There is a lot of debate about the sort of player Aaron Wan-Bissaka really is. Some say he needs to improve to reach the world-class level. While others say that he already is at that level in one part of his style. While both arguments might carry some weight depending on how we view the game, the Englishman has probably been Manchester United’s best player this season.
Many names can be thrown into the hat for that tag. And fair enough, the likes of Fred, Marcus Rashford and even Harry Maguire probably deserve a spot in there. But what could put the young right-back at the top of that hat is his consistency.
The most special thing about Wan-Bissaka is probably the way he carries himself. Be it on or off the pitch, the right-back never looks disturbed or hurried. Be it when he has one of the paciest wingers running at him or when he’s doing an interview, Wan-Bissaka cuts the figure of a composed young man who hardly shows any sign of potentially breaking apart.
He isn’t the most vocal character either. The Croydon-born man always seem to do his job in a rather no-nonsense manner and when it is done, he heads to the tunnel like he was born to do it. This gives him a rather simple demeanour that is sometimes tough to point out in the marketed world of football.
But that sort of personality goes hand in hand with everything he does. He’s hardly been the one to give elaborate interviews and come up with social media antics that might divide opinion. With that sorted head of his shoulders, his footballing brain reaps rewards.
Glimpses of that were seen in the pre-season friendlies in Australia. Wan-Bissaka came to Old Trafford with a big £50million price-tag. But since the day, that has been the least of his worries. It has hardly bothered him and his long legs make it easier for him to put the critics to rest. That is where the nickname ‘Spider’ has come from.
In the club’s first Premier League game of the season, United tore Chelsea to shreds in a 4-0 win. But despite Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford coming up with glittering shows, it was Wan-Bissaka who came up with one of his best performances of the season. When a team’s attack thrives and scores four, it is rare to see a defender impress as much as Spider did.
As per Whoscored, he won as many as six tackles on the day and made three interceptions. He boasted of an impressive tackling accuracy of 86 percent, carrying his form from the pre-season to the big stage like it was hardly a task for him.
His performances against Southampton and Wolves were impressive too, despite United not winning those games. The club’s form did drop off from there on, but Wan-Bissaka was key in the wins over Brighton and Norwich.
But another dominating performance came away to Manchester City. Nullifying Raheem Sterling, Wan-Bissaka’s game was encapsulated by a moment in the second half. He slide-tackled his compatriot off the ball on the right flank and came forward with it, lost the ball to Sterling himself. He did that only to use his immense recovery pace to track back within seconds and nick the ball off Sterling once again.
He came up with a similar show against Sterling at Old Trafford in United’s 2-0 win over City. While that is proof that he might be a shade better when United defend deeper as this allows him to use his tackling ability to full effect, criticism about him not being attacking enough isn’t too valid.
He has played 3.44 passes into the final third and that is more than left-sided full-backs in Brandon Williams and Luke Shaw. He has also come up with 148 progressive passes in the whole season- the highest in the whole team so far. While full-backs are adept at playing progressive passes, but the myth about him suggests that he isn’t good enough on the ball. But the stats suggest that he is smart on the ball and at 22, he will only improve.
When it comes to shot-creation, Wan-Bissaka has come up with 31 shot-creation actions from live balls this season. For context, that is only ten less than Marcus Rashford, who is at 41.
Having said that, it is indeed a fair observation that Wan-Bissaka isn’t an attack-minded full-back. Comparisons with Trent Alexander-Arnold are senselessly made, putting into picture two very different players in an unfair manner. In this case, it is important to judge players by the suitability to their system.
Alexander-Arnold’s chance creation and crossing suits the way Liverpool attack from wide areas by keeping the midfield compact. But Wan-Bissaka’s defensive abilities give United forwards the freedom to thrive in a system that relies on quick transitions in the final third.
In that sense, Wan-Bissaka does exactly that he is supposed to do. The same applies to Alexander-Arnold. They exist in two separate universes and keeping a common context for their comparisons is impossible. It a case of comparing apples and pears.
Wan-Bissaka has done this reliable job throughout the season. Fred really kicked on in the period around December and Maguire did that after a stable defensive midfielder in Nemanja Matic played in front of him since 2020. Wan-Bissaka has hardly had to rely on anyone else to do his job and he’s done that in his first season at a bigger club. That, when a big price-tag was on his head at the age of 21 back then.
He presents the sort of players that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might just be looking for. It is the template of a no-nonsense footballer who cares about doing his job on the pitch more than anything else. Wan-Bissaka oozes the swagger of someone who is very work-minded and does that in an almost nonchalant way.
Debates can be made about other players. But it is Wan-Bissaka’s consistency over a large period that should help him trump the others. That is one thing that makes players world-class in the long-run.