Former Manchester United defender Paul Parker has spoken about his former club a lot over the past few days. He has sounded quite bitter with some of the comments he has made, but other seem to show the guy has some sense, others give a clear talking point. United are currently in another period of rebuilding, the past two periods have not worked all that well. Jose Mourinho, the new manager has conducted a lot of business this summer by bringing in Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba – with other names linked to the club through the media. The one position that seems to be a conundrum for the manager to solve is a right-back, a position Parker himself used to occupy for United, for five years with Gary Neville assuming his position after he was unable to remain fit.
Parker feels that Antonio Valencia, United’s current first-choice right-back, despite the fact he is a winger and not a defender, should be dropped in favour of the much younger Timothy Fosu-Mensah. The 18-year-old made ten appearances for United under Louis van Gaal last season, filling in at right-back, which is one of the many positions the Netherlands youth international can play. With Fosu-Mensah in the right-back position, United played well and the standout match for me will be the 3-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, of which Fosu-Mensah started at right-back, but a knock forced him off the pitch, which was when the gates opened and United conceded three quick-fire goals. Before then the player was commanding his area and thwarted Spurs’ efforts on the right. If he was fit, the result may not have been that bad for United. Paul Parker, speaking exclusively to 888Sport, said:
“The position United have to worry about is right-back. They have Fosu-Mensah who is absolutely perfect. He is a very good defender and in the final third he’s as cool as a cucumber. He never panicked last season and has an arrogance on the ball. He would be a better bet than Valencia who is fine up to a point but doesn’t have a trick. The thing that goes against Fosu-Mensah is that he’s young and Mourinho doesn’t like young players. It’s the same old story and if that’s what is keeping him out of the side that’s a concern.
“For me, it doesn’t make any sense to pick Valencia against Bournemouth. He can’t defend and by that I don’t mean he can’t tackle but he doesn’t sense danger and his positional sense is poor.
“Fosu-Mensah is a young player who has done very well so you then look at the manager who has to give something back, to make him feel a part of the team. I had that with Gary Neville. I was told by Sir Alex that Neville had to play because he was worried that if he didn’t play him he’d start to lose his confidence. That’s how Sir Alex worked with young players. When he saw they were ready but there was an older pro ahead of them he’d look at the long-term picture.”
Parker has a point with Fosu-Mensah, whilst he was still playing for United, Neville was drafted in to build up his confidence, eventually with the player knocking Parker out of the team and then away from the club. Fosu-Mensah is good enough right now and the fact he has been given a lower squad number, from 51 to 24, it suggests that he has a future at the club, but perhaps Mourinho wants to ease him into the team so he is not being thrown straight into the deep end. At 18, many will see his as too young for the responsibility to play for Manchester United, but a wise man once said; “if they are good enough, they are old enough”. Another not-so-wise man said “you cannot win anything with kids” and he still gets a lot of banter for that statement today. I believe that Fosu-Mensah, should he see himself as a right-back in the future, would be a credible player to assume the role this season, should Mourinho, of course, feel he is ready and has earned the chance.
United also have Matteo Darmian, a player Louis van Gaal purchased las summer from Torino and despite a decent start to the season, his form soon declined and he was, more often than not, played as a left-back to cover the then injured Luke Shaw. Darmian does not seem to have a future at United after Valencia was considered over him and he has seen little action since the start of the season. The Italian has a problem with his crossing, which could be the main reason for him not being in the squad currently, which would be a shame after he arrived at the club around a year ago with much regard and belief that ‘he would be the one’. One thing is for sure, United have a good option for the right-back position and Fosu-Mensah, should he feel ready, can take it from the Ecuadorian.
Parker also spoke about another Manchester United defensive counterpart, Daley Blind. The Netherlands international arrived at the Old Trafford club in the summer of 2014 with his signing confirmed on deadline day along with Radamel Falcao, who was signed on loan. Blind, a utility player could play as a left-back, central defender and even a defensive midfielder was seen as a good purchase for the club. His first season was touch and go as he filled in in midfield, with Michael Carrick suffering an injury ridden season, and at left-back, with Luke Shaw having trouble to maintain his fitness and his form. Blind did well in both areas, but it was last season where he defined himself as a United player. Phil Jones suffered many injuries and so did Marcos Rojo, which left a vacancy in the centre of defence to partner Chris Smalling. Blind was the chosen one, having one hell of a season where United along with Tottenham Hotspur had the best defence in the Premier League, conceding only 35 goals. United finished fifth that season, which did not make them look as good as having one of the best defences.
Blind is one of those players who is able to read the game, think on his feet and make up for some of his weaknesses, namely his height. The Dutch international is a player I admire, and many do not see why. United supporters love to slate a player they feel bitter towards, and many seem to make up reasons for not liking the player. United’s defence last season, albeit makeshift with no first-choice right-back and the main left-back injured, did well to achieve the feat they did. Blind and Smalling were a good partnership and would be today if it was not for Eric Bailly, who has earned his place in the team with Smalling facing suspension from the first league game of the season, and a minor injury. Paul Parker, speaking exclusively to 888Sport, said:
“Daley Blind has always impressed me. He hardly gives the ball away and as for his height – because we know there are a lot of very tall centre-backs in the Premier League – you could ask who would you have over him or Mertesacker? I’d have Blind all day long.”
Parker feels that Blind is much better than Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker, which I would have to agree with – although comparing him to the German veteran may be seen as an insult. There are many defenders in the Premier League who Blind could teach a lesson too. Arsenal seems to have a problem in defence whatever the position as their injuries seem to mount up, even after the summer where many of their players will have been resting. Blind is a great option for any club and you can see why many clubs were interested in the Dutchman this summer. He was linked to Barcelona and Inter Milan amidst the rumours that he and Juan Mata would be the first players out of the door after Mourinho’s arrival. The media seem to have got that one wrong as both have been in the manager’s plan. This season I see Blind playing in defence again, possibly rotated with Smalling and Bailly to maintain match fitness and freshness for matches, as United will soon feel the heat once the UEFA Europa League starts and the domestic competitions start in September and January. Parker seems to have been very bitter recently in some of his comments about his former club, but about Blind and Fosu-Mensah, he is onto something. Something which could be good for the club for years to come.