Back in April, The Express suggested that Manchester United, Everton and AC Milan were locked in a three-way battle to sign Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman.
Everton’s then manager, David Moyes, has since jumped ship to Old Trafford. Presumably, United’s interest in Strootman has subsequently doubled.
PSV manager Dick Advocaat is living up to his name by advocating Strootman for the Premier League. United fans will hope Advocaat was understating Strootman’s talent when he told The Metro:
Strootman is as good as Gareth Barry. He’s a very useful player for every team. Especially when he’s surrounded by better players.
United need better than Barry. However, given that Strootman is just 23, it’s fair to say he has considerable room to improve far beyond the Manchester City man’s limited talents.
Although Strootman already has 18 Dutch caps to his name, signing him would represent an investment in potential.
When Michael Carrick joined United he was 25. Last season, aged 31, was arguably his best in a Manchester United shirt. Playmakers of that ilk take time to mature.
Strootman and Carrick are comparable players. Both are known for a broad range of passing. They share the gift of having both the vision to spot a pass and the technical skill to execute it.
The evolution of Strootman’s career also has parallels with that of Carrick. As a teenager at West Ham, Carrick was known for his ability to burst into the box and score goals in a similar fashion to Frank Lampard. However, as he gained more experience it became clear that his strengths lay primarily in dictating play from deep. Nowadays we regularly see Carrick picking up the ball from the back four and holding his position as the most defensive member of the Manchester United midfield.
Strootman is currently somewhere along an identical path. When he emerged at Sparta Rotterdam he was a genuine box-to-box midfielder. However, last season at PSV he found himself operating more often as a deep-lying playmaker with the aggressive Mark Van Bommel acting as his bodyguard.
For now, he remains flexible enough to play in both roles, meaning that David Moyes will have plenty of options when it comes to fitting Strootman in to a Manchester United XI.
One solution would be to field Strootman as the more physical partner to Carrick in a midfield four.
Strootman stands at 6’1” and is an intimidating presence on the pitch. He could add energy and power to the United midfield while learning the playmaking duties from Carrick, whose role he would eventually be perfectly placed to inherit.
Strootman is also left-footed, so would bring balance to the United midfield. Alex Ferguson had earmarked the left-sided Anderson for this role, but the Brazilian has struggled for both form and fitness.
The alternative would be to use Strootman in a midfield three as the link-man between the defensive-minded Carrick and the instinctively-attacking Tom Cleverley.
This system would enable David Moyes to field Robin van Persie as a lone striker—a role he excelled in at Arsenal.
Wherever Moyes decides to deploy him, Strootman’s versatility means he would immediately add depth and variety to the United midfield.