Former Man United interim manager Ralf Rangnick identified Julian Alvarez as a player the club should have considered signing in January 2021.
Just three days after Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup dream came crashing down, Lionel Messi’s moved one step closer to becoming a reality.
The Paris Saint-Germain star, who continues to wow and mesmerise everyone who sets eyes on him, produced his best performance of the 2022 World Cup so far to help Argentina book their place in Sunday’s final against either France or Morocco. The 35-year-old scored one goal and made another as the two-time winners beat Croatia 3-0 in their semi-final showdown at the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Although it was his first half penalty that rubber-stamped his name into the history books for yet another reason, becoming his country’s all-time leading goalscorer in the World Cup finals, it was his assist in the second half for Julian Alvarez that will be remembered most fondly. In typical Messi fashion, the Argentine sent Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol on a merry dance, sending him one way and then another, before teeing up Alvarez to net his second goal of the game from close-range.
It was an extraordinary assist. So beautiful, in fact, it is already assured of its place in World Cup folklore. It will be played over and over again for decades.
But while the assist from the man many consider as the greatest to have ever played the game was magical, the finish from Manchester City star Alvarez was as a result of him finding himself in the right place at the right time to tap home his second of the evening, taking his tally of goals in Qatar to four, just one behind Messi and fellow Golden Boot contender Kylian Mbappe. Though his fourth goal of the tournament was as a result of anticipating Messi’s pass and having a great understanding of his teammate’s brilliance, his third goal of the World Cup and first goal of the game was about his own quality and potential.
Picking the ball up inside his own half, the City striker never stopped running until he ensured that the ball was in the back of the Croatian net. While it must be accepted that the goal had shades of luck to it, given two Croatian defenders missed the ball, allowing Alvarez to continue his run, the perseverance and confidence expressed by the 22-year-old was breathtaking.
He has dislodged Lautaro Martinez as Argentina’s first choice striker in Qatar, meaning he has massively exceeded expectations. But his recent performances, not least his one against Croatia, which was littered with willing runs and moments of brilliance, have been recognised by everyone, not least Messi, who waxed lyrical about him after the win over Croatia.
Messi said: “I always say the same thing: the group work rate is our strength, and any of my teammates deserves to be Man of the Match. But today I think Julian has stood out above all; he played an amazing game.
“He was the one who opened the way, who fought all of them, ran and generated chances. I think he was a very important player, as he has been throughout this World Cup, and I think he deserves this [Man of the Match award].”
Given how well Alvarez has performed in Qatar, it seems somewhat unfair that he will return to City after the World Cup and most probably serve as a back-up option to Erling Haaland. Although he has been given opportunities to impress by Pep Guardiola this term, and delivered the goods when they have presented themselves, Haaland remains at the top of the pecking order.
But had Ralf Rangnick have got his way last January, Alvarez could have been returning to Manchester United next week instead. Towards the end of the German’s interim spell in charge at Old Trafford, the now-Austria boss admitted that Alvarez was on a list of names that he recommended to United’s hierarchy when he wanted to sign a striker last January.
“The answer at the time was no, there was no player on the market that could really help us,” said Rangnick, speaking in May. “[But] there were a few: [Luis] Diaz who is now at Liverpool, Alvarez who will be at Manchester City in the summer, [Duasn] Vlahovic who at the time still was with Fiorentina. Those are just three of them that come across my mind now.”
It was at the very end of the January transfer window that City signed Alvarez from River Plate, although he remained there on loan for the rest of the season, meaning there was time for United to sign him prior to City making their move. Rangnick had identified him as a player who he thought could strengthen the Reds’ attacking options, but his suggestion was shot down.