All summer it was supposed to be Leighton Baines. With Fabio loaned out to QPR and Patrice Evra a shadow of his former self the 2+2 brigade were making Baines’ switch to Old Trafford an expensive formality.
Indeed only two days ago a rival of ours was proclaiming that Fergie was lining up a fresh bid for the England left-back. There was never even a confirmed report of a first bid.
Even so there’s little doubt that the £18m+ deal was at least a serious consideration within the United boardroom so the news yesterday that they had instead plumped for a relative unknown in the form of Vitesse Arnhem’s Alexander Buttner for a cut-price fee surprised some.
Personally I think this is a shrewd decision. If the always excellent Baines had arrived it would surely had spelled the end for Evra, and you don’t go from being one of the world’s best players in your position to a permanent flop overnight (although Torres has come close to proving that theory wrong). If the Frenchman has been prematurely discarded it could well have been a future regret of Fergusons as he witnessed him rediscover his imperious form elsewhere.
With Buttner United now have strong competition for their left-back role that won’t lead to any disharmonious exit as the new addition adjusts to the higher level and awaits his opportunities patiently from the bench.
And this he will gladly do as all reports from Holland suggest that the 23 year old is a grounded and decent guy despite the unfortunate grubby manner in which his move to Southampton fell apart recently. This comes through in his excited response to the transfer being concluded – “If a week ago, you told me that together with Robin van Persie I would be playing at Manchester United, I would have driven you straight to the madhouse”.
But it’s not the niceness of the man that persuaded Ferguson to take the plunge and these past 24 hours has seen United supporters scrambling to try and find out whatever they can on a player who made the provisional Dutch squad for this summer’s Euros.
They must have liked what they’ve seen and heard so far because Buttner is a gem. Unpolished perhaps but a potential steal nonetheless and his athleticism and endless stamina will more than make up for any shortcomings until they’re ironed out in the harsh climate of the Premier League.
Having spent five years progressing through the Ajax academy he possesses the touch and positional acumen that is drilled into each prospect before moving on to Vitesse where he established himself as a full-back who loves to venture forward and chip in with the odd thunderstrike.
His forward forays are particularly interesting because it is here that Evra has noticeably become worryingly ponderous in the past year, far too often making the wrong decision in promising areas out wide.
There will be no such indecisiveness with Buttner who virtually hogs the touchline at times like an out-and-out winger before flying in possession into the nearest space and whipping in a dangerous delivery. It is the scope and variety of these crosses that impresses which is often the mark of an intelligent player and it would surely have left its mark on Ferguson who, like his great rival Mancini, realises the importance of such traits in their full-backs.
Can the Dutchman display this flair and undoubted talents this season? Probably not barring injury to Evra and in the Cameo Cup, but this still represents a decent bit of business for United and it wont take long before people cease asking ‘Alexander who?’