There have been some shocks in this World Cup already – Mexico’s defeat of Germany, Brazil’s draw with Switzerland – but Croatia’s 3-0 humbling of Argentina was easily the most emphatic. With Messi, Aguero, Dybala, Di Maria and Higuan, Argentina possess an embarrassment of riches up front, firepower that should make them genuine contenders in Russia – but, instead, they it looks like they’ll be catching an early plane home. Their defeat was partly due to their own insipid display and, particularly, their alarming lack of effort and desire, but credit should also be given to an excellent Croatian performance. Modric and Rakitic dominated the midfield and grabbed a goal each, but the classy Ivan Perišić also caught the eye. For Man United fans, it was a case of what might have been.
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The Red Devils spent a long part of last summer transfer window’s pursuing the Inter Milan winger, with reports fluctuating between the deal nearly being done, and it completely falling apart. After United slowly inched their bid towards Inter’s valuation, they ultimately fell around £5 million short. It’s never clear what happens behind the scenes, but it seems that Ed Woodward has a frustrating habit of either closing the deal quickly without any fuss (Eric Bailly or Henrik Mkhitaryan), or engaging in a drawn-out back and forth exchange that usually fizzles out to nothing. When the bids fall so short of what is demanded, it makes you wonder just how much they want the signing, a thought that surely infiltrate the player’s mind too.
You can see why United targeted him. After recruiting a striker who is amongst the best in the world in the air, it makes logical sense to ensure he is provided with excellent delivery. Perišić not only can provide that, he is one of a dying breed, a winger who plays on the left who is actually left-footed.
Inverted wingers are the trend at the moment, but their tendency to drift inside into already congested areas often robs attack of their momentum. Perišić, who has genuine pace and acceleration, is a more traditional left-winger, able to beat a player and deliver an excellent cross into the boss.
Naturally on his left foot, he is able to direct the ball into the box swiftly, with no need to continually check back onto his right.
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In that regard, he is reminiscent of Lee Sharpe, Ryan Giggs, or even Arjen Robben (earlier on his career at least), and a further trait he shares with those players is the quality of delivery he provides. So many wingers can beat players for fun, before providing a poor ball into the box. Consistently crossing the ball well is a part of the game that eludes certain players, but Perišić is continually able to curl a cross into dangerous areas. It’s easy to see how effective he would have been alongside Lukaku.
That being said, Perišić is not restricted just to the left-wing. As well as being skillful, he is relatively two-footed, and can also operate on the right-hand side of the pitch (albeit maybe not as effectively as on the left). It enhances his versatility and usefulness though, and may be why Mourinho retains a lingering interest. I’d love to see him line up on the left for United, but it seems Sanchez will occupy that role, and he remains resistant to playing on the right. Perišić’s ability to play both flanks though brings natural comparisons with Gareth Bale. With a valuation of around £60 million though, and with less injury concerns than the Welshman, he offers much more value for money. United haven’t been linked him with yet this year but, with Mourinho clearly a fan, he shouldn’t be ruled out either.