Manchester United need no introduction, even those who don’t follow football are well versed with arguably, England’s biggest club. For all the trophies that United have won, one can argue their Academy has under-performed. Since the glory days of the Fergie-fledglings, one can hardly recollect any genuinely world-class class product (Adnan Januzaj could be the answer), feel free to disagree. In the meantime, lots of player from the academy showed potential to make a mark at United but for some reason, never quite made it there or will never make it - Giuseppe Rossi, Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, Federico Macheda, Davide Petrucci, Mats Daehli, Zeki Fryers, Marnick Vermijl and the list goes on. Another player who also showed great promise when he first arrived at United was Magnus Wolff Eikrem.
Eikrem is a Norwegian footballer, currently playing for the Eredivisie side, Heereveen. Most of the United supporters are well aware of him, being an United academy product. He was thought of very highly during his time at the Manchester based club with many people still baffled as to how he didn’t make it at Manchester United, such was the promise he showed. Eikrem began his career at his local Club, Molde FK, when he was 12 years old. Manchester United first became aware of him when he attended Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s football school in Norway. Impressed by his showings, Manchester United signed him when he was 16.
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Magnus was a regular for the United reserves and also captained the side on numerous occasion, showing the glimpses of his potential but for some reason he never really made it at United with the closest association he had with the first team was being named on the bench vs Wolverhampton in the third round League Cup tie.
In 2011, he was transferred back to his former club, Molde where he was reunited with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who was and still is the manager of Molde. Solskjaer had worked with Eikrem closely as he was involved in coaching the youths at United and knew Eikrem inside out. Many United supporters expressed their surprise when it was announced Eikrem was set to join Molde. But United’s loss was Solskjaer’s gain as Molde FK won the league title for the first time in their history and one of the catalyst for it was Magnus Wolf Eikrem with him being nominated for the Young Player of the year award and Player of the year award, winning the former. Molde successfully defended their league title next season with Eikrem again playing a pivotal role.
No sooner, he began attracting interested from various clubs from the top 5 leagues namely, Aston Villa, Borussia Monchengladbach, Werder Bremen and Hannover 96 but in the end it was Heerenveen who signed him in June, 2013 on a 4 year contract.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem belongs to one of those rare brand of creative footballers playing in the middle of the park. Primarily right footed, Eikrem is a really delightful player to watch when on song, often compared with Luka Modric.
Standing 5ft 8in tall, Eikrem has a small stature but what makes him standout is his wise footballing brain, which helps him in making quick decision. Even before receiving the ball he knows what his next move is going to be, always aware of his teammates’ movement or runs which enables to him pick them out with relative ease. Often players who are young and are comparatively inexperienced, tend to panic when closed down by the opponents. But its hardly the same case for the former United player, he’s not fussed by the prospect of being surrounded or chased down by the players, being level headed helps him to negotiate through any difficult situation.
For a player playing in the middle of the park with the responsibility of making the team tick, the passing has to be precise along with being decisive. That about describes Magnus perfectly. Eikrem is well and truly capable of lifting the tempo of the game and at the same time knows when and how to slow down the flow of the game. Passing is one of his strengths, the one quality which makes him standout of the crowd. Eikrem has the ability to open up even the stringiest of defenses without much ado. As mentioned earlier about his ability to to pick out his teammates, it helps him to produce deliveries at a frequent which beats the offside traps. The following image highlights it.
Here, Eikrem (circled) picks up his teammate’s run and perfectly executes a defense splitting through ball.
Of-course such passes would be meaningless if his teammate doesn’t executes his run perfectly which also comes down to the tremendous understanding that Eikrem has with his teammates. Also, thanks to his understanding, it makes it possible for him to play quick one-twos with his teammate on a regular basis. What’s fascinating to see is Eikrem’s wide array of passing maneuvers and the sheer calmness with which he completes them. His over the top balls, catching the defenders unawares are lovely to watch. One can only marvel at how beautifully he executes them. One example of this piece of magic is the following image.
Eikrem (circled) makes a delightful over the top delivery (shown by the blue line) with his teammte’s run shown by the black line.
His passing is not only benefits from his immaculate vision, but also helps in his overall game. Due to his exemplary vision, it enables him to find even the smallest of spaces. Throughout the game, you can see him constantly moving into vacant spaces, eluding the eyes of the opponents. He has a very good engine, which helps him to cover most of the ground. Following heat maps sheds some light on this particular argument.
Technically, Eikrem is very good and the same can be said tactically for him. Generally, he’s seen playing in the middle of the park, but since he is strong on the ball, you can see him being adventurous and venturing forward, obviously on the orders of his manager, depending upon the opponents. Following is his actionmap, highlighting how he can drop deeper and play in more advanced role.
Notice how against Groningen he was more involved in the final third while against the league leaders, Twente, he was involved in deeper areas. Lastly, against AZ is his usual position, venturing forward when needed and staying deeper to breakdown the attacks.
Continuing on breaking down the attacks, what helps him in doing so is his understanding of the game. His average of 1.7 interceptions per game in Eredivisie this season only proves that. He also knows when to put in a tackle when to not. You generally won’t see him indulging in reckless plays or making a dangerous tackle. Taking more about his tackles, he has already made 20 tackles in 7 leagues games this season with only 3 midfielders averaging more tackles per game than Eikrem (2.9). You can expect Eikrem to create chances from central midfield, averaging a chance created every 70.87 mins this season, which is fairly decent.
Another positive of Eikrem is that he tries to keep things tidy and does the things in a simple way. You won’t see him attempting unnecessary skills or as some say, showboating. He is also a great set piece taking option, being a regular free kick taker and corner taker for Molde where he scored some beautiful free kicks and made some delicious deliveries from the corner. Physique wise, he isn’t exactly gifted but he uses his lightweight to his advantage by slipping and sliding through a group of players. He combines his quick and silky feet with sudden acceleration to devastating effect. He has good pace, add to it his short height makes it easier him to cover long distance and outpace the defenders. One such example is the following image.
Quite visible in the image is how behind Eikrem (circled) is to the defender, but thanks to the pace he possesses and his gifted body balance, he outpaces him to reach the ball whose direction is shown by the blue line.
He is a perfect match for Eredivisie but if he has ambitions of joining the clubs from Europe’s top 5 leagues, he needs to hit the gym and bulk up, especially if he wants to witness the dreaded cold, wet, windy night away at Stoke. His goal scoring record is poor though putting the ball into the back of the net isn’t his primary job anyways but he isn’t one not to try to have a go at goal. Concentration can be inconsistent at times with sometimes, he tend to gets frustrated when he isn’t seeing much of the ball. Due to his short height, we can’t expect him to be winning many aerial duels.
For a young player to be diagnosed with diabetes, isn’t easy. Eikrem was detected of suffering from Diabetes when he was 17, a big setback for a young footballer. But Manchester United have to be applauded for sticking with him during this time and helping him recover from the setback. It was said that Ronaldo and Sir Alex Ferguson himself visited the young midfielder during this tough phase. His development during that point of time came to a standstill as he hardly played any football for the next 6 months. But thankfully, its all settled now and it doesn’t stop it from enjoying his football.
“I regret Magnus never got a chance in the Man Utd first team. The manager felt he wasn’t good enough. He can handle the Dutch top flight and get even better. I see Eikrem as an Ajax-type player, a typical playmaker.”
— Rene Meulesteen, ex-Manchester United assistant.
“When Magnus is playing well, we (Molde) are playing well. He is our Michael Carrick.”
— Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Molde manager.
“Magnus is a very talented midfielder who is versatile and has a good pass and kicking technique. We followed Magnus for a while and there was also serious interest from the Bundesliga for him. Therefore, we are very proud that he chose us. ”
— Johan Hansma, Heerenveen Technical Director.
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