If someone had told you eight months ago that next season Luke Shaw would be named the Players’ Player of the Year and be many people’s pick for Player of the Year you may well have asked: what happened to Alex Telles?
12 months ago Manchester United were on the hunt for a new left-back after Shaw had endured yet another indifferent season. Various injuries had restricted him to just 24 Premier League appearances and he failed to contribute a single assist.
It was beginning to look as though the dynamic and exciting full-back the club had signed as a teenager may well be lost forever to horrific injuries and mismanagement, as he continued to struggle to get back to his pre-leg break best.
A new left-back coming in, it seemed, was the writing on the wall.
Real Madrid’s Sergio Reguilon was the first targeted after he had impressed while on loan at Sevilla and helped knock United out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage.
Madrid’s insistence on a buy-back clause being inserted in any sale quickly brought an end to United’s pursuit of the Spaniard – who eventually joined Tottenham instead – and attentions then turned to Telles.
The Brazilian seemed the perfect fit. With 26 goals and 57 assists in 195 appearances for Porto, it seemed as though he would bring the much needed attacking quality down the left that Shaw lacked. On deadline day he finally arrived in a £13.5million deal.
Yet things didn’t go how everyone thought. Not even close.
Instead of usurping Shaw to his spot, Telles actually drove his competitor to improve. It seemed that all the England international needed was a sense of jeopardy, to know his place in the side was at risk, and he began to rediscover himself again.
Confident on the ball, tirelessly marshalling the flanks, solid at the back and creative going forward, United finally had the player they bought from Southampton in 2014 back again, and what a signing he has been.
Telles, meanwhile, made just nine appearances in the Premier League all season, the majority of which came in the early stages of the season while Shaw recovered from an injury. Otherwise, the 28-year-old was used sparingly when Shaw was rested or as a left wing-back when a back-three was deployed, with the rest of his games coming in cup competitions.
But even if Telles hasn’t been as exciting a signing as predicted, it’s still been worthwhile for what it has brought out of Shaw just with his presence.
Iron sharpens iron and competition can only drive players to better themselves.
It’s a trick that United might be able to play again this summer if they complete the signing of Kieran Trippier from Atletico Madrid.
The Manchester Evening News understands United have revived their interest in the right-back, who could be available on the cheap this summer as the cash-strapped Atleti look to raise funds.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the club’s only senior right-back at the moment and, while no one can deny his capabilities in defending, the attacking side of his game leaves a lot to be desired.
The 23-year-old doesn’t contribute enough going forward, especially when United are tasked with breaking down deep back-lines, and it’s understood that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is unsatisfied with his attacking output.
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Trippier would be a great solution to that problem. The Bury-born defender is much more attack-minded, possesses a great delivery and has racked up 78 assists across his club career.
Yet, at 30 years old, he’s not a long-term solution, especially when United invested a massive £49.5million in Wan-Bissaka.
Instead, the arrival of Trippier could spur Wan-Bissaka on to improve on the attacking side of his game just like the signing of Telles inspired Shaw to rediscover his best form, while still giving United quality, experienced cover and more tactical flexibility.
There have already been improvements from Wan-Bissaka this past season, as he contributed eight goals and assists compared to just four the year previous, but the risk of losing his spot may just help him get even better.