Andre Onana – Erik ten Hag’s revolutionary signing

For many years, the fundamental aspect of a goalkeeper was his shot stopping and ability to prevent the opposition from scoring.

Their ability on the ball, or cross claiming capabilities weren’t aspects which would defy a player’s chances of making it at the top level.

However, with the ever adapting and modernisation of football through revolutionary managers like Pep Guardiola, the role of the goalkeeper changed.


Distribution, cross claiming and sweeping became core elements of a goalkeeper’s needed arsenal.

A clear illustration of this was Manchester City manager Guardiola’s decision to remove highly rated Joe Hart and sign Brazilian goalkeeper Ederson, not renowned for his shot stopping, but more his complete coolness on the ball. At the time, this deal cost £34.7m, which was a world record fee for a goalkeeper.

Similarly, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, when rebuilding the club, broke the previous record, signing Roma goalkeeper Alisson to replace Loris Karius for £67m.

These signings became statements of the transition in goalkeeping expectations, with most clubs now looking for a goalkeeper who is capable to play the ‘modern’ way.

In his earlier years, Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag was inspired by the great Johan Cruyff and coached Bayern Munich II side whilst Guardiola was the first team manager.

As a result, the Dutch coach holds a similar philosophy to that of Cruyff, Guardiola and Klopp, as he likes his goalkeepers to be ball playing number ones.

Therefore, with David de Gea’s difficulty when trying to produce Ten Hag’s vision, the United manager looked to his former Ajax goalkeeper to be the one to revolutionise this United side.

Thus, United signed Andre Onana for £47.2m.

Onana’s background

United’s new goalkeeper started off his career in Samuel Eto’s Cameroonian academy, before being swept up by Barcelona’s prestigious youth system.

With Barcelona’s academy renowned for its attention to detail, particularly with regards to every player being indoctrinated to be comfortable on the ball, it’s no surprise Onana is as good with it as he is.

After Onana gradually rose up the ranks in the academy, going from Barca youth to the U19’s side, the 27-year-old goalkeeper left Barcelona to join Ajax in January of 2015.

In his first two seasons, Onana played regularly for Ajax’s U21’s, before breaking through into the first team for the 2016/17 season.

On September 6th 2016, Onana made his debut for the Cameroonian national team in a friendly against Gabon.

Ten Hag joined Ajax in December 2017, and continued to utilise Onana, as former manager Peter Bosz had, before he left as head coach to join Borussia Dortmund and was replaced by Marcel Keizer.

In 2017/18, Onana kept 12 clean sheets in 33 Eredivisie games. The following season, Onana kept 16 in 33 league games.

Ajax’s number one was a crucial part of the team that won the Eredivisie in 2018/19, also winning the Dutch cup in the process. In addition, in Europe, Onana kept four clean sheets in the 12 historic appearances Ajax had in their famous Champions League semi final run, before they were beaten at the death by Tottenham.

However, in October 2020, Onana’s life would change forever.

Having felt unwell with a headache, Onana took what he believed to be a paracetamol tablet in his kitchen. However, Onana accidentally took a Furosemide based tablet which is a banned substance. This tablet was prescribed to his wife after giving birth. The pack and pills looked the same as the paracetamol.

As a result, when conducting a routine drugs test, Onana’s test came back positive.

UEFA accepted that Onana hadn’t attempted to cheat, but he still eventually received a nine month ban after a reduction in the sentence from the court of arbitration of sport.

After the ban, Onana rarely played for Ajax, making just six appearances in the 21/22 season. This could come down to a number of factors, with Onana struggling to re-find his previous form after such a long time away and his desire to move away from Ajax.

With Onana departing Ajax at the end of his contract, Inter Milan bought the goalkeeper in on a free transfer.

Italy gave Onana the second kickstart he really needed.

His prowess shone through on the big stage in Europe, as Onana won the Champions League golden glove with eight clean sheets, the most saves and second highest save completion rate with 81%.

Unfortunately for Onana and United fans, this wasn’t enough to stop Manchester City who beat the Cameroonian’s Inter side 1-0 in the final.

Such performances earnt high praise from City manager Guardiola.

He said: “For the way they play, with the high press, Onana is an exceptional goalkeeper to take the position to build-up. Really, really good.”

What Onana will bring to this United side

Barring Fabian Barthez, who was ahead of his time, United haven’t ever had a goalkeeper who’s known for his comfort on the ball.

When it came to other attributes like a commanding presence and cross claiming, legendary treble winner Peter Schmeichel was renowned for this.

However, with De Gea, despite his brilliance for many years, he struggled in many aspects outside of shot stopping.

When United tried to build out from the back, the Spaniard would struggle to make accurate passes. In the Premier League last season, De Gea had a 68.3% pass success percentage. This compared to Ederson’s 84.4%, is an illustration of the difficulties De Gea has, particularly when trying to play out the back when being pressed.

Thus, with such a low completion, United would consistently lose possession, which in certain situations lead to dangerous goalscoring opportunities for the opposition.

Therefore, with Onana’s brilliance on the ball, his calm and accurate nature will help avoid a lot of these issues, as he can effectively bypass an oppositions press, by launching a pinpoint long ball towards a teammate, or playing it short to his defenders without misplacing the pass.

Similarly, De Gea struggled to be a sweeper goalkeeper.

Subsequently, the Spaniard would sit deeper when in possession and this caused issues offensively and defensively.

Offensively, as he was so deep, United had to lower their defensive line, inviting more pressure. As a result, this also affected the offensive elements, as when pressing, United couldn’t push as high up as they could have if De Gea wasn’t so far back.

Therefore, with Onana’s tendency to position himself as high up the field as possible, this enables Ten Hag to let the defence push forward, and in the process, creating a far more efficient and effective press from the front.

One thing that United fans may be dubious about is Onana’s cross claiming. The Cameroonian goalkeeper has been known to snap at some crosses leaving his goal exposed. However, as Onana matures, he may become more intelligent as to when to go for a cross and when to leave it.

With regards to shot stopping, there’s arguably no one better than De Gea. Since he joined United in 2011, the Spaniard has saved almost inevitable goals. Thus, with his departure, Onana will be a downgrade in this regard, but the Cameroonian goalkeeper is still a good shot stopper.


Onana may concede a few more at times which De Gea could have saved, but his ability to keep possession will significantly lower the amount of shots United face, and subsequently concede.


Ultimately, the signing of Andre Onana will revolutionise this United side, as it will enable Ten Hag to effectively play his high pressing football, with efficient build up from the back. United won the Carabao Cup and got to an FA Cup final last season with these issues, so the signing of Onana will help Ten Hag’s United to push on for the major silverware.