Barely 15 minutes into Manchester United’s away trip to FC Basel in the Champions League group stage, Manuel Akanji was called upon to make a crucial intervention. After Romelu Lukaku had seen a shot on goal saved and Marouane Fellaini followed up with a belting header, Akanji was there on the Basel goal line to tip the ball away to safety. It was no coincidence that the 22-year-old centre-back had materialised at just the right time, at least not on the evidence of his performance over 90 minutes.
READ MORE: 5 things we learned from Man Utd 3 Stoke 0
The young defender was everywhere as Basel fought a desperate rearguard for much of the match, helping to neutralise Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard with his agility, calmness and shrewd reading of the game.
Given that the match ended 1-0 to Basel – the clean sheet down in no small part to Akanji’s influence – it’s little wonder that Manchester United were heavily linked with one of the main architects of their downfall. So too were Tottenham and Liverpool for that matter, with Akanji seemingly destined for a move to the Premier League as the January transfer window grew near. It turns out that Borussia Dortmund had others ideas, however.
Dortmund steal in
In proof that the departure of Sven Mislintat to Arsenal hasn’t debilitated Dortmund’s ability to recruit great players, BVB have just announced the signing of Akanji for a reported £20million. Nodding to the fact that his transfer is something of a coup d’etat, Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc has said: “Manuel’s performances put him on the radar of a number of top European clubs, and we’re delighted that he’s chosen to join us. He has already demonstrated at international and Champions League level that he can play at the highest level in Europe.”
This could perhaps be construed as a mischievous hat tip to Akanji’s game-changing performance “at the highest level” against United, one of the teams Dortmund beat to his signature. That’s not his only achievement, of course. As well as helping Basel qualify for the Champions League knockout stage this season – more than Dortmund could achieve under the disastrous tenure of Peter Bosz – Akanji won a league and cup double in Switzerland last season, Basel’s first since 2012.
Having earned a reputation in his home country as an adaptable, intelligent, goalscoring defender, Akanji could be a shrewd investment for Dortmund and certainly has what it takes to thrive in the Bundesliga. In a move which should cause Manchester United and co. considerable chagrin, Michael Zorc and BVB’s team of negotiators have stolen a major talent from under the noses of some of the Premier League’s biggest teams.