When Jose Mourinho took over at Manchester United there were certain holes he had to fill.
A commanding central defender was needed, Eric Bailly was acquired. Pace was badly lacking from the side, enter Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Wayne Rooney was rapidly deteriorating, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was signed on a free transfer from PSG.
All look like pretty sound investments thus far. However, the later has a distinctly short shelf life. Although he looks certain to sign on for another year, at 35, there’s only so long left in Ibrahimovic’s legs. Mourinho doesn’t see either Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford as his kind of central striker. Rashford started up top alongside Zlatan against Leicester before being unceremoniously shunted back out to the wing after 20 minutes; Martial suffered a similar fate against Wigan in the FA Cup.
Both youngsters possess devastating pace and the ability to commit defenders. Both traits of secondary importance for a Mourinho number nine, strength and hold-up play, are what the Portuguese wants. Within his system the striker needs to be able to roll his defender from a static position rather than just blow by him at pace. Didier Drogba, Diego Milito, Diego Costa – you can even go as far back as Benni McCarthy, the archetypal Mourinho striker is more battering ram than blade.
The Ibrahimovic of a decade ago could have been the answer, while talk of Antoine Griezmann arriving in the summer has been incessant but he doesn’t seem to fit the mold either. Old fashion number nines are like hen’s teeth in the modern game but there is one name slowly emerging in the European game that could fit the bill.
Ajax’ 19-year-old Danish wonder kid Kasper Dolberg looks like he could develop into exactly the kind of striker Mourinho covets above all else. Standing at 6″1′ Dolberg is extremely powerful for a player not yet fully developed. Technically he is outstanding, his first touch and ability to shield the ball makes for the perfect hold-up game. His ability to turn and attack after accepting the ball with his back to goal is something neither Martial nor Rashford have mastered yet.
His finishing too is clinical, something both young United forwards have struggled with this term. Having played just 19 senior games for Ajax, scoring nine goals, Dolberg is still in the infancy of his career but he is already displaying the traits so perfectly suited to Mourinho’s game.
At this stage he is unlikely to cost United an arm and a leg, he represents a long-term solution to Mourinho’s striking issue. Perhaps a loan move to another Premier League club in order to acclimatise could be ideal, similar to Romelu Lukaku’s beginnings in England.
There are, however, a couple of valid reasons of concern were a United to make a move. With two outstanding attackers already struggling to get off the ground under Mourinho’s reign why bring in another?
Another point of concern is if Dolberg can convert his form to the Premier League given the poor quality (in relative terms) of the Dutch Eredivisie, a task that proved beyond Memphis Depay. No player so young can guarantee success particularly in the Premier League but Dolberg has time and a rare skill set on his side.