Manchester United’s midfield options have improved of late following the emergence of Fred and the acquisition of Bruno Fernandes, but a deep-lying playmaker is something they are still without.
Michael Carrick was the last United player in that mould but retired in 2018. Nemanja Matic is probably the closest thing United have to what Carrick was, but he is not a long-term option, despite his recent renaissance.
With that in mind, who could United could sign in the mould of Carrick, a supreme ball-playing footballer, tackler, and master of transition from defence to attack?
Teun Koopmeiners could be the answer.
His might not be a household name, but Koopmeiners is one of the best in that position in Europe right now.
The 22-year-old plays his football for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie. Having worked his way up through the AZ academy and reserve side, Koopmeiners has played almost every match for the club across the last three seasons.
And as he’s improved, so has his club. Third and fourth place finishes in his first two seasons were not bad, but this year AZ were level on points at the top of the table with a brilliant Ajax side before the league was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Koopmeiners’ impact on that success is clear. According to website Football Critic, he has 98.9 touches per 90 minutes, second in the division only to Daley Blind.
But he’s not just good in possession. Koopmeiners ranks third for passes per 90 minutes with 83.2.
His strength in both areas makes him a rarity and a much-coveted player in a modern game based on possession and passing.
The youngster also has a goal in him. Koopmeiners has managed 20 goals in 83 league games for AZ. Nine of the 11 he’s managed this season may have been penalties, but six proved decisive in games, showing he has mettle that is impressive at such a young age.
His seven Eredivisie man of the match awards are joint top with Ajax’s Dusan Tadic, while Football Critic also rank him as the second-best performer in the league with an average rating of 7.6, behind only Chelsea-bound Hakim Ziyech.
All in all, Koopmeiners has had a very impressive season, one to catch the eye of Europe’s biggest clubs.
United fall into that category, and AZ could provide them with a consistent, high-performing man in the middle with exceptional passing and skill on the ball. Yes, very much a player in the mould of Carrick.
Koopmeiners’ style resembles that of Barcelona star Frenkie de Jong, another to emerge from the Eredivisie in recent seasons. Barca took the risk last summer and De Jong has flourished since stepping up to La Liga.
Like De Jong, Koopmeiners will not come cheap. But at the time of his arrival in 2006, neither did Carrick – and he proved to be worth every penny.