Sat. Oct 31st, 2020

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Facundo Pellistri profile: Can Manchester United new boy lift the gloom at Old Trafford?

4 min read

Diego Forlan’s homecoming to Penarol didn’t exactly go according to plan.

Appointed manager of the Uruguayan club where he started out his career at the age of 11 – and later returned for a title-winning season in 2015-16 – Forlan lasted just 10 months in the job.

He won four of the 11 matches he took charge of either side of the Covid-19 shutdown and was given the boot last month.

Manchester United completed the £10m signing of Facundo Pellistri (left) on deadline day

Manchester United completed the £10m signing of Facundo Pellistri (left) on deadline day

The 18-year-old, a right-sided winger, moves to United right away after joining from Penarol

The 18-year-old, a right-sided winger, moves to United right away after joining from Penarol

But without realising it, Forlan actually helped out another former club, Manchester United, by giving plenty of game time to a certain Facundo Pellistri.

The 18-year-old winger started pretty much every Penarol match he was fit for during Forlan’s time in charge – something the ex-United striker said proved prophetic.

‘Pellistri has huge potential,’ Forlan said back in April. ‘He is growing and he makes the difference. We know it will be difficult to keep him for a long time.’

How accurate this proved, with United signing Pellistri to a five-year contract, with the option of an extra year, in a £10m deadline day deal.

His arrival could not be more timely, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team reeling from Sunday’s humiliating 6-1 defeat at home to Tottenham. 

No doubt Solskjaer consulted his former team-mate Forlan on the teenager’s abilities but there’s been a buzz about Pellistri for some time.

Indeed, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Napoli and Manchester City were among the other clubs circling around this latest Uruguayan wonderkid.

Former United striker Forlan played him regularly during his brief spell managing Penarol

Former United striker Forlan played him regularly during his brief spell managing Penarol

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have consulted his former team-mate Forlan before making the move

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will have consulted his former team-mate Forlan before making the move

Another in the queue were Boca Juniors, whose vice-president Juan Roman Riquelme offered arguably the best summary of Pellistri’s talents.

‘He is a real rascal with the ball at his feet,’ Riquelme said. ‘There aren’t many like him around, who have the courage to be so cheeky on the pitch. That is highly valuable.’

But United were the first club to match the release clause in his Penarol contract and fans won’t have to wait too long to see just how much of a ‘rascal’ Pellistri is.

Because his second nationality is Spanish there will be no issues with a work permit and United plan to bring Pellistri straight into Solskjaer’s first-team squad.

So there’s a good chance we’ll see a glimpse of him before the end of the season. Whether this right-sided winger dazzles United fans so much they forget all about Jadon Sancho remains to be seen.

Pellistri has signed a five-year deal at Old Trafford and is expected to go straight into the team

Pellistri has signed a five-year deal at Old Trafford and is expected to go straight into the team

United announced the deal on their social media account on Monday ahead of the deadline

United announced the deal on their social media account on Monday ahead of the deadline 

Penarol have nurtured his talent since a young age and a glance back through Pellistri’s Instagram account shows a boy becoming a man all in their wonderful yellow and black stripes.

As Solskjaer said on Monday, United’s scouts have been watching him with interest for quite some time but even more so since his first-team breakthrough last year.

At 5ft 9in, Pellistri has a low centre of gravity that allows a sharp change of direction – usually from the right side to dribble infield where he can either thread a pass or take a shot.

It’s telling that Forlan gave him the No 10 shirt despite his tender years and encouraged Pellistri to keep making those mazy runs.

At United, it could be that four times out of five such a dribble could end in Pellistri being bounced off a stronger defender but the fifth time will lead to a chance being created.

Pellistri's Instagram account charts his progress through the youth ranks at Penarol

Pellistri’s Instagram account charts his progress through the youth ranks at Penarol 

His progress with Penarol attracted attention from scouts of all Europe's leading clubs

His progress with Penarol attracted attention from scouts of all Europe’s leading clubs

It all sounds a little like Cristiano Ronaldo’s first season at Old Trafford, when he arrived from Sporting Lisbon a raw 17-year-old with blond highlights in his hair. Not everything came off, but Ronaldo was admired for trying.

Of course it would be absurd to make such lofty comparisons but Pellistri is certainly no novice having played 37 times in the Uruguayan league and the Copa Libertadores.

He will certainly offer competition for Dan James and Mason Greenwood for that right-sided spot in the three behind Anthony Martial (or Edinson Cavani, who was quick to congratulate his compatriot on social media).

One thing Pellistri and Cavani have in common is they hail from the inner-city and grew up playing ‘baby futbol’, a confined space version of the sport that encourages tight control and sharp movement.

His manner of playing fits in nicely with the quick, counter-attacking brand of football Solskjaer has tried to restore at United.

United were no doubt enticed by the easy way that Pellistri glides past defenders

United were no doubt enticed by the easy way that Pellistri glides past defenders

Pellistri will continue playing on the right side for now but some believe he will one day end up more centrally or as a true No 10.

‘Whilst we understand it will take time for him to adapt to the English game, he is capable of having an impact with his pace and ability to beat his opponent,’ said Solskjaer.

And he was right to stress patience. Pellistri will have to take his time adapting to English conditions and it could be 2-3 years before United see the best of him.

He won’t be the silver bullet answer to all of United’s current problems but we can certainly expect the ‘rascal’ to get up to some mischief.

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