The thrilling midfielder who could be Manchester United's next Bruno Fernandes - or another Mason Mount

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Manchester United have been linked with one of the Premier League’s most exciting young players - but that doesn’t make him a good fit for Old Trafford.

Manchester United don’t just need to do a lot of work to improve their squad this summer – they need to do much better work than they’ve done over the last couple of years since Erik ten Hag took over.

It’s not just that there have been players that have failed to live up to expectations in general (Antony, all £81m plus add-ons of him, springs to mind) but also that there has been a big disconnect between the kind of players that they’ve needed and the kind of players they’ve actually signed. When Mason Mount arrived, there was a bit of head-scratching over precisely where he might play, given the obvious positional overlap with Bruno Fernandes. As it turned out, Ten Hag didn’t really know either.

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Good money has been spent chasing bad players, and good players have been bought who don’t fit the tactical scheme. That makes it all the more important that Manchester United get it right this time around. If they want to halt this season’s slide, they have to buy players who fit in with the plan, not just players who know how to kick a ball in the correct direction.

And so we come to one of the more persistent transfer rumours of the season so far – that United will make an attempt to sign Crystal Palace’s Michael Olise in the summer, a year after he snubbed a big-money move to Chelsea in favour of playing on at Selhurst Park. Sooner or late, one assumes, the 22-year-old will be tempted to take his next step, but would Old Trafford be the right place for him?

There’s no meaningful questions about Olise’s quality. His control of the ball and ability to shift through the gears quickly while carrying it, glued to his feet, past defenders is mesmeric. He has creativity, flair and vision, and the gift of picking out an incisive pass. He has shifty, tricksy movement in the final third, finding little pockets of room between defence and midfield with ease. He is, in short, not far from being the complete package as an attacking midfielder.

And he’s productive, too, and heaven knows that United need someone with cutting edge. Having previously been more of a provider than a scorer in his own right, he has found his shooting boots in this injury-interrupted season, scoring six times from an xG of just 3.3 in the league, with some sublime strikes in his collection. His screamer against Luton Town back in November, which saw his dazzle a defender with his quick feet before cutting in from the flank to unleash a pinpoint, curling finish into the far corner, underlined how dangerous he has become when given the opportunity to shoot.

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But that doesn’t mean that he’s necessarily a natural fit for United – at least within the slightly shonky tactical framework instituted by Ten Hag. For starters, Olise is a left-footed inverted winger who starts on the right and cuts in, a position which typically needs support from an attacking right wing-back to be fully effective. United, as it stands, have a very deep and defensive back line, and haven’t played with the kind of fast, byline-seeking wide play that is ideally required to get the most out of a player like Olise.

And that deep defensive line works alongside a high attacking line – or, rather more accurately, works a very long way away from it indeed. Olise isn’t the kind of wide player who looks to make runs off the shoulder of the last man, but instead works better when the pitch is more congested, unlocking half-spaces as he goes. Crowbarring Olise into the role currently played by Alejandro Garnacho would risk ripping the wings off a butterfly.

Of course, you could always slot Olise in behind the main striker as a number ten – not a position he’s played much recently, but one in which he is more than capable. But then you’re right back to the Mason Mount problem, of buying a player who is a square peg for a square hole which already has an even bigger, sturdier square peg lodged into place. Bruno Fernandes is still just 29 years of age and hardly in need of an urgent replacement - and when United have been good in recent years, he has been their most influential player.

If United are genuinely interested in Olise, then perhaps it indicates a change of tactical direction – most likely starting with the removal of Ten Hag, who hasn’t led United to a win in a full calendar month and who has struggled to deliver on the promise of his debut season.

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There are plenty of ways to set a side up in which Olise would thrive, but the blueprint would have to change substantially. A higher line – or a deeper attack – would be the starting point, combined with more aggressive and expansive play down the flanks. There is simply no point signing Olise if you don’t also sign the players who would make him work. Even the best players in the game don’t function in a vacuum. A team needs complementary pieces around their stars to get the best out of them. Ask Olise to plough a furrow up front without the right set-up would most likely lead to yet another bust in the transfer market, another play who leaves people wondering why they weren’t as good at Old Trafford as they were elsewhere.

Much the same sort of logic applies to the rumours surrounding interest in Bologna’s Joshua Zirkzee, another player who seems, at first glance, to be made for a completely different sort of team. You could easily play both behind a central striker with attacking wingers, acting as pseudo-tens plying the channels in the same sort of way that Florian Wirtz and Jonas Hofman have done so effectively at Bayer Leverkusen this season. But that’s not the team that United are right now.

So when you see United linked with Olise, it’s hard not to question whether the pieces of the puzzle are being pulled together appropriately, or if we’re once again watching a disconnect between tactics and transfers. Or, maybe, Ineos have a vision for a different type of team which they intend to build and find a manager for. Maybe Olise would thrive in that team – he certainly has all of the talent. A fascinating and critically important summer lies ahead for Manchester United.

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