“You can play 90 minutes or 1 minute. Sometimes 1 minute is enough.
“With Axel, ten minutes is enough! The potential is there, you see it immediately.
“You know him better than me because you know him for a few years but if anyone sees him for the first time, ten minutes is enough to see the potential.”
18 years old, already a captain, promoted to the first team and now he’s taking his place on the tour. The future is bright for Axel Tuanzebe.
He is a physically imposing player, standing at 6ft 1in tall, but he rarely has to display that physicality in defensive situations. It is his natural speed, composure on the ball and reading of the game that really stand out, setting Tuanzebe apart from his peers as a truly exceptional young defender.
He is also a loudmouth! Far from the shy and retiring type, Tuanzebe is a vocal and demonstrative leader. Paul McGuinness made him captain from a very young age and he’s proven himself not only capable of that position but one who thrives off the responsibility.
“It was the first time I’d picked a first-year scholar as captain. I don’t think that has happened since Gary Neville was youth-team skipper. Axel did a very good job – on and off the field.”
Paul McGuinness was not afraid to give Tuanzebe the armband despite his tender age, further endorsing both his quality and his character. A winner at youth level, Tuanzebe won the Milk Cup with United in 2013 and 2014, before winning the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year Award in 2015. His ability has shone through at every age level, so much so that the young defender has consistently played above himself. After making just three substitute appearances for Warren Joyce’s Under-21 side in 2014/15, Tuanzebe was promoted ahead of schedule to the higher age group the following season.
“I like bossing people around!”
– Axel Tuanzebe on being captain
So impressive was his form for the Under-21 side that he was promoted again – this time to Louis van Gaal’s first team squad. The teenager was an unused substitute in two Premier League games last season – a nil-nil draw away to Crystal Palace and the disappointing defeat at Bournemouth. Such a meteoric rise through the ranks is always impressive, especially to do so at just 18 years of age. Now for Tuanzebe the ambition must be to make his professional debut and play competitive minutes for the Manchester United first team.
“To have your own manager backing you so strongly is always a positive sign. My aim now is just to keep on impressing and striving towards the goals.”
– Axel Tuanzebe on his debut against Wigan Athletic
The friendly against Wigan was the perfect start. A confident opening from a young man who has already gained the trust of his new manager. Now that he’s away on tour with the squad he will be looking to nail down a place in Mourinho’s plans for the new season. In an interview with MUTV in China, Tuanzebe spoke about his opportunity with the touring party and the confidence, attitude, and character that so many coaches spoke so highly of during his time in the academy shone through in every word.
“You get to watch the senior players and see how they do things and just really take things on board – little habits could be the difference.”
– Axel Tuanzebe on his first pre-season tour with Manchester United
Having impressed both Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho enough to include him in first team training and match day squads, Tuanzebe has made it further than most. Right now he is on the cusp of achieving what so many dream of but so many fail to do – become a first team player at Manchester United.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the identity of Mourinho’s defensive pairing ahead of the new season, can Axel Tuanzebe force the manager’s hand and become the breakout star of 2016/17?