The headline in Singapore’s The New Paper said: ‘United’s rising star is a shy Wan’. The pull-out quote from Aaron Wan-Bissaka read: “I don’t really speak much. I just like to get what I need to get done on the pitch.”
Whereas Paul Pogba was in his comfort zone as he modelled at a commercial event on the pre-season tour, Wan-Bissaka was uncomfortable. He had not been exposed to such scrutiny with Crystal Palace and it is those non-playing days on tour where the size and popularity of United dawn on newly-signed players. He declined to answer some questions.
Wan-Bissaka is quiet off the pitch and quick on it. He has proven an immediate upgrade on United’s discarded right-back Antonio Valencia, as well as the brittle Diogo Dalot, and only Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester and steely Sheffield United have conceded fewer Premier League goals.
Joshua King was maybe the first forward to get past Wan-Bissaka with that innovative flick. There were four sliding tackles at Bournemouth and Wan-Bissaka has committed just seven fouls in 12 starts. His winning rate for defensive duels only dropped below 50 per cent in the Premier League against former club Crystal Palace.
Alas, full-backs are judged on their attacking rather than defending, now regarded as the natural wingers. Wan-Bissaka seems to hit a force field whenever he approaches the final third.
At Bournemouth, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hooked the £50million signing rather than the 34-year-old makeshift full-back Ashley Young for the energetic Brandon Williams in an effort to push United higher up the pitch.
It was one of the few indisputable decisions Solskjaer made. During one second-half attack, Young was in line with the Bournemouth 18-yard box and Wan-Bissaka was closer to the halfway line.
A glance at Wan-Bissaka’s average positioning for the 82 minutes he was on the pitch is startling; deep inside his own half and barely ahead of centre half Harry Maguire. Young was beyond the halfway line and – midfielders Fred and Scott McTominay. He was where a full-back should be.
With every week, it becomes clearer why Palace converted Wan-Bissaka into a full-back after his development as a winger between the ages of 11 and 18. He is yet to tally an assist for United and delivered 35 crosses. United bragged about scouting 804 right-backs yet settled on an obvious choice who is averse to crosses.
Wan-Bissaka averages 2.83 crosses per game and his competitor for the long-term England right-back role, Trent Alexander-Arnold, is on 6.96. United and Liverpool were both chasing games at the weekend and Alexander-Arnold attempted 12 crosses and Wan-Bissaka none. Alexander Arnold has almost whipped in as many balls in his last three starts as Wan-Bissaka has all season.
In Perth, Pogba made a beeline for Wan-Bissaka and provided a final last pep talk ahead of his debut, raising his right arm and working the elbow joint, urging his new teammate to get up and down the line repeatedly.
Statistically, Wan-Bissaka was close to perfection against Perth Glory, completing 35 passes out of 37, winning his sole aerial duel, scoring five out of five for tackles and managing a ‘key pass’. United embraced his ‘Spider’ nickname with a sliding challenge video that has amassed over 2.7million views on Instagram in a day.
That was an early indication of his reticence, though. Pogba’s message was endorsed by Solskjaer during an in-game conversation with Wan-Bissaka and it has still not got through. Wan-Bissaka tends to mimic ‘turnaround Toni’ with his risk-aversive passing; he almost always finishes north of 70 per cent for accurate passes.
United’s social media team have ceased kowtowing to the ‘Martial FC’ cult and now taken to celebrating sliding tackles by the ‘Spider’. For a club that used to be renowned for its wing play, they should save the spider web emoji for an assist or a goal.
Wan-Bissaka need only remember what Wilfried Zaha told him following his move to United: “He just told me to play without fear.”
He needs to stop being shy.