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Ro-Shaun Williams determined to follow Axel Tuanzebe’s rise to the first team

Manchester United Academy defender Ro-Shaun Williams aims to follow Axel Tuanzebe on his rise into the first team at the Old Trafford club. Williams has partnered Tuanzebe whilst coming through the ranks within the Academy over the years. Tuanzebe’s full debut against Arsenal at the Emirates in the Premier League on Sunday, which was a 2-0 defeat to United, was a good start for the 19-year-old who dealt with Alexis Sanchez to a good standard, considering his lack of first team experience. Williams who is nearly a year younger at 18 will be looking for a similar rise to the first team when it is established he is ready for it. This season, Williams has been suffering from a knee injury, which has curtailed his progress through the youth ranks but once recovered, he will be looking to impress his coaches and more importantly the first team manager, Jose Mourinho.

Williams has been on the sidelines since late last year, getting over his knee injury and building his mental fitness ahead of his return to action. Williams has high aspirations, which is just one of the ingredients Mourinho will be looking for from a youth player looking to break into his first team. Tuanzebe has shown that mental toughness, as well as ability on and off the ball, goes a long way to get you a chance in the team. The 19-year-old defender may have played in the right-back role on Sunday, not his favoured role but one he can fill adequately. Playing in the centre of the defence will be the main position he would want to play, which with United looking to strengthen the defence in the summer, could be the moment for Tuanzebe to shine and fill the void, possibly becoming a partner for Eric Bailly, one of the best signings Mourinho has made in the summer and United in the past few years.

That being said, Williams, who can play in the right-back role, amongst other positions, will see his youth teammate rising through the ranks, which will boost his own aspirations and see that unlike Manchester City, at United there is a chance to rise through the ranks and play for the first team. That was demonstrated last season with Marcus Rashford being given the chance by then manager Louis van Gaal, giving two goals on his debut in the UEFA Europa League, then a further two just a few days later in his Premier League debut against Arsenal. Williams is a talented player, although he has been plagued with injury recently, that will not stop him or his development. Williams was interviewed by the official Manchester United website last week, talking about the progress of Tuanzebe, and his own, saying:

“Axel’s doing well and has pushed up with the first team. He’s working hard and looking to try to get a place in the team. 

“That’s what we’re both pushing to do: work as hard as we can and hopefully we can get into the first team. It’s what we’ve been working our whole lives for and why we’ve stayed at United – to try to get into the first team.”

Williams would have played a big part in United’s FA Youth Cup run this season, if that was not ended by a defeat to Southampton with United U18 side tipped to win big things, this seemingly not one of them. The 18-year-old is still eligible to play U18 football, despite being a permanent fixture in the U23 side, before his recent injury at least. Williams found out about his injury before the Youth Cup match in December, which would have been devastating for the player, who is still looking to return from the injury. The fact that Williams was promoted to the U23’s, clearly ahead of his time, using that quote from Sir Matt Busby “if they are good enough, they are old enough”. Williams has a big career ahead of him and the progress of one of his teammates will only make him stronger when coming back from his injury. Williams gave more insight of the injury and his recovery, saying:

“It was an injury over time. Like a recurrence in training with my right knee. It was disappointing to get the injury as I’d just come back from a long-term shoulder injury. I was just getting back playing, so to get injured again was quite disappointing.

“It’s been quite a while now and I’ve not played a game since the start of December nor trained since then. So I’ve been injured quite a while but I’m working hard to get back to fitness. It’s also good with my age in terms of recovery, with my growing as well. I won’t stop growing until I’m 21, apparently.

“My season didn’t really start because of injury. It wasn’t going well or badly, so it was just starting for me in October or November but then I got injured in December. It was very disappointing but I’m working hard with the physios and looking to come back next season stronger and fitter.

“I’ve been working very closely with Jonny Picot, Tom Hughes and Russ Hayes, the physios, plus doing strengthening work with Mark Hulse to strengthen my upper body and core, and also the muscles around my knee.

“Hopefully, I’ll get back next season. I’ll just work hard and see how it goes. It’s been disappointing because I’ve missed out on a lot of stuff – the Under-23s league, hopefully I would have been pushing nearer to the first team, the Dallas Cup and I’m going to miss the European Championship with the England Under-19s in the summer. We qualified and I played in the first qualifying rounds, before I was injured in November for the second round. Hopefully, the boys will do well in it.”

United have a good range of players in their Academy. The U18’s were the most exciting team this season, but injury seems to have ravaged them too with Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and others missing some crucial matches, which has seen the most lively U18 team of recent years fall short of their expectations. Looking back at last season though, when the U18’s lost twelve league matches in a row, the performances this season had shown that some ingredients were missing to make them a lively attacking team, which has been proven this season. Williams will still be eligible to play U18 at the start of next season, providing he is fit, but turning 19 on the 3rd September will mean he will very much be on the radar of the U23’s set up next season, injuries aside. Williams is a strong competitor, as he has shown by his determination to recover from injury, which could see him rise through the ranks himself in the coming years, maybe sooner.

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