Manchester United fans have been disappointed at the lack of playing time their promising young players have been afforded this season.
Tim Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe are seen as the future defence or midfield of the club but they’ve barely been given a look in since Jose Mourinho was appointed.
Fosu-Mensah made just 11 appearances last season and many of those came towards the end of the campaign when Mourinho turned his attention to the Europa League and sacrificed the results in the league to ensure qualification in the Champions League.
He agreed a loan deal with Crystal Palace in the summer, which saw him play for Frank de Boer who had been in charge of Ajax when Fosu-Mensah was in the youth team there.
A few weeks later, De Boer was sacked and replaced by Roy Hodgson and Fosu-Mensah has performed well when given the opportunity.
While United fans have bemoaned his loan move when their team has struggled with injuries, hindsight suggests that it probably was the right decision for Mourinho to allow him to leave this season.
At Palace, Fosu-Mensah is playing Premier League football more regularly than he would at United and is putting in some great shifts.
Some reports suggested that the 20-year-old was set to return to United in this transfer window, but Hodgson was quick to dismiss the speculation.
“I know nothing about that,” the manager said. “We are very happy with Tim Fosu-Mensah.”
It’s not just his manager who has been singing praises but his teammates too. Wilf Zaha, who had a brief spell at United as the last signing of Sir Alex Ferguson, has been impressed with Fosu-Mensah’s contribution.
“Someone will be through one-on-one with the goalkeeper and he’ll just come steaming from no where and tackle them,” Zaha said. “It happened in one of the first games and he came out of no where. His pace is ridiculous, man. It’s just mad.”
Fosu-Mensah can play as a defensive midfielder, in the centre of defence or at right-back, with his versatility giving the manager plenty of options. He has played 90 minutes in Palace’s last five games, with his top performance in the 0-0 draw against Manchester City showing just what he is capable of.
Tuanzebe is another versatile player whose loan move away from the club was confirmed this week.
The youngster has joined Championship side Aston Villa until the end of the season, with manager and former red Steve Bruce knowing all too well the calibre of players United’s academy is capable of producing.
“The manager interested me because he has the background at Manchester United,” Tuanzebe said of Bruce. “I spoke to him a couple of times. You need support from the manager that can help you on and off the pitch, particularly when you are away from home.”
Tuanzebe sees himself as a central midfielder or central defender and has claimed he’s made the move to Villa to help them get promoted. They’re currently fourth in the table, three points behind second-placed Derby, and in a good position for promotion, even if through the play-offs. It would be fantastic for him to play a part in getting a team in to the Premier League.
While not a popular figure among United fans, John Terry’s experience might be helpful in developing Tuanzebe. The youngster has claimed that the ex-Chelsea defender’s calmness and composure at the back are characteristics his game also possesses and he’s looking forward to learning from the once great defender.
“The next stage for me is developing the mental side of the game and being more clever and outsmarting the opponents,” Tuanzabe said.
United supporters would love to see both players in their first team but it is a case of biding their time. They must be patient and see how the players can develop elsewhere with regular first team football.
Now that Mourinho has extended his contract with the club, he will clearly have his eye on the future, and will be keen for these players to progress so they can return to United and put pressure on the older players currently occupying their positions in the team.
Last year, Fosu-Mensah was asked what his career goals were and it came as no surprise that he saw his future at the club he has played for since he was 16.
“To play as long as I can for this beautiful club and win as many trophies as I can for United,” he said.
United fans will be hoping his dream is realised.