Marcel Sabitzer is an exceptional example of what used to be called a utility player and as such is unusual in the modern game.
Who’s this then?
Marcel Sabitzer is a 5’10” 29-year-old Austrian midfielder who is currently on loan at Manchester United from Bayern Munich and scored both goals in their Europa League draw with Sevilla on Thursday.
Born in Wels, Upper Austria he played youth football for Admira Villach, Grazer AK, 1. Wiener Neustädter SC and Austria Wien before joining Admira Wacker’s youth academy in July 2009.
When 18 he joined Rapid Wien in January 2013 – playing 57 games for them and scoring 12 times – before joining RB Leipzig, but was loaned out to RB Salzburg for the 2014/15 season. He had a superb campaign playing 51 times and scoring 27 goals.
Back in Germany he helped Leipzig get promoted from the second tier in 2015/16 and played seven seasons for them. In that time they didn’t finish lower than sixth and were runners up in 2020/21.
His consistently impressive performances attracted Bayern Munich, who paid 16 million Euros for his services. But after just a season and a half, he was loaned to United, essentially as cover for the injured Christian Eriksen, and became the first Austrian to play for the club. He was quickly integrated into the team and has played 13 games, scoring three times and being a very impressive all-action hard-working player.
His international career began in 2012 aged just 18 and he now has 69 caps, scoring 14 times.
Why the love?
Well, he’s the nearest thing to Bryan Robson I’ve seen playing for United since Robson hung up his boots and rested his very broken legs. Albeit in a modern context, he has the same energy and commitment, as likely to be found tackling someone in a defensive position as he is surging into the box to score.
Okay, he’s not got the insanity overdrive that Captain Marvel possessed and doesn’t fly into tackles like a shell fired from a bazooka, but you wouldn’t last a minute in the game today if you did.
He’s incredibly adaptable and must be incredibly fit. Not for Marcel the idea of playing in one position and one position only. So far in his career he has played in 10 different roles – right-winger, central midfielder, left-winger, second striker, centre-forward, right midfield, attacking midfield and defensive midfield as well as three games at left-back and one at right-back.
And, playing full-back excepted, these are roles he’s played many times, getting into double figures for goals and assists in all. But he’s played on the right wing more than any other position, scoring 28 times in 135 games and making 30 assists. Personally, I like him in the middle of the pitch as an advanced midfielder.
He is an exceptional example of what used to be called a utility player and as such is unusual in the modern game which, at least at the highest levels, tends to be all about specialists. More unusual still is that he isn’t a make-do-and-mend option in all those positions, he’s really good in all of them, as his stats prove.
The best utility player I ever saw was Paul Madeley, who played 536 games for Leeds in the 60s and 70s and famously played in every position except in goal, but he was absolutely nothing like Marcel. A top-notch utility player is really important in being able to fill positions that open up through injury and suspension.
Wherever he is to be found on the pitch, he always brings a direct energy and commitment to his game. He’s one of those players who you never doubt is going to give anything less than 100% and that will always endear a player to the fans. He seems to have no side to him and that must be a manager’s dream knowing he’s not the sort to get elbowed in the face by an official. Indeed, he’s only had two red cards in his career and not since 2014/15.
He has a very serious air about him both on and off the pitch. Definitely a grown-up, you don’t get the sense that he’s the joker in the dressing room. In his interviews he speaks very bluntly and plainly in very good English. Here he is after the draw against Sevilla saying they game away “two stupid goals”:
That he’s being trusted to do tricky post-match interviews in what is his second language after only being at the club since January is perhaps a measure of the faith the manager holds in the Austrian and why the fans already really respect him.
Three great moments
Top bins, as the kids say.
While clips reels can make even average players look brilliant, it’s the variety and breadth of his contributions here that impresses…
He takes both his goals with such confidence. He definitely could play as a centre forward.
His contract with Bayern runs until 2025 but whether he’ll see that out remains in doubt. They are not short of quality midfielders. Surely United will want to sign him, if that is a possibility.
While initially he was defined as cover for Eriksen, Erik ten Hag has seen him contribute far more than many may have anticipated, having seen him playing in Austria and the Bundesliga. This high-energy, all-action type of player is not common and surely every top club needs someone who can be a reliable performer in half-a-dozen different roles.
Transfermarkt values him at just £20million. When you think of how much money United have wasted on players who never repaid their fee with their performances, a mere £20million would seem like a steal at twice the price, given they know what they’re getting so. It’s not, like so many transfers, a gamble.
It’s often said that January is a difficult time to sign new players. Whether that is true is open to debate, but it is a great time to get a loan player in, see if he works and then buy him in the summer. I’m sure that is what the club is hoping for.