Manchester United are ready to make Antoni their biggest transfer of the summer.
At Old Trafford, they appear to have finally given up on Frenkie de Jong and turned their efforts to the Brazilian winger – who will cost them close to €100m (£84m) if Ajax do not budge from the asking price.
Thus Antoni Mateus dos Santos, as is the full name of the footballer, will become the second most expensive player in the entire history of United, surpassing Harry Mauguer and remaining only behind Paul Pogba.
This transfer saga turned into a real drama after the footballer publicly rebelled against his club and called on Ajax to sell him.
“Today at a meeting with the club I expressed my old desire to leave, but this time with a significant offer on the table,” Antoni commented, after Ajax rejected United’s latest offer of 90 million euros.
“And other offers had already come in! Ajax refused, arguing that they only had five days to find a replacement for me. But I’m not asking them to just release me, I’m asking them to sell me for the highest price ever paid for a player from Eredivisie”.
“I have been pushing for this since February so that the club can build its squad calmly,” added the player.
Obviously, the remaining few days of the transfer window will be tense for Ajax and Antoni, and United will not give up and a transfer remains quite likely.
Naturally, the question arises as to why manager Erik ten Hag is so keen on this footballer, who is talented but still unproven at the top level.
Is Antony really worth the money or is this another desperate move in Old Trafford’s confused transfer policy?
“We certainly hope that he will become the next star of Ajax,” Ten Hag said in July 2020 when he introduced Antoni as a new addition to the “sons of God”.
The Brazilian had just been signed from Sao Paulo for £20m and was still only 19. He didn’t need much time to adapt and quickly established himself as a key unit at the Dutch giants – although the coach himself could hardly have guessed how much soon he will want to take the player with him not to wherever he is, but to Manchester United.
Today, Antoni is 22 years old and has accumulated 82 games with 25 goals for Ajax, has also reached the Brazilian national team, and coach Tite will most likely take him to the World Cup in Qatar.
Since Ten Hag worked with him, the player has developed at a dizzying pace and Tite compared his technical ability to that of Neymar. The winger also scored his first two goals with the Brazil team, but his stats at Ajax are not particularly impressive at first glance.
In his two seasons in the Eredivisie, Antoni failed to reach double-digit goals and remained outside the league’s top 10 in shots taken and goalscoring chances created.
However, his progress was most evident in the Champions League last season, when he was instrumental in helping Ajax progress to the knockout stages and recorded 2 goals and 4 assists in 7 matches.
Ten Haag always believed in his potential, but was not afraid to be critical of him either.
At United, the manager will be able to continue to develop him, and apparently Antony himself wants that too – but his price tag is undeniably high.
According to many commentators on the Island, it is beyond all reasonable limits.
It is not difficult to understand why Ajax want such money for one of their most convertible players.
United have already paid the Dutch £56.7m for Lisandro Martinez, who is two years older and less flashy than the technical Brazilian.
Antony is under contract until 2027, and Ajax simply don’t want to part with the Brazilian, having already sold several key players this summer and needing to retain some class in their squad more than generating more revenue.
However, if we stop looking at the exact amount and focus on the qualities of the footballer, we will see that he should fit perfectly into the concept of Ten Haag.
The speedster can play on either flank, although he is most at home on the right, where he cuts inside the pitch with his strong left foot.
He is characterized by false kicks and diagonal crosses from the right flank.
Currently, Jaden Sancho plays in this position at Ten Hag, but he is inconsistent in his performances and there is not much of an alternative, while Marcus Rashford or Antony Elanga are on the other flank.
However, Rashford could also play in the center and compete with Martial for a starting spot, assuming Cristiano Ronaldo remains on the bench as in the derby against Liverpool on Monday.
Like his former team-mate Lisandro Martinez, Antony is used to Erik ten Hag’s system and tactical approach and should cope well with the coach’s demands.
His qualities are also suited to this United’s identity as a counter-attacking team that relies on speed and direct football.
The Red Devils showed their strengths in the win over Liverpool, and Antoni should give them even more arguments in the same direction – he can exploit empty spaces and be very dangerous when passing in behind the opposition defence.
It is also important for Ten Haag that the Brazilian is hardworking without the ball and is prepared to press intensely, which is a must for the Dutch manager’s system.
Since Antoni played in the Eredivisie, only five players have won the ball in the final third more times than him.
If the dream move to The Hague goes ahead, it could hasten Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, although finding a new team for the superstar remains a difficult task and the manager insists Ronaldo fits into his plans.
Another attacking option would reduce United’s reliance on the increasingly unreliable and brooding Portuguese.
However, if the “Red Devils” pay the huge amount for Antoni, it will put both the footballer himself and Ten Haag under serious pressure.
The results will have to come, and quickly. And Antony will be expected to be a star, and with every setback he will not be spared the criticism and derision associated with his price.
However, Manchester United cannot progress without taking some risks – and bringing in a major transfer target for your manager is usually a good idea. It remains to be implemented.