Manchester United’s ‘next Gary Neville’ is finally making good on Jose Mourinho prediction
Jose Mourinho predicated that Diogo Dalot had the chance to follow in Gary Neville’s footsteps after signing him from Porto in 2019, and now Erik ten Hag is finally getting the best out of him
Mourinho predicted that one of his Man Utd signings could follow in Neville’s footsteps
Perhaps one of the most tedious idioms in football today is the labelling of a bright young talent as the ‘next *insert name of a legendary player here*.
It’s often used by fans to tangibilise a youngster’s pedigree, an easy way of saying ‘they’re gonna be like him when they’re older’. But every so often, managers and players offer their own comparisons with greats of the past, just as Jose Mourinho did in 2018.
During his tumultuous two-and-a-half-year spell as Manchester United manager, Mourinho rarely got the singings which he so desperately wanted. But when the Red Devils paid Porto £19million for Diogo Dalot in his final summer transfer window, the ‘Special One’ was delighted. “Everybody knows that he has fantastic potential,” Mourinho said of the Portuguese teenager.
“I don’t want to compare, especially not the number of titles but he is probably the same age as Gary Neville when he came into the first team. Probably he can follow Neville in this dynamic of more than 10 years as United’s right-back, with amazing conditions to improve, because as I was saying he’s 19 years old.”
Ousting the long-serving Antonio Valencia – Neville’s immediate heir – for the right-back berth within a matter of months, the United boss’ prediction was already on its way to coming true. Sadly for Dalot, though, Mourinho would be sacked shortly after his breakthrough and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spent the vast majority of his time in charge giving him the cold shoulder.
Having made 12 Premier League starts during his maiden campaign at Old Trafford, the Red Devils legend-turned-boss handed Dalot just one the following term and that prompted a productive season-long loan with AC Milan. The Portugal international returned last summer with a point to prove and after Solskjaer was sacked, Ralf Rangnick took a liking to him over Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Then came Erik ten Hag, whose arrival has taken Dalot’s game to another level and reignited the chances of Mourinho’s prediction finally coming true. After a rocky start to the season, like all of his United teammates as they suffered humiliating back-to-back losses to Brighton and Brentford, the former Porto prodigy is comfortably playing the best football of his Old Trafford career.
Against Liverpool three weeks ago, Dalot contained the red-hot Luis Diaz and did the same for Gabriel Martinelli when Arsenal came to town on Sunday. Between both of those home victories were trips to Southampton and Leicester, and he played a significant part in both of the goals which led to United coming away from the two matches with a pair of 1-0 wins.
Comparing Dalot’s first two outings to his last four, his success rate when it comes to ground duels has risen from a concerning 37.5 per cent to a solid 56.7. Meanwhile, he’s averaged just 3 tackles per 90 minutes – a stark contrast to his start of 0.5. On the ball, Dalot’s dribble success has also doubled from 50 per cent to 100, while his long passing accuracy has increased an admirable 11.8 per cent.
Most importantly, the World Cup hopeful is enjoying his football and embodies the new-found fighting spirit in Ten Hag’s rejuvenated side. “I think it comes from the messages the manager passes to us, but the main point has been from ourselves, because to be at this club you have to fight for it,” Dalot declared after the Red Devils’ emphatic 3-1 win against Arsenal.
“You have to fight for 90 minutes every single game – and this is what we’re trying to do – then I think the quality will come up. But the basics, the standards of the club are like this and if we continue to do this for a big period of time I think we will get success.
“But we know it’s a marathon, not a sprint. This is going to be a long season and we need all the little points, the wins to build momentum and the win over Arsenal was a beautiful afternoon.”
On top of his own impressive performances, he’s also helping his new £85m partner on the right flank settle in. “It’s Antony’s first time on the team, although he and Dalot sat together before the game to talk about their collaboration,” Ten Hag told Viaplay following Brazilian winger Antony’s debut goal in the victory on Sunday.
“They filled it out well. The advantage is that they both speak Portuguese, so communication is good in that regard.”
While Antony is the talk of the town right now, understandably so after his mega-money move, it’ll soon be Dalot if he keeps up his tremendous form.