Philadelphia, PA – You'd be forgiven for failing to recognize the spiky-haired, tattoo-covered player donning Manchester United's No. 28 shirt against Wigan on Saturday.
Having joined the Red Devils at the conclusion of the summer transfer window - an acquisition that flew under the radar amid high-profile signings like Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie - Alexander Buttner made his debut at the weekend, helping the club to a resounding, 4-0 win at Old Trafford.
An unfamiliar face at the opening whistle, Buttner put in the type of shift that made spectators rush to their smart phones or computers to learn more about the feisty defender.
Buttner, 23, arrived in Manchester by way of Eredivisie club Vitesse Arnhem, with which he made his professional debut in 2008.
He was named in Bert van Marwijk's preliminary Netherlands squad for Euro 2012 but ultimately was dropped in favor of 18-year-old Jetro Willems, who started all three games in the competition to become the youngest-ever player to feature at the European Championships. Given Holland's abysmal performances in the tournament - it lost all three matches to finish bottom of Group B - it could have used Buttner's ability on both sides of the ball.
Buttner's offensive and defensive potential was on display for all to see on Saturday. He set the tone with a gritty, tough-tackling performance on the defensive end, but also was exceptional going forward, using pace to exploit space on the left flank and providing great service into the danger area.
He set up Javier Hernandez for an easy finish in the 63rd minute to double United's lead, but Buttner's piece de resistance came three minutes later when he opened his scoring account for the Red Devils. The Dutchman showed his ability to transition by dispossessing a Wigan player and commencing on a sensational weaving run into the penalty area. He skipped past a few defenders before showing tremendous gumption to beat Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi from an acute angle.
It was a memorable debut, enough for Buttner to garner Man of the Match honors by an overwhelming 71 percent of the vote (conducted by fans via the club's official website).
Buttner's arrival at Old Trafford was one of necessity.
Patrice Evra, who sat out Saturday's tilt with Wigan due to a minor knock, has been uncontested in securing the left-back position since he signed with United in January 2006. But now the Frenchman is on the wrong side of 30, and appearing in approximately 85 percent of the club's Premier League fixtures over his six full seasons with United certainly yields fatigue, and greater injury risk, for any player. For this reason, Sir Alex Ferguson felt it was necessary to acquire adequate cover for the long-serving Evra.
Ferguson was impressed by Buttner's first match with the club, but he admitted there is still some work to be done.
"Some of Buttner's play was good, but I think he was a little bit rash at times," Fergie conceded to the club's television station. "He has a great engine and great enthusiasm for the game, but he's raw with a lot of rough edges there.
"We think we can develop that and hopefully he can be a really good addition to the team. He scored a lot of goals in Holland and was determined enough to get that goal. It was a little bit lucky, I don't know if it got a deflection or not, but he showed his willingness to get in there and deserved it."
Perhaps the greatest testament to Buttner's performance on Saturday was Evra's reaction.
Following Buttner's assist and subsequent goal, the television camera panned over to the Frenchman peering from the stands, and his expression watching the Dutchman run rampant at Old Trafford was not one of elation for a teammate, but instead trepidation.
Could it be that Evra knows his time as a first-team regular is up? Was he contemplating how - or if - he will transition into more of a role player? Was he pondering a move to another big club at season's end should things not go his way this term?
It is a bit premature to start speculating all of that. Evra is a seasoned veteran with plenty to offer, serving as being United's vice-captain to Nemanja Vidic.
But the fact remains that Buttner was a spark in a match that was still scoreless at the 50-minute mark. If the Dutchman regularly turns out performances like he did Saturday, this season could serve as a transitional period at left-back for Manchester United.