Rise to Fame: Demi Mitchell, the next successful story at the back

Things have taken a strange turn this season, or at least one the fans didn’t expect at all; Jose Mourinho playing and giving youth a chance. In the past four Premier League games, the Portuguese manager has involved youth players from the Reserves team and Axel Tuanzebe has been a starter in the midfield, giving others hope that Mourinho will give other youngsters a chance. One of the recent players who have gained attention in the Reserves team is Demetri Mitchell who has been developing further this season, despite being considered as an attacking option within the Academy, he has dropped into the left back role, but he hasn’t forgotten his old attacking traits, scoring and assisting goals. Let’s have a look at Mitchell’s journey until this weekend, where he is set to make his Manchester United debut in the Premier League against Crystal Palace.

Many may not recognise him for his attributes at the Academy as Demi Mitchell can’t be one Angel Gomes but he surely is Demi Mitchell and in that case, he is really special. Mitchell has been considered as a potential game changer, a potential threat to the opposition and he definitely has been showing class in several situations when dealing with defenders as owns pace, but what surprised me the most is the fact that Mitchell dropped to the midfield and we will go on that later.

Starting from the very beginning Demi Mitchell first dragged the attention when he was shortlisted in MUTV’s Goal of the Month back in 2011 in the Aegon Cup against Bayern Munich with a fine strike playing at the U17 level despite being an U15 player, and as the club’s website states, his technique was as well noticed when he scored another superb goal against Leicester. In the 2012/13 Mitchell made only substitute appearances but was involved more regularly in his first year as a scholar scoring six goals and assisting six times in 2013/14 season. After a promising and explosive start as with nine starts and four substitute appearances he scored five times, but the excitement was gone as he got injured in September only making into the team back in December but the New Year wasn’t any good for the English as he ended his season early. 2015/16 season wasn’t any good for the youngster as he only made one appearance in August in the Lancashire Cup against Rochdale and then went and got injured again, going missing for another four months. His return in the U21’s was in the Manchester Derby as he came on as a substitute. The previous season he only managed to assist once in three starts and four substitute appearances.

The best was yet to come for Demetri Mitchell as the start of the new season, saw him being one of the potential candidates of becoming the next false number nine, as Adnan Januzaj and Andreas Pereira were sent on loan, while Ashley Fletcher and Will Keane left for good, while James Wilson, who was sent on loan at the time, got injured and was out for the season. It can be said that this type of player can surprise and it has surely been a pleasant one. I remember watching him in the Lancashire Cup back in August and entering the pitch as a substitute he shone the brightest as he was incredibly impressive for the U23’s, making Warren Joyce thinking of having him as a choice upfront. Despite not being a good season for the Reserves, we cannot say the same for Demi Mitchell, as in 16 starts and eight games coming on as a substitute he has scored six goals and has also assisted three times. But what does make him so special, even though I said he may not have the shining factor like the Reserves’ captain Tuanzebe or the X-factor like Gomes? For starters let’s see what he had to say when he had to switch to the back when Joe Riley got injured and left for Sheffield United in January:

“I think I’ve adapted well. I’m just learning on the job but it’s been good learning to play in a different position. I’d never played there before. I like to get forward and find it comfortable from left-back. I just need to learn the positions to take up as I’ve not played there before.

“I had done it in training and in some friendlies we have had and I did well. We’ve had a few injuries at left-back and Nicky Butt said, as I’d done well in training, he would give me the opportunity to play there and see how I cope with it.”

Well, as we have seen, wingers haven’t always adapted really well at the back, but he has that one great example who won the Players’ Player of the Year award shows that hard work pays off and Demi Mitchell surely knows this better than anyone:

“People like Hector Bellerin [at Arsenal] and Antonio Valencia here. Antonio was a winger and, even though he’s on the right side, it’s the same position. So it’s good to learn from attacking players like them.

“I’ve also looked at how Luke Shaw gets down the left side at full-back and someone else I’ve studied is Ashley Cole as he was a winger early on but played his whole career at left-back and did so for England as well.”

What makes him a player to look after is the way he understands how things are done around and how his teammates have also helped him into a new role, in a new position where Nicky Butt may have made a wonderful discovery:

“I like to play with the game in front of me so there are real benefits to it. It’s an opportunity to get forward and not just be defensive but you also have to remember the defensive work and make sure you’re switched on. We don’t have any out-and-out wingers really so it’s easy to get down the sides.

“If we had a winger like, say Ryan Giggs, then you’d have to hold back a bit but our wingers like to play more inside as midfielders, people like Callum Gribbin and Tosin Kehinde, so I can get down the flank. To be fair, since I’ve been operating there, having Axel play next to me helps a lot as he talks all the time as captain and tells me when players are coming over and stuff like that.”

When Nicky Butt was appointed as head of the academy, he had a few things in mind, but probably that wasn’t one he had thought about, taking charge of the Reserves and experimenting with the team, so they’ll be ready for a brand new season. Knowing that Joe Riley, who is really the next shining star, won’t be around in the U23’s team for long, one solution was needed. Butt had been observing him for long and the results are obvious now:

“I think I was ready for it as Nicky watched the friendly games under Warren Joyce and thought I could be a wing-back or a full-back because I’m versatile on that side. Nicky has won pretty much everything so it’s great to learn from him. 

“It’s a learning curve but he tells me what to do and where to go in games. When I’m out wide, I can sometimes hear him talking to me and telling me what to do. Maybe it’s to stay back and catch my breath as it is quite a demanding role, getting forward and back. You’ve to get up and down so I just have to manage it and work on my fitness but I’m feeling quite good at the moment.”

On the other hand, Nicky Butt is completely honest in what he states about the choice he made:

“It started out of necessity, if I’m honest, as we had no left-back when Cameron Borthwick-Jackson went out on loan.So we needed a replacement and decided Demi could do it. He has got blistering pace. He’s strong, brave, can take people on and can cross a ball.

“When he plays on the left wing, it doesn’t always happen for him as the space tightens up pretty quickly but I think, as a modern-day full-back or wing-back, Demi is perfect for that. He comes onto the game at pace and, once in full flight, he’s pretty impossible to stop.”

Yet, despite the job seems almost done, Butt says that Mitchell has to work more and he claims that it could be in his hands purely. The English can impress you and that’s why the player has to work even more on his defensive skills. It’s not easy for a winger to adapt but he wants to learn and his manager is delighted. He also spoke of the fact that this position may not show the best out of him and his teammate Matthew Olosunde, but in the end, in the football pitch, you must adapt. These two are not the only ones and Butt has a word with them:

“He just needs to develop the defensive side of it now with coaching. But he’s keen to learn, which is good. I think modern-day full-backs are really attacking players and, if you can get the defensive side right as well, you’ve got a serious defender on your hands.

“Both Demi and Matthew Olosunde [who has been playing right-back] are very attacking players and good on the eye. They have got to get better at defending one against one but that will come. They are pacey and exciting for fans to watch.”

As we head into our final game of the season in the Premier League, Jose Mourinho is willing to give youth and we have been warned, Demi Mitchell will be involved and finally, fans will see his development. There may have been a few depressive seasons, but his determination stays above it all and Manchester United fans will be able to give their verdict, somehow on Sunday, but one thin is for sure, if he keeps up with his work ratio, the future is bright.

Written by Fabiola Cejku


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