While his initial arrival at Old Trafford was greeted with questions as to who the player even was, Alexander Büttner has since assimilated himself amongst the Old Trafford faithful.
The Dutchman’s goal-scoring debut was met with a resounding applause, and the millions of Red Devil pundits out there couldn’t help but pose the question as to whether the previously unknown full-back may be ready to take over from Patrice Evra.
But is the 23-year-old ready to take such an iconic step up and assume the role of which many great footballers have fulfilled over the years?
Sir Alex Ferguson has made a habit of pinching players from relative obscurity for generally humble prices, and moulding these rough diamonds into the glittering gems we see later in their careers. Büttner could easily be added to this jewelled collection.
It’s no secret that Evra’s standards have slipped in the last two seasons. The left-back position was once seen as an assured and secure part of the Manchester United backline, but despite the shortcomings in the rest of the squad, some now see Evra as a potential chink in the Red Devils’ armour.
Ferguson has defended his French asset, lamenting Evra’s lack of rest in his Manchester United career as the reason for his supposed decline in recent years.
In fairness, the claims are backed up and Patrice Evra has steadily maintained an average of over 45 games every season since arriving from Monaco in 2007. In the brutal climate of the English top flight, that’s a remarkable record and one that needs to be taken into account.
However, strong input or not, it would seem that Büttner is the man being marked out as the successor to the Old Trafford veteran.
This has become a natural part of the modern game, where the standard full-back is becoming extinct, and only wing-backs are looked upon as elite candidates.
Of course, a sacrifice is expected on the defensive side of things as a direct result. No longer is a defender’s sole priority to defend, and Büttner falls under this category.
Fortunately for the Dutchman, time is on his side and there will be a period in which he can adapt to the United game, honing his defensive game in the process.
In the current season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Büttner and Evra rotated on a constant basis, giving each ample rest between fixtures and while consistency is key, having two such talented options could be invaluable to Ferguson’s title claims.
Another factor in whether or not Büttner can assume the left-back throne is someone who’s not actually at the club at this moment.
Fabio da Silva was sent to Loftus Road in an effort to see increased minutes under Mark Hughes, rather than simply bide his time and wait for the ever-healthy Evra to suffer a substantial injury.
Since moving to QPR on loan, the Brazilian has looked impressive at times and although he is currently on the injured list, is seeing the sort of playing time he needed desperately if he was ever to make a go of things at United.
Unfortunately for Fabio, he plies his trade on the left side of defence, whereas his twin, Rafael, is better equipped to play on the right-hand side.
Following the retirement of Gary Neville, Manchester United have tried out numerous players at right-back with little consistency, while Evra has occupied the left-back slot for some time.
Depending on how the season goes for Fabio, there may be more than just one defender hoping to take over from 31-year-old Evra when it’s finally time for the veteran to move on.
A common opinion with Manchester United circles is that, despite his lesser involvement, Fabio is actually the more talented of the two twins, so Büttner would be smart to watch out for the challenge on the horizon.
While his speed is significant, one part of Evra’s game to always let him down has been his crossing ability. There’s no question he has the ability to beat defenders and get to the by-line, but when it comes to that crucial ball, United are sometimes left wanting.
From his time in Holland, it would seem Büttner may be a little more capable in that area, regularly contributing numerous assists in a season, not to mention scoring quite frequently himself.
So, in summary, is it too early to call Büttner the heir to Patrice Evra? Very much so, yes. Evra may be 31 but the defender is far from injury prone and may have a few years left in the tank himself.
Not to mention the inevitable competition that Fabio will provide, the next major Manchester United left-back will be a saga worthy drawing significant attention in the coming years.
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