Alok Kulkarni writes a detailed scout report about Victor Lindelof, the Benfica and Sweden center back.
As recently as January 2017, it was said that Victor Lindelöf’s representatives had flown into Manchester to seal his move to Old Trafford. The price being talked about was a steep 38 million. It was also said that compatriot and hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic had given his seal of approval to the transfer. That move, however, did not go through.
And as the summer transfer window fast approaches, Europe’s top clubs are going to be vying for his services yet again. What was it that Manchester United saw in this 22-year-old that made him worth pursuing so fervently? We try and find out.
Who is Victor Lindelöf?
Victor Jörgen Nilsson Lindelöf was born in July 1994 in Västerås, a small town about 60 miles west of Stockholm. He began his career at local club Västerås SK in Division 1 Norra, the third-tier of Sweden’s football league. Before that, he represented a number of local clubs in the area including IK Franke and Västerås IK.
He made his professional debut for Västerås SK in September 2010, helping them win promotion to the second-tier that very season. When Benfica came calling in December 2011, he could not resist moving to one of the giants of European football. Initially signed to play as a part of their B-team, he helped them win the Portuguese Under-19 championship in the 2012-13 season.
He made his Benfica senior debut the following season in October 2013, but returned to play for the reserves for the remainder of the year. In the meantime, he was steadily progressing though the Swedish under-17, U-19 and U-21 setup.
He went on to win the UEFA European Under-21 Championship with his national team in 2015 and featured in the team of the tournament, it was then that he was beginning to get noticed by clubs around Europe. It was in the second-half of 2015-16 that he began playing regularly for Benfica and ultimately, earned a callup from the Sweden senior team to be a part of their squad for Euro 2016.
His stock has steadily been on the rise ever since.
What is his style of play?
Lindelöf is a quintessential ball-playing defender. He likes to make long passes and frequently ventures into the opposition half with the ball at his feet. He is not shy of going into a tackle either. His tall frame also helps him win aerial duels and is of great help while defending set-pieces.
Not to be deceived by his lanky frame, he has a good amount of pace too. Combine that with his ball-playing abilities, he makes for a decent right-back – a position he has featured in for Sweden. Although he does venture forward quite a lot, his offensive numbers don’t make for impressive reading.
However, it is his ability to start the move, linking defence to attack, is what is making him highly a desirable asset for teams across Europe.
What are his strengths?
A look at his stats and one thing that clearly stands out is his passing percentage. Up there with the best in Europe, it stands at an impressive 90%. He likes the ball at his feet and does not hesitate to even go long from his own half.
Known as ‘Iceman’ for his composure under pressure, he has won 1 out of every 2 duels in the Portuguese Primera Liga and has an average aerial duel win percentage at 60%. Standing at 6ft 2in, it should come as no surprise that he is good in the air, but winning duels against equally aggressive forwards is a whole different prospect.
Very much in the Rio Ferdinand mould of defenders, the Swede is a tough tackler like the English great. He has the natural pace to track runners and if needed, put in a challenge at just the right time. Since his game is very much built on his ability on the ball, his pace is an asset when he loses the ball and is quick enough to recover. ‘Recovery pace’, as it is now being called these days, is as important – if not more – as his other defensive skills.
With his pace, he has the ability to make runs down the wings too. He is an adept passer of the ball, which helps in the decision-making in the final third. His versatility to play as a full-back will only do him good when it comes to impressing his suitors. Ocassionally, he has filled in the defensive midfielder’s role too.
Numbers wise, what also stands out is the solitary yellow card he has received in Benfica colours this season (and only five last term). Given the fact that he is a natural central defender who is not afraid of going into a tackle, this is indeed mind-boggling. It only shows how successful he is at winning the ball back – legally at that. Iceman indeed.
What are his weaknesses?
Having been thrust into the Benfica side at a very young age, he lacks the know-how, sometimes, in making the right pass. His eagerness to spray the ball out to his teammates leads to him giving the ball away unnecessarily – ‘the right pass’, as they call it, is missing. It has been said he is aware of this flaw in his game, and has been working on improving it in training.
Another disadvantage of being a young defender is the lack of positional sense that comes with it. It will develop over time, but for now he is found wanting when pacy counter-attacks take place down the wings and he isn’t sure what his best position is then.
Also, over time, he will have to improve his offensive numbers too. Having failed to provide an assist for Benfica so far, and scoring just one goal this season do not do justice to his pace and heading ability. If he does indeed play at full-back for his future club/s, he will have to be more clinical with his passing.
As can be seen, the pros heavily outnumber the cons in case of Victor Lindelöf. And that is why, it is of no surprise that European elites are standing in line to get the ‘Iceman’ to play for them – at whatever cost.
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