper Onana.
United manager Erik ten Hag worked with Onana for four and a half years at Ajax.
Onana, seen dribbling past Manchester City’s Erling Haaland in the Champions League final, has the potential to transform the way United play.
While the Spaniard is an outstanding goalkeeper capable of spectacular saves who has rescued United so many times during his 12 years there, he is not very comfortable with the ball at his feet.
That became increasingly apparent last season, with mistakes creeping into his game as well.
Onana would replace former United number 1 David de Gea following his departure
De Gea made high-profile mistakes against Brentford, West Ham and Sevilla, before being responsible for Ilkay Gundogan’s winning goal for Manchester City in the FA Cup final.
He often looked skittish when in possession of the ball and lacked the distribution skills beyond the simplest of short passes, usually to Lisandro Martínez when the Argentine was playing.
But, as he showed in front of a large audience in Inter’s Champions League final loss to City last month, Onana is completely comfortable with the ball at his feet and has a mixed passing range than any outfield player. I would be proud.
Regular Serie A observers already knew this. In last season’s league games, Onana completed the 224 short passes he attempted and 98 percent of the mid-distance passes, according to ref.FB.
Regarding the long passes sent to the forwards of Inter, 54.7 percent found their target. In all, Onana completed 81.3 percent of the 1,030 passes attempted from him.
It was this that saw him usurp Samir Handanovic as Inter’s first choice last season, playing every minute of his Champions League career.
De Gea’s pass completion in his 38 Premier League games last season was 71.1 per cent and 43.6 per cent on long ball attempts. So Onana has a clear advantage when it comes to distribution.
Onana’s first-class layout would allow United to play in a very different way
The former Cameroon international is not afraid to dribble the ball past their defences.
Ten Hag is big on control games and control comes through possession of the ball. United failed to achieve the desired control anywhere often enough last season, especially in games against tougher opposition away from home.
But his United is still a work in progress and Onana will carry them through. Literally, in fact, because he likes to start moves from a position more advanced than the two center halves.
While De Gea was committed to his goal line, Onana will take more risks as goalkeeper and advance United’s default position 10-20 yards further on.
We may get used to seeing the keeper dribble the ball past Martinez and Raphael Varane to the edge of midfield before playing a deflected diagonal pass to Luke Shaw or Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who will be forced to push forward.
If they are being marked, Onana may well attempt an even longer pass to Marcus Rashford, Antony, Jadon Sancho or whatever striker they deign to sign to get United to attack even faster.
Inter forwards Romelu Lukaku, Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martínez are adept at holding the ball, so Onana’s passes directly to them became a useful weapon.
City manager Pep Guardiola praised Onana’s ability to dodge the press before the final
The goalkeeper also has a good command of his penalty area, which United will also like
As Pep Guardiola pointed out before the Champions League final, this allows Inter to fend off any kind of high pressing and can drag opponents out of position.
United don’t like to be pushed and have not been skilled at coming from behind, so this can only help.
Onana is also a pretty good stopper, though perhaps not to De Gea’s level.
In 2022-23, Onana played just 24 league games for Inter, but recorded eight shot creation actions, which are the two actions leading up to a shot. De Gea, in 38 games, only directed five.
So Onana’s comfort on the ball, lack of panic in sticky situations and range of distribution are positives and an improvement over De Gea.
It should bring United closer to the standards of City, Arsenal and Liverpool, teams who in recent seasons have effortlessly been able to play out of harm’s way.
But Onana is certainly a more colorful character and with United supervising their players more carefully these days, given CEO Richard Arnold’s “no d***heads” policy, it’s possible have raised some red flags.
During last year’s World Cup, Onana’s commitment to taking risks with the ball at his feet led to a fiery fight with Cameroon coach Rigobert Song, and the goalkeeper was sent home.
‘Onana puts on a show in training, but takes too much risk during matches. I told him repeatedly: ‘You must not take risks. Pass the ball wide, not in the middle,’ Song said at the time.
Onana was dropped after Cameroon’s opening World Cup match against Switzerland, and duly retired from international football the following month after making 34 appearances.
Onana played for Cameroon against Switzerland in their first group match in Qatar
But a fiery fight with trainer Rigobert Song (right) led to Onana being sent back home.
That is why United legend Rio Ferdinand has warned fans “there will be mistakes” if Onana arrives at Old Trafford while acclimating to the Premier League.
But Ferdinand also praised him, adding: “I think he’s a fantastic signing…you see teams put pressure on him and he doesn’t even panic.”
Ten Hag already recognizes this. He was Ajax’s number 1 when he became their manager in December 2017 and remained first choice until February 2021, when he was banned under anti-doping laws.
Onana, then 24, tested positive for the flagship substance furosemide, a diuretic, after accidentally taking some of his wife’s medication while reaching for an aspirin.
Initially banned for 12 months by UEFA, this was reduced to nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Ten Hag publicly supported Onana, whom he described as a “masterful goalkeeper” when he was at Ajax, but their relationship soured when the goalkeeper became eligible for selection again at the end of 2021-22.
Onana was Ajax’s goalkeeper when they lost painfully to Tottenham in the Champions League semifinals under Ten Hag in 2019.
Onana was no longer guaranteed to be Ajax’s number 1, mistakes crept into his game and Ten Hag was unhappy with his fitness level.
The goalkeeper didn’t help himself by snapping at supporters who booed him off the pitch after a mistake, saying he “didn’t give a ***”.
By this time, his desire to leave Ajax for Inter was evident and Ten Hag knocked Onana out for the Dutch Cup final against PSV Eindhoven. He didn’t play for them again after that.
But all of that is clearly water under the bridge. Ten Hag was reportedly behind United’s decision to renege on a new contract for De Gea and there is confidence a deal can be made for Onana.
If so, Ten Hag’s United should make further progress next season.
Follow Mail Sport on Threads here: https://www.threads.net/@mailsport