As a Manchester United fan, there aren’t too many better feelings than seeing a young player come through the ranks and play in the first team, especially when that player truly deserves his chance. For any observers of Manchester United’s youth sides, there will be no doubting that Axel Tuanzebe deserves his chance in the first team.
One of the major concerns upon Jose Mourinho’s arrival was his apparent lack of trust in young players. In the first pre-season game, Tuanzebe came on in the last 10 minutes and look very accomplished. Mourinho was asked post-match about Tuanzebe’s debut and young players taking their chance and he responded with extremely high praise of the 18-year-old and told reporters:
“You can play 90 minutes or one minute. Sometimes one minute is enough. With Axel, ten minutes is enough! The potential is there, you see it immediately.”
So it was only natural as fans to think that Mourinho was already buying into the history and culture of Manchester United by putting faith in young players. However, a few months into the season and we are yet to see Axel Tuanzebe make his competitive debut for the club. Fans have been calling for the young defender’s inclusion in the match-day squad but when I look at the bigger picture, I think Mourinho might just be right in keeping him in the U23’s.
No matter what the situation is, there is always pressure on Manchester United and it’s manager to win games and be successful. However, there might be more pressure now than ever before. Failure to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League will see the club’s kit deal with adidas slashed by 30%. Now the club will still be raking the cash in but that financial hit will definitely affect transfer business, something that Mourinho’s success has always relied on. So with that added pressure this season, is it the right time to throw Tuanzebe in the deep end? Personally, I think playing in the reserves (no matter what your opinion of that league is) is better for his development than sitting on the bench in the first team. The key to any young player’s development is game time, they need to play as much football as possible. To take that away from him and sit him on the touchline with the occasional appearance off the bench is going to stifle his development.
If you are of the opinion that he should not just be sitting on the bench and that he should be ahead of international defenders like Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, he has done nothing to show that he can perform at this level. Now usually, I’d adopt the line of giving him a chance but the more I think about it, in a season where the smallest of errors can prove disastrous, that is not the way to give Tuanzebe his first taste of senior football at Manchester United. The club are in a position now where experience will be key and in my opinion, he doesn’t deserve the pressure that would be put on his shoulders and Mourinho knows, one mistake can cost United a place in the top four.
Recently Jones and Rojo have come into the team and haven’t performed too badly. So in my opinion, Tuanzebe would find himself as the sixth choice centre back when everyone is fit, with Bailly’s injury and likelihood to miss January, I’d bump him up to the fifth choice. Surely having him play regularly for the reserves is better for his development than sitting on the bench and picking up a few minutes over a couple of weeks. And that is all that he would be getting because Mourinho knows this isn’t the time to be giving players a chance, it’s a time to be winning games.
So while I’d love to see Tuanzebe out on the Old Trafford pitch, I do back Mourinho on this one and if I were the manager, I would be looking at securing a loan deal where he can get regular first-team football because there is no doubting that he is ready for first-team football. However, it’s just unfortunate timing that he has become ready in the middle of such an uncertain time for the club. Sir Alex Ferguson had the luxury of bringing young players through into a winning and successful environment, that isn’t a luxury Jose Mourinho has and his patience with Tuanzebe, in my opinion, is best for both the club and the player himself.
Written by Tom Simpson