Inside story on Victor Lindelof: Manchester United's new £30m 'Iceman' at the back
The 60-second story
- Born: July 17, 1994
- Place of birth: Vasteras, Sweden
- Height: 6ft 2in
- Position: Centre-back
- Country: Sweden (12 caps, 1 goal)
Teenage sensation Renato Sanches got all the plaudits as Benfica reeled off an incredible end-of-season run of results to win the Primeira Liga in 2015/16. But just as important to the triumph was the contribution made by young Swedish centre-back Victor Lindelof, who then stayed to help the club defend their league title, becoming the lynchpin of their back four.
Bought by the Lisbon club as a 17-year-old back in 2011, Lindelof had to bide his time for several seasons in Benfica’s B team without getting a sniff of senior football. He finally earned his place in the first team at a crucial point of a fierce title race following injuries to two of the team’s senior central defenders.
The Swede was magnificent from the moment he came on as a 60th-minute substitute for the injured Lisandro Lopez against Moreirense in January 2016, playing every minute of Benfica’s remaining 14 league games and helping his side win 13 of them to pip city rivals Sporting to the title by just two points. This season, he was central to Benfica's success, playing a total of 45 matches and helping the team qualify from the Champions League group stages and into the last 16.
Why you need to know him
Lindelof has been almost flawless for the last 18 months, his well-timed tackling, dominance in the air and good positional sense belying his youth
Having shone for Sweden in their victorious 2015 Under-21 European Championship campaign last summer – beating Portugal in the final, of course – the defender was entitled to think he might get his chance at Benfica. However, he had to wait until the second half of the season, more than four years after he'd signed for the Portuguese giants, for that opportunity to come around.
Having finally cracked the first team, he was evidently determined to make the most of his opportunity. Lindelof has been almost flawless for the last 18 months, his well-timed tackling, dominance in the air and good positional sense belying his youth and lack of experience.
The first proof that onlookers were in the presence of a special talent came in the 2016 Champions League quarter-finals against Bayern Munich, when the 6ft 2in defender put in two exceptional performances as the Germans edged out Benfica 3-2 on aggregate.
Tall and well built, Lindelof is dominant in the air and uses his strength well to make crunching tackles, almost always well-timed. In 45 games in the 2016/17 season, the defender was booked just twice (and never sent off). He has good speed for a player with such a big frame, which explains why he has often been deployed as a right-back at international level.
As well as his many physical attributes, he has shown himself to be mature. He never once went to the press to complain about his lack of first-team opportunities despite being constantly overlooked, and upon making the breakthrough he showed nerves of steel to perform at an astonishingly high level, even in crunch games against elite opposition.
Although comfortable in possession, Lindelof is usually pleased to get rid of the ball quickly by playing a simple pass to his nearest team-mate. However he has the ability to drive forward and distribute better, and this aspect of his game will no doubt improve with experience.
"It was a beautiful surprise the way he settled into the team so quickly," said Toni, former Benfica player and coach. "He is physically robust, strong in the air when marking his man, as well as being very serene and focused. He was prepared for his opportunity and made the most of it."
Did you know?
Coldly and clinically efficient in his defending, the Scandinavian has earned the nickname ‘Iceman’ at Benfica. He formed an especially strong relationship with Renato Sanches, who he referred to as "my little brother" when they won the league together in 2015/16.
Skills that pay those bills
Future at Manchester United
Renato Sanches left Benfica for a huge transfer fee last summer having played less than a full season for the Eagles, yet it did not go smoothly for him at Bayern Munich last season. Lindelof may have benefited from an extra year at Benfica. The defender was previously strongly linked with Chelsea, but seems to have fallen for Jose Mourinho's honeyed words after the Manchester United manager phoned him to explain the club's plans for next season.
After Lindelof's £30m transfer to the Old Trafford club, the expectation long term will be that he forms a partnership in central defence with the 23-year-old Eric Bailly who had an impressive debut season in 2016/17. The new Ferdinand and Vidic? Mourinho - and United fans - will certainly be hoping so.