Manchester United decided to pass on James Maddison this summer as Old Trafford officials felt the England midfielder was “too identical” to Bruno Fernandes.
Samuel Luckhurst (Manchester Evening News) has revealed Maddison was considered by United given his cut-price availability, courtesy of Leicester’s relegation from the Premier League, but ultimately disregarded given his profile as a creative number ten.
Fernandes, at his best, operates in the exact same area of the pitch as Maddison, in the exact same style of player. Both are output machines, who thrive receiving the ball in the space between the opposition’s midfield and defence, with willing runners ahead of them.
Luckhurst contends it’s this overlap in skillset which led United to look elsewhere this summer. This has proven a significant benefit to Tottenham Hotspur, and potentially a damaging one to Erik ten Hag.
Maddison has been electric at the white of the Lilywhites since he relocated to London for what has proven a bargain £40 million. Three goals and five assists and the creative heart beat of his newly adopted home gives the number ten a strong case for being both the signing of the summer, and the player of the season thus far.
Maddison took on the considerable weight of the number ten shirt at Tottenham from the recently departed Harry Kane in the summer. To say he has thrived under the pressure would be an understatement.
Tottenham sit currently first in the Premier League table, playing an exciting brand of attacking football under new manager Ange Postecoglou, with Maddison as the spearhead of the Australian’s revolution. Spurs are yet to lose a game this season.
A player who has not thrived under the pressure of a weighty shirt, by comparison, is Mason Mount.
The Cobham graduate swapped Stamford Bridge for Old Trafford at a similar point to Maddison’s transfer, picking up the esteemed number seven shirt at United in the process. The similarities with Maddison end there.
Mount has endured an anonymous start to life in Manchester. A combination of injuries, low morale and an ineffectual tactical set-up by his new manager has meant Mount has been unable to impose himself on games. One assist and zero goals in eight games tells its own story.
The most confusing part of the transfer, which set United back a potential £60 million for a player with one year left on his deal, is that Mount has still played in the number ten position, alongside Fernandes.
Old Trafford officials were thought to have refuted the notion of a move for Maddison based on his overlap with the United captain, yet the alternative they pursued falls foul of many of the same similarities. The state of United’s midfield on the opening day against Wolves, and in many subsquent iterations since, demonstrates the poorly thought-out nature of this plan.
Mount is a player who operates best as the most advanced midfielder, almost more of a forward. The same holds true for both Fernandes and Maddison.
Yet the Spurs man was available at nearly 2/3 of the price of Mount, on significantly cheaper wages. Maddison has consistently produced assists and goals at a similar rate to his England team-mate, while playing for a much worse team.
Now he has joined a ‘big six’ side, his rate of productivity appears to have gone to another level, while Mount continues to display the same performances which led many to question his best attributes while at Chelsea (or England).
If the difference between Tottenham and United this season had to be boiled down to one decision, it would be the midfield recruit in the summer.