The first signing of the Erik ten Hag era at Manchester United is left-back Tyrell Malacia, who joined from Feyenoord for a fee of around £13m.
Only 22 at the time of his signing, Malacia is both one for the future and one for the present. He shone in the Eredivisie and was named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament for the 2021/22 Europa Conference League, after which it was universally accepted that he was ready for the next step in his career.
It’s United who have given Malacia that move forwards, and here’s all you need to know about him.
Born in Rotterdam, Malacia signed for his boyhood club Feyenoord at the age of nine in 2008 before progressing through the ranks and making his first-team debut in a Champions League victory over Napoli in December 2017.
He’d go on to earn regular minutes in the first team over the remainder of that season and stepped up his involvement in 2018/19, eventually cementing a starting spot for the second half of the shortened 2019/20 campaign.
2020/21 was Malacia’s breakout year and he was rewarded with a maiden call-up to the Dutch national team in September 2021 under Louis van Gaal.
In total, he managed 136 appearances, ten assists and four goals for Feyenoord, lifting the KNVB Cup in 2018 and the Johan Cruyff Shield in 2018, before sealing a well-deserved £13m move to Manchester.
Malacia is a left-back by trade but one whose greatest strength comes in attack, so much so that he has often been deployed as a wing-back in order to maximise his qualities. He’s well suited to that role because of his supreme athleticism and stamina. He has been nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’ because of his tenacity and strength.
He loves to get on the ball and is a very progressive passer, always looking to get the ball forwards. During his time in Feyenoord, a cross-field diagonal pass to star forward Steven Berghuis was one of Malacia’s deadliest weapons. This passing skill translates to crossing as well, with the left-back known for his wicked deliveries into the box.
Defensively, he holds his own well in one-on-ones, with his recovery pace often bailing him out if an attacker gets past him.
“His strength is that he can defend like a defender and play attack like a midfielder,” former Feyenoord boss Dick Advocaat said of Malacia.
What makes Malacia’s development so intriguing is that the majority of his ‘weaknesses’ present themselves as inexperience.
Malacia’s desire to get forward at every given moment sometimes leaves him out of position defensively, and although he has the recovery pace to mask this, he can be guilty of inviting pressure on his side as a result.
Former boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst once admitted Malacia will give players nightmares but also urged the young defender to work on his ‘overexuberance’, recalling a time Malacia ended up on the right wing because of his desire to get involved – leaving a massive gap behind over on the left.
With his career still in its infancy, those close to Malacia have no concerns that these kinks will be ironed out of his game.
He hates the publicity that comes with being a footballer
“People I’m with say: I keep forgetting that you’re a professional football player.”
Malacia, who handed his first pay check straight to his family, has built a reputation as a down-to-earth player who does his best to shun the limelight and the fame that comes with being a professional footballer.
In fact, Malacia compares himself to Dutch team-mate Georginio Wijnaldum: “I see a lot of myself in Georginio, as a person. Calm, but he knows what he wants. I am very much on my own, a lot in my room.”
He’s a self-confessed bookworm
As part of his everyday quest for relaxation, Malacia has an enormous library of books which teach him about the world.
Autobiographies like that from Michelle Obama have inspired Malacia to dream of visiting schools to teach children about the wonders of reading, but he has also picked up a thing or two about the dark side of football from his library.
Malacia has read stories from Royston Drenthe, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Glenn Helder and Andy van der Meyde about how things are not so simple in the football world – taking advice on how to stay on the right track.
He’s been modelling his game on Daley Blind
In former United man Daley Blind, Malacia has seen what it takes to succeed at Old Trafford, and he admits to using the Dutch international as a model for his defensive improvement.
“Marcelo and [David] Alaba in the Champions League, and especially Daley Blind,” he told Voetbal International when asked who he likes to watch. “He’s not the fastest, but he hardly ever gets into a one-on-one situation because he is always in the right position.
“Blind makes other players look bad because it looks like they have made a pass that is easy to intercept. But that is not the case at all because it is due to the fact that Blind positions himself well. I think it’s pretty and beautiful to look at.”