After their more fluid, attacking performance against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League this week, are the Manchester United of old back in business? No. But there was one flash of the ‘old United’ at that game.
Jesse Lingard’s Man of the Match performance carried on the strong tradition of the Reds placing their faith in exciting young talent. Youth is a cornerstone of this famous old club, so here’s four current youth players who are likely to be ever-increasing blips on Louis van Gaal’s radar:
Axel Tuanzebe, 17, defender
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but raised in Rochdale, Tuanzebe has been at United since 2013, and has already made a major impact at the youth levels. A Milk Cup winner in 2013 and 2014, the central defender was awarded the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award last season and has even been compared to Rio Ferdinand.
Another of Tuanzebe’s key traits is his versatility. A ball-playing centre-back by trade, he has also played a midfield role for the under-21s, both through the centre and out on the right. Given Van Gaal’s fondness for players who can perform a number of jobs in a side – the likes of Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo spring to mind – Tuanzebe will surely be awarded his chance soon. A place on the bench vs Crystal Palace in the Reds’ last Premier League game is a sure sign of this.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah, 17, defender/midfielder
A product of Ajax’s famed youth set up, United snapped up the Dutchman last summer, and he has made waves at the club ever since. Another defender who can play in midfield, Fosu-Mensah is a typical Dutch footballer, confident on the ball and comfortable under pressure. His ability to play at either centre-back or in defensive midfield is reminiscent of Daley Blind.
Captain of the Netherlands’ under-17 side, he is expected to make the step-up from United’s academy to the under-21s on a more permanent basis, having spent pre-season with them. Having initially struggled to get to grips with the ‘Manchester United mentality’, Fosu-Menash has had praise heaped on him from Academy coach Paul McGuiness. He told United’s in-house TV station MUTV: “He’s physically ahead of a lot of players at this age group and is very dynamic and powerful.”
Demitri Mitchell, 18, Winger
Described by United as a ‘tricky wide man’ and a ‘game-changer’, Mitchell has already attracted attention from clubs across England and Europe. The winger, who usually plays on the left, already has some impressive honours on his CV, winning the Victory Shield with England Schoolboys and the European Championship with the under-17 national side in 2014.
His taste for goalscoring from the wing – he scored four against the Gold Coast Academy in the Milk Cup and in the Reds’ opening six under-18 fixtures last term – has inevitably been compared to current first-team assistant manager Ryan Giggs. Despite injuries hampering his progress this term, he is certainly a player Van Gaal will be keeping an eye on.
Callum Gribbin, 16, Midfielder
One of the most exciting prospects in United’s academy, Salford-born Gribbin is exciting a number of people associated with Manchester United.
An extremely skilful player, Gribbin has already clearly already had an effect on Louis Van Gaal, after the manager called up the youngster to train with the senior squad ahead of their US tour, despite his schoolboy status.
Though his occasional outbursts on Twitter about being benched have seen him in hot water with his coaches, it could perhaps be forgiven, given his young age. And in spite of his social media antics, Gribbin’s on-field performances even earned him a substitute appearance for the under-21s against bitter rivals Manchester City last term, at the tender age of just 16.
He is sure to be fans’ favourite as well, after he rejected the approaches of bitter rivals Liverpool to stay with the Red Devils.
So while at present things are far from perfect for United, as with the celebrated Class of ’92, the future is looking pretty rosy.