It seems one of this summer’s most inevitable transfers may have finally reached a conclusion with Inter’s Ivan Perisic close to joining Manchester United after the Milanese side reportedly accepted a €45.7 million bid.
The move has been touted for months, but intensified as the 2016/17 campaign drew to a close with the Croatian international pointedly spending time waving goodbye to Nerazzurri supporters at San Siro following the club’s final game of the season.
He spent last term proving his quality, weighing in with 11 goals and eight assists as he constantly tormented opponents who had little answer for his pace and the direct manner in which he attack defences.
But the key question will be whether or not he can enjoy similar success in England. Can Perisic prove to be good value for money as United aim to re-establish themselves as a dominant force both domestically and in the Champions League?
Jose Mourinho personally observed the 28-year-old back in March, taking in a game during the international break as his club intensified their interest in a player who looks tailor-made for the Portuguese coach.
Usually deployed on the left flank, Perisic has a great understanding of when to try take on his man and when to pass the ball off to a team-mate. According to statistics courtesy of OPTA, he was successful with 51% of his take-on attempts and 71.4% of the passes he made, connecting with an average of 39.7 per 90 minutes.
The former Borussia Dortmund man also laid on two clear goal-scoring opportunities per 90 minutes, providing Mauro Icardi with the kind of service Romelu Lukaku will feast upon as they grow accustomed to playing together.
Perisic worked incredibly hard off the pitch over the last 18 months, applying himself more diligently in the gym and the added muscle plus the vastly increased work ethic saw him become a far more consistent player.
It must be noted however that Perisic – much like new Liverpool signing Mohamed Salah – benefitted from the lack of orthodox wingers in Serie A, many defenders simply unversed in dealing with players who can carry the ball forward with such great pace.
How that duo adapt to life in England where such traits are far more common will be a major factor in determining their success, but unlike the Egyptian, Perisic is no lightweight speedster. Far better equipped to deal with physical defenders, he also does his share of work without the ball, something Mourinho will certainly be aware of.
When Stefano Pioli took charge of Inter back in November, the coach quickly realised that the biggest weakness in his squad was at full-back, an observation that eventually led to his wingers being asked to protect those behind them whenever the Nerazzurri lost the ball.
Applying himself consistently and accepting those instructions, Perisic averaged 1.6 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per 90 minutes, showing he is certainly robust enough to cope with the demands of the Premier League.
Yet there are questions about his temperament, a February defeat at Juventus Stadium highlighting that he occasionally fails to keep his temper in check.
With the Bianconeri already 1-0 ahead thanks to Juan Cuadrado’s incredible long-distance strike, an angry Perisic confronted the referee amid penalty claims and was red carded for his physical outburst in stoppage time.
He was suspended as a result of that petulance, as was club captain Mauro Icardi who kicked the ball at the same official after the final whistle. While certainly not a major negative, it is something to note when looking at the high price being paid to bring the Croatian to England even in a summer of hugely inflated fees.
This is after all a player Jurgen Klopp told to “keep his mouth shut” during their time together at Dortmund, but Perisic has improved exponentially over the five years since he publicly fell out with the current Liverpool manager over a lack of playing time.
It is also impossible to deny that attacking players from Serie A have struggled when moving to England in recent years, with no guarantees that even the now more robust and effective Inter winger can shun that trend.
However, there is little doubt that he is a fine player and one who suits Mourinho’s approach and tactical preferences. His characteristics fit well with Lukaku, while Paul Pogba will undoubtedly enjoy having such an outlet flanking him in United’s 4-2-3-1 framework.
Ivan Perisic enjoys a challenge, and proving he is worth that hefty €45.7 million fee is almost certainly going to be exactly that.