Jose Mourinho once hailed ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Joel Pereira, who now plays for RKC Waalwijk in the Netherlands, as “the best next-generation Portuguese goalkeeper”. He doesn’t always get it right, but the manager can afford to smile at what Diogo Dalot is doing at Old Trafford this season.
Mourinho was in charge when Man United paid Porto FC Porto £19m to sign Dalot in 2018 and on the day of his arrival he described the 19-year-old as “the best full-back in Europe for his age group”. It appeared to be a remarkable day for a player who had made just seven senior appearances for Porto. There have been times in the past four years when Mourinho’s assessment seemed way off the mark.
But almost three months into this season, Dalot is one of just two players, alongside goalkeeper David de Gea, to have started in each of Erik ten Hag’s 15 games in charge. In the Premier League this season, no United player has had more touches than Dalot (769), while only Lisandro Martinez (500) and Bruno Fernandes (412) have made more completed passes than his 401.
Ask United fans which players helped Ten Hag turn things around and they’ll likely be talking about Martinez, Raphael Varane or Christian Eriksen. However, Dalot should be up there as well.
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It wasn’t long ago that he was loaned to Milan with then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – who oversaw the £50m signing of right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace just a year after Dalot’s arrival – suggesting that hinting that he needed more playing time than he could offer at Old Trafford.
Dalot was so keen to make the most of his time in Italy that he occasionally stayed overnight at the training ground to ensure he had access to recovery gear. Injuries have been a problem in the past – he was limited to just 11 appearances in England this second season – although most of the troubles came from growing pains. But he’s worked hard to stay as fit as possible and hasn’t had a significant injury in more than two years.
Solskjaer remained in regular contact during Dalot’s time at Milan and when the Serie A side tried to sign him permanently in the summer of 2021 their interest was pushed back. Solskjaer has always been an admirer of Dalot’s skills as an attacking full-back but had doubts about his reliability on defence. The Norwegian noticed an improvement after his return from San Siro, which Dalot attributed to the influence of Italian football.
“If I’m a better defender, it’s thanks to Milan,” he said. “Italian football is different from the Premier League and I had to adapt in just one year and playing in Serie A helped me a lot.”
So far this season only Casemiro (25) has made more tackles in a United shirt than Dalot (20); only Martinez (46) and Varane (39) have made more clearances than his 21. Only Fernandes (111) has won more doubles than Dalot’s 91.
Ten Hag has benefited from Dalot being more secure in his defensive duties but has also pushed him to embrace his natural attacking instincts, which has seen him usurp Wan-Bissaka, who can be limited in the first XI . Ten Hag has also asked Dalot to act as a central midfielder at various stages of the game so he can see more of the ball.
“He likes attacking full-backs,” Dalot said of the former Ajax coach. “He likes proactive full-backs, so we always have to think a little bit ahead of what the game demands and not feel like we’re feeling the game when the ball is on the other side.”
Dalot made sure he was ready to impress Ten Hag in preseason by using part of his summer vacation in Portugal to work with a personal trainer, a physiotherapist and a nutritionist. Much of the work has focused on improving his agility and speed and so far it’s paying off – Dalot has set the third-fastest sprint in the Premier League this season, behind Darwin Nunez and Gabriel Martinelli.
In 2018, Mourinho was certain United had found a gem when they signed Dalot. After just one game, he spoke of the club looking to find a right-back for “the next 10 years”, adding: “He has all the qualities a full-back needs: physicality, tactical intelligence and technical quality combined with a Porto -Academy mentality that prepares players for the maturity they need at the professional level.”
It has taken Dalot a while to reach the heights that were predicted for him as a teenager, but Ten Hag, now 23, is benefiting. So did Portugal, who beat the Czech Republic 4-0 in the last international break, thanks in part to Dalot’s first two international goals.
After cementing his place as United’s first-choice right-back, he will head to the World Cup next month to compete alongside team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernandes for a spot in Fernando Santos’ team. Somewhere, Mourinho will be watching and no doubt realizing he was right all along.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/manchester-united-engman_utd/story/4781735/man-uniteds-diogo-dalot-finally-proving-jose-mourinho-right Man United’s Diogo Dalot finally proving Jose Mourinho right