Timothy Fosu-Mensah, 19, was promoted to the first team squad during Louis Van Gaal’s final season in the Manchester United dugout. In a season overwhelmed with injury problems, the versatile Dutchman was handed his debut on 28th February 2016, as he came off the bench alongside fellow debutant James Weir to face Arsenal. The pair featured alongside familiar academy friends, Marcus Rashford and Guillermo Varela as a truly makeshift United side beat Arsenal 3-2 at the Theatre of Dreams.
After his display during the victory against Arsenal, former United boss Van Gaal heaped praise on the Dutch talent in an interview with MUTV, “He can dribble, he can cross, but he can also play in the centre-half position or in midfield. He’s a multi-functional player. But it is not easy to play in the first team when you are so young because the play is so quick, especially against Arsenal, because they are also moving the ball quickly. So, it was a good debut for him.” After beating Crystal Palace several weeks after his debut, Van Gaal then likened his versatility to that of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s. The former Bayern Munich manager changed Schweinsteiger’s position a decade ago from left-wing to central midfield, when the pair were together in Germany and believed Fosu-Mensah can occupy the same position if squad vacancies appear.
The Dutchman impressed heavily last season, starting four games and making six appearances from the bench. More notably, however, in the same number of games the-then 18-year-old Dutch international showed off his gift of versatility playing at left-back, centre-back, and right-back. He has continued to impress whenever called into first team action and has also progressed on an international level having been selected for their squad on a couple of occasions.
Despite the impact he made during his breakthrough season, since the start of this season Fosu-Mensah has started just three games in all competitions and come off the bench just four times. His inclusion in match day squads have been erratic, to say the least and he is no longer featuring for the United U23’s. While training daily with the first team squad might be providing him with more benefits that playing with the U23’s, it’s puzzling that Mourinho has openly rejected loan offers for the 19-year-old. Mourinho’s man management of the wonder kid has been interesting, to put it mildly. His refusal to let him gain loan experience is a statement of intent and displays the high regards and praise Mourinho has for Fosu-Mensah. Mourinho’s history with youth is infamously skeptical. Throughout his many years in management, the 53-year-old has promoted an insignificant amount of youth players into the first team; John Obi Mikel, Jese Rodriguez, Alvaro Morata, Nacho, Fabinho, Raphael Varane, Kurt Zouma, Dominic Solanke and Reuben Loftus-Cheek. Nine notable players in 15-odd years of management is a shockingly low record, but at Manchester United the demands demand difference.
Previously mentioned by Louis Van Gaal and previously displayed in the U23’s, Timothy FosuMensah’s best position is arguably at the base of midfield. Rapid speed, tenacious work rate, passionate aggression, sheer strength and determination are his best qualities and are defensive midfield requirements under Jose Mourinho. There are no doubting Fosu-Mensah’s similarities to previous Jose Mourinho defensive midfielders, but Mourinho has shown throughout the years that he prefers players who ultimately play just one role, over his predecessor’s preference of versatility. Nevertheless, Mourinho’s decision to keep Fosu-Mensah and block out all loan moves suggests he has a future at Old Trafford which is being readied daily in training.
Written by Faaris Johal