Andre Onana will provide more heart-in-mouth moments for Man Utd - but it will be worth it if he can help lead Erik ten Hag's side back to glory

Onana Ten Hag GFX
The Cameroon international was signed to transform the Red Devils' style of play, but he will need patience and support if he is to be a success

All summer, Manchester United fans had been rubbing their hands thinking about the positive impact Andre Onana could have on their side's play. Yet just 22 minutes into his first match at Old Trafford against Lens, they saw the negative side of their new £47-million ($60m) goalkeeper's way of playing.

The Cameroonian was outside his area when his side were in possession, but when Diogo Dalot's wayward pass landed at the feet of Lens forward Florian Sotoca, he was left dangerously exposed. Sotoca reacted quickly, and with his first touch he sent the ball high into the air, leaving Onana to scramble back towards his line in vain.

As he lay lying tangled in the net with a glum look on his face, many supporters might have been wondering if getting rid of David de Gea for Onana was such a wise move after all. They may have remembered the words of warning from Dwight Yorke and Ben Foster, who have reiterated that a goalkeeper's number one job is to make saves, not get involved in the play. A goalkeeper's place is in his area, not outside it, they will have thought.

They should brace themselves for more heart-in-mouth moments from Onana and indeed more costly errors. But they should also remember that the goalkeeper has not been brought to Old Trafford to play it safe. He has been signed to transform the team's style of play and bring United up to speed with their greatest rivals. And, if he is given the support and patience he needs, that is what he will do.

  1. Team-mates must adapt

    Team-mates must adapt

    Although many people were quick to point the finger at Onana when Lens took a surprise lead at Old Trafford, the goalkeeper wasn't really the man to blame. That was Dalot, who made a careless pass which Sotoca ruthlessly seized upon.

    The goalkeeper was out of his area, but he so often is. There are many pictures of Onana with the ball at his feet - although sometimes without it - next to the halfway line, with a defender behind him. And his new team-mates need to be aware of this new reality and that any misplaced pass in their own half, such as the one Dalot played, will leave Onana vulnerable to being lobbed.

    But the goalkeeper showed he has the personality to admit when he has made a mistake and still volunteered to do post-match interviews. “Like I always say, I am responsible for everything, especially when we concede goals," Onana said. "I’m the big man at the back so I take all the criticism, all the responsibility is on me.”

  2. Fronting up

    Fronting up

    It was not the first time Onana took responsibility for a high-profile mistake and it will not be the last. The Cameroonian was no stranger to errors while playing under Ten Hag at Ajax, and two of his biggest mistakes led to them exiting the Champions League.

    One of those was against Liverpool in the 2020-21 group stage, when he let a Neco Williams cross pass him by as he thought it would sail out for a goal-kick. He had failed to spot, however, the presence of Curtis Jones, who stuck out a leg to send the ball into the net.

    Onana fronted up after the game, telling reporters: “I made a mistake. I have nothing more to say. It’s my mistake and I’m responsible. We didn’t draw or win today because of me. I take all the blame.” The defeat meant Ajax went into their final game of the campaign trailing Atalanta and a loss to the Italians knocked them out.

    The following season, Ajax were locked in a tight last-16 second leg at home to Benfica. Late in the game, Onana misjudged the flight of a cross and was beaten in the air by Darwin Nunez, who sent the Portuguese side through at Ajax's expense.

  3. Even the best make big errors

    Even the best make big errors

    Every goalkeeper, however, makes mistakes and more often than not they lead to goals. Goals that come from careless kick outs are the hardest to swallow, but they happen to the very best.

    Just look at last season's Champions League clash between Real Madrid and Liverpool, a meeting of two of the best goalkeepers in the world, Thibaut Courtois and Alisson Becker. In the space of 21 minutes, the pair exchanged howlers. Courtois had received a bouncing back pass from Dani Carvajal, and after taking it on his chest he allowed the ball to bobble off his knee and straight to Mohamed Salah, who was standing about one metre from him and only had to prod it into the net. Down the other end, Alisson received a simple pass back from Joe Gomez, and as Vinicius Junior went to close him down, the goalkeeper fired it straight at the body of his Brazilian compatriot, whose block sent the ball straight into the goal.

    Alisson has made a litany of costly mistakes for Liverpool, including being tackled in his area by Leicester's Kelechi Iheanacho one month into his Premier League career and, also against Leicester, flying out of his area and crashing into his own defender Ozan Kabak. But, unlike his predecessor Loris Karius, he has compensated by making Liverpool a much better team in possession.

  4. Endorsed by Guardiola

    Endorsed by Guardiola

    The same is true of Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson. United fans revelled when the Brazilian threw the ball at the feet of Scott McTominay in the Manchester derby in 2020 and the midfielder clinched the 2-0 win. Liverpool were delighted when he kicked the ball straight to Mohamed Salah at Anfield and the Egyptian calmly lobbed him.

    Ederson made high-profile errors last season too, gifting Harry Kane a goal after a sloppy pass. However, he has helped City win five of the last six Premier League titles and had a pivotal role in the Champions League final win over Inter. But on that night when it came to audacious acts of dribbling and passing, Ederson was upstaged by Onana.

    Pep Guardiola had waxed lyrical about Onana in the build-up to the match, and the Catalan coach knows a thing or two about ball-playing 'keepers. His mentor was Johan Cruyff, who famously said: "In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender." Guardiola always backed Victor Valdes when he was Barcelona coach and encouraged the goalkeeper to keep coming out of his area and play ambitious passes.

    And his first act as City coach was to get rid of Joe Hart, a modern club legend, due to his deficiencies with the ball. As he praised Onana, Guardiola could not resist a dig at City's local rivals, contrasting Inter's intricate passing out from their goalkeeper with United's then 'keeper De Gea, which he bluntly described as "long ball".

  5. Too ambitious for Cameroon
    Getty Images

    Too ambitious for Cameroon

    Ten Hag ultimately decided to part ways with De Gea after his performance in the FA Cup final against City, when the Spaniard was beaten by two long-range goals from Ilkay Gundogan. He also kept on giving the ball back to City with his long punts down the field, as he did not have the confidence to pass to his team-mates out of fear of being intercepted.

    Onana showed on his Old Trafford bow that he is no stranger to being beaten by long-distance strikes. But unlike De Gea, he will allow United to play how Ten Hag wants them to. And that is why he is the right signing for the Red Devils.

    Indeed, he is so committed to his audacious playing style that it has ultimately cost him his international career. Onana was Cameroon's No.1 going into the World Cup in Qatar, but he had a furious argument with coach Rigobert Song after defeat in their opening game to Switzerland.

    Onana was hardly at fault for Breel Embolo's goal, but during the game he had incensed Song for repeatedly coming out of his area and being so involved with the team's play. He was left out of the squad for the next match against Serbia, which he had to watch from the team's hotel, and was forced to fly home before the final group game against Brazil.

  6. 'The style of Manchester United'

    'The style of Manchester United'

    While Song and Cameroon may have been too conservative for Onana's ambitious style of play, Ten Hag clearly values his goalkeeper's personality. And on first impressions, so do many of his team-mates.

    Onana let rip at Harry Maguire during United's friendly defeat against Borussia Dortmund after the defender had given the ball away and gifted a huge chance to the Bundesliga side, forcing Onana to make the save. His attitude might have rubbed TalkSport pundit Gabriel Agbonlahor up the wrong way, but his reaction was praised by people that matter, such as Lisandro Martinez.

    "It's better, it's better," said the Argentine. "If you are focused, you can fight with your team-mates as well, you need to make sure everyone is really sharp. He has a big personality. He can play football, he can deal with the pressure, he's really positive, he's a leader. That's the style of Manchester United."

    Having just won a World Cup, Martinez knows the value of big personalities and indeed flamboyant goalkeepers, such as his international team-mate and namesake Emiliano Martinez. The Argentina goalkeeper is a divisive figure, but has Copa America and World Cup winners' medals to his name.

    Onana will undoubtedly divide opinion at Old Trafford, in television studios and in living rooms. He is likely to be lobbed again, to misjudge crosses and to gift the ball to an opposing striker when trying to start an attack. But he is also far more likely to make United truly compete with England's and Europe's best than if De Gea had remained between the posts.

    It is sure to be a rollercoaster ride, but if it takes United to the Premier League title or to a Champions League final, it will have been worth it.