The One Positive from the Arsenal DefeatAdded by Philip Meese on 08 May 2017 21:15
Axel Tuanzebe – the One Bright Spot from a dark day at The Emirates
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates left a bit of a flat feeling, even before the game kicked off. It was a strange situation, as the world and his wife knew that Mourinho is prioritising the Europa League, and wasn’t going to go all out to win the game. This may have been a major mistake, especially given the fact that, once again, one of our rivals for the top four slipped up. Liverpool’s home draw with Southampton handed the impetus back to United, who yet again failed to capitalise.
There was, however, a major plus point for the Red Devils in the form of Axel Tuanzebe. The Congo-born, Rochdale-bred youngster has been flirting with the first team for quite a while now. He won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player Of The Year award in 2015, also became the first player in over twenty years to captain the under 18’s as a first year scholar. Gary Neville was the last player to do so.
Tunazebe made his debut in the F.A. Cup as a substitute against Wigan earlier this season. With that game already wrapped up by the time he was brought on, it wasn’t exactly a fair test for the youngster. Sunday’s game, however, showed a true test of his mettle. Alexis Sanchez is one of the best forwards in the Premier League, and probably the only world class player Arsenal possess. To make your full debut against such a player, and keep him quiet for the majority of the game is impressive. As tests go, they don’t come much tougher, and Tuanzebe passed it with flying colours.
What was instantly clear is that this is a lad who is not short of confidence, or belief in his own ability. It is also very apparent that he is quite an athlete, fast, strong and with stamina to burn. With these attributes to his character, it is no surprise that was completely unfazed at facing a player of Sanchez’s pedigree. There was a moment in the second half where the Chilean forward charged at Tuanzebe, and immediately bounced off the muscular defender onto the floor. It’s not as though Sanchez is lacking muscle himself, he’s fairly well built.
It is easy to see why Mourinho singled him out for praise almost immediately after taking the reins at Old Trafford. What is not clear, however, is that considering the injuries United have had at the back, why Tuanzebe has not featured earlier. Sure, Antonio Valencia has been one of our players of the season, and deserves every bit of the recognition he is getting for the job he has done this term. But Sunday wasn’t the first time we have rested him, so it is quite surprising he didn’t chuck him in earlier. He won’t face many tougher opponents than the Arsenal forward.
Another positive is that United finished the game at the Emirates with four homegrown players on the pitch, with fellow debutant Scott McTominay, as well as Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard also on the pitch. But some will still point to the Mourinho Myth that he doesn’t play younger players. The evidence this season doesn’t support that theory.
The most impressive aspect of Tuanzebe’s debut is that he performed so well in spite of being played out of position. He made his bones in United’s youth teams as a centre-back, and that is clearly how he defines himself. That said, he has all of the necessary attributes to perform well at full-back, a point well emphasised at the Emirates on Sunday.
As great as it was to see yet another youngster step up from the ranks and shine, we mustn’t get carried away. It was a great performance, and if he follows it up with a few more like it, then he’ll be in the mix for most match day squads. But we have had false dawns before.
Who can forget how great the likes of Luke Chadwick, Terry Cooke and Federico Macheda looked when they first got into the team. None of them went on to set the world alight. Macheda is still only 25, and currently plying his trade in Serie B for mid-table Novara.
As promising a player as Tuanzebe looks, and he does appear to have all the tools he needs to become a top player, the important thing will be how he handles what comes after. But United have proved many times with their young players that if you look after yourself the way a professional should, then they will look after you.
He just needs to remain focused, and remember the reason he got into the team in the first place. If he does that, the rest will take care of itself.