Matt Jones feels that Manchester United must bring in Croatia's World Cup hero Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan at all costs
Twelve months on, he’s approaching his 30th birthday and is likely to cost at least £20 million more than the £40m figure spoken of last summer – yet the need for Manchester United to sign Ivan Perisic is still just as pressing.
The hard-working and multi-skilled 29-year-old came into his own for Croatia at the World Cup when it mattered, in the final two games of the Balkan nation’s resplendent run to a first-ever final.
After an understated impact in Croatia’s first five games in Russia, the adroit attacking midfielder belatedly arrived with an excellent, improvised equalising goal against England in the semi-final, one which significantly shifted the momentum in his side’s favour.
Then, in the final against France, Perisic showed poise and panache with a stunning piece of skill and striking to make it 1-1.
Ultimately the Vatreni (Blazers) were unable to add to the fabric of fine wins foraged in penalty shootout wins over Denmark and Russia in the last 16 and last eight, as well as that epic extra-time win against England.
But Perisic showed why he is exactly the right fit of Old Trafford. He is a player tailor made for a club whose traditions are steeped in swashbuckling, attacking football, typified by wizards out wide.
He is also perfect for manager Jose Mourinho – who likes his wingers to marry skill and substance with voracious work rate and an awareness of defensive responsibilities.
A deal to prise Perisic away from the bosom of Inter Milan was close a year ago. Mourinho wanted him and the player wanted to come. In fact, the fact that the Nerazzurri refused to sell resulted in ramifications internally, with Perisic said to be at odds thereafter with San Siro supremos.
He was fined for taking part in a professional beach volleyball competition during the off-season in his homeland and cut an awkward Ashley Cole-esque pose in a photo with the rest of the Inter squad before they jetted off to China for a pre-season training camp – standing clearly to the right of his teammates.
In August, Inter boss Luciano Spalletti even felt duty bound to act when he insisted wantaway Perisic “is determined to remain” following a 1-0 pre-season win over Real Betis.
But he soon settled back into a rhythm and the riotous form of 2016/17 returned – matching that term’s goal tally and proving that Perisic is the all-round package.
He recorded 11 goals and nine assists in 37 Serie A games for Inter during 2017/18. He was ninth in assists and 14th for goals – but impressively second among midfielders. And in terms of both tallies, no other came close to matching him – not even Serbian sensation Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.
He averaged two key passes per game (10th) while his 74 for the season placed him sixth.
His 1.3 dribbles per game was 35th – only Lucas Torreira, Nicolas Viola, Jordan Veretout and Giacomo Bonaventura embarked on more successful dribbles than his 31 having made fewer attempts.
His 67 aerial duels won placed him seventh among midfielders.
When you compare his numbers to the entire United team last season, only Paul Pogba registered more league assists (10), only Romelu Lukaku found the net more times (16).
Alexis Sanchez’s mark of 2.2 key passes per game was the only one better than Perisic, while the Croat’s total for the season was 23 more than any United player – Juan Mata made the most with 51. Only Lukaku (109) and Chris Smalling (108) won more battles in the air.
Now, La Gazzetta dello Sport claim it will take an offer of £62m to convince Inter to enter into a deal with the Red Devils.
That would represent a £22m increase on the £40m bid United lodged last summer. And it remains to be seen whether United chiefs will be willing to sanction a deal given Perisic’s age.
Not to mention, what would a seismic deal to bring in a player seven months away from 30 say about the futures of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford?
United fans would be reluctant for the club to consider cashing in on either bright prospect in the hope Perisic’s arrival leads to the pursuit of silverware and pinning back of rivals Manchester City’s progress.
But for how much longer will Mourinho practice patience? After all, he is a man under huge pressure this season after runners-up United finished 19 points off champions City – a record chasm between first and second place in the Premier League era.
Martial played in seven fewer games than Perisic last season and Rashford just two, with the young England starlet’s seven goals and five assists and the Frenchman’s nine goals and five assists paling in comparison.
It must be taken into account though that Perisic’s 37 appearances were all starts, while Rashford made just 17 and Martial only 18, both enjoying significantly less playing time than the Croat’s 3,316 minutes.
One thing we know about Mourinho is that he’s not one for suffering fools. And whereas both Martial, 22, and especially Rashford, 20, are very much still developing, they can be ferocious as much as they are infuriating.
Club and coach are critically in need of a more polished product. Perisic, then, provides the perfect answer.