When Manchester United signed Fred and Diogo Dalot at the beginning of June, supporters believed they would be the first two of a few players that the club would bring in. Jose Mourinho had given his shopping list to Ed Woodward and left him to do his thing.
The World Cup understandably meant that few clubs were carrying out much business at the beginning of July but once the tournament ended United fans were waiting for the a couple of defenders to be brought in.
Toby Alderweireld seemed to be the most obvious choice, given his ability, experience in the Premier League and expiring contract. Tottenham Hotspur Daniel Levy is very shrewd in the transfer market and the idea of allowing one of his players to leave at a discount in January, or for free next summer, was seen as something he would avoid.
Having reportedly rejected a contract extension worth £120,000 a week, it looked as though the defender had his heart set on leaving, so it was expected to be a matter of time before he was unveiled as a United player. Yet while the rumours persisted, no deal was done.
Harry Maguire was another possibility, a player who United fans were divided over given he only seemed to become an option on the back of a handful of good performances in the World Cup, but the Leicester manager, Claude Puel, ruled that out during his Thursday morning press conference.
United supporters began to despair when the likes of Jerome Boatang, who played just 19 league games for Bayern Munich last season and has a shocking injury record, and Yerry Mina, who’s endured a dreadful few months at Barcelona since signing in January, began to be linked with the club. The desperation really set in when 32-year-old Diego Godin from Atletic Madrid was approached.
Yet just when they thought things couldn’t get much worse, the only news of note around Carrington on Thursday afternoon was that Timothy Fosu-Mensah had joined Fulham on loan. Given the window for loans doesn’t close until the end of the month, there was no pressure to meet the 5pm deadline on Thursday.
United fans have high hopes for the 20-year-old defender, who spent last season out on loan at Crystal Palace, and given the only business the club have done in defence is Dalot, a player who is even younger than Fosu-Mensah and Mourinho has already claimed is one for the future, it’s surprising the club are prepared to allow him to leave.
The Dutch defender had a mixed time at Palace, with Roy Hodgson seemingly not a big fan of his, leading fans to voice their frustration when Martin Kelly was picked ahead of him at right-back. Fosu-Mensah put in several great performances though, most notably those against Manchester City and Chelsea, and will have certainly learned from his first loan spell in the Premier League.
United will likely start the season, which kicks off for them on Friday night against Leicester, playing Matteo Darmian at right-back. Antonio Valencia and Dalot are both unavailable, with the latter not expected to return until next month, and the former flying home early from the pre-season tour with a calf injury.
Given that United were keen to sell the Italian, with the defender communicating publicly through his agent that he wanted to leave, it seems odd to keep him around and send out Fosu-Mensah.
After impressing for United’s youth teams since joining the club as a 16-year-old, the supporters finally saw him in action for the first team towards the end of Louis van Gaal’s time at the club.
He made his debut in United’s 3-2 win over Arsenal in February 2016, better remembered for Marcus Rashford’s league debut goals, and looked totally at ease after coming on with over half an hour to play. He started his first game a few days later, against Watford, and coped brilliantly with Troy Deeney when playing in the centre of defence.
Fosu-Mensah played 10 games that season but the performance that stands out was the one against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane. He looked as though he had been playing in the Premier League for years, proving to be totally composed on the ball, possessing loads of energy and tough tackling. He was subbed off with an injury with 20 minutes left to play with the score line at 0-0, then United conceded three goals.
He’s far from the finished article and may well get more playing time at Fulham than he would at United, which will obviously be better for his development long-term. But United are not blessed with defenders for the season ahead, meaning if Fosu-Mensah stayed he could have been challenging for a starting spot at right-back, as well as being afforded playing time in the cup competitions more centrally.
As it is, he will be spending the season on loan with Fulham playing for manager Slaviša Jokanović.
“I have a good feeling about the club,” Fosu-Mensah said at his first interview with his new club. “Fulham has a lot of good players, and it’s good for my development to be here. I spoke to the manager and he gave me a good feeling. I’m happy to be here and I want to keep progressing.”
United supporters will wish him well and hope that next season he will return with the experience needed to establish himself in their team. But expect his name to be mentioned in grumbled conversations at Old Trafford and on social media every time one of their other defenders makes a mistake.