Axel Tuanzebe: Ready for Manchester United?


Following his promotion exploits with Aston Villa, Axel Tuanzebe is set to return to his parent club Manchester United with a point to prove.

Having initially broken into the first team picture under Louis Van Gaal, Tuanzebe soon found himself out of United’s plans, as quickly as he got himself in. Making his debut in 2015, the 21-year-old has only featured five times for the Red Devils, in a period which is vital to any young player attempting to find his feet in the professional game.

With stagnation a prominent worry, Jose Mourinho let Tuanzebe go out on loan to Aston Villa. Arriving midway through the 2017/2018 campaign, the defender had a slow start to life at Villa Park. Despite making his first team debut for United three years ago, the Rochdale raised defender lacked an identity.

The issue was no one knew what his best position was; utilised as a right back under Van Gaal, Tuanzebe also had spells at centre-half and as a holding midfielder. From a promising young talent, Tuanzebe was now in danger of becoming the utility man, filling in when called upon. Perhaps a foreshadow of his character, a man that will do whatever is required for the team, at no expense of the personal cost. Nevertheless, Tuanzebe was in desperate of a watershed moment in his career.

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The Congolese born defender rejoined the Midland’s outfit for a second loan spell – Image: Aston Villa

Rejoining Aston Villa for his second loan spell at the start of this campaign, the same issues continued to rear their head. Yet the arrival of boss Dean Smith in October could be looked upon as a defining moment in Tuanzebe’s career in years to come.

The incoming boss instantly saw and more importantly, valued the capabilities the England under-21 defender possessed. Unlike Tuanzebe’s previous coaches, the former Brentford boss placed his trust and quickly discovered the type of player he could be in the future. One of the first changes Smith made in a wholesale rejuvenation of the Villa side was to restore Axel Tuanzebe in the heart of defence alongside Bournemouth loanee, Tyrone Mings.

With an emphasis placed on youth and more precisely trust, Smith had suddenly transformed an ageing Villans side to an energetic, ambitious team who were willing to play a high-octane brand of football. Axel Tuanzebe was now at the forefront of the change.

Speaking just a few months into his reign, Smith raved about the newly transformed centre-half:

“If Ole wants to ring me, I’ll give him an excellent report on Axel. He came here as a right-back. But I always felt he had the capabilities to be a really good centre-half. He is proving that. He has really grown here.

He is showing an awful lot of composure. His awareness has also got better, perhaps with experience of playing. He is quick, no question about that.”

After playing a starring role in Aston Villa’s play-off victory at Wembley, Axel Tuanzebe is set to link up with Manchester United for their pre-season tour of Australia, China and Singapore. Whilst Tuanzebe is under no illusion on the importance of starting the season well at United, there is a case to be heard that the academy product should be above other defenders in the pecking order.

Constant chopping and changing of United’s back-line since the Sir Alex Ferguson era has played a major role in United’s dismal demise with not one centre-half becoming a main-stay of the team. Whilst defenders have come and gone in a revolving-door type of fashion, the Reds are yet to find that leader who could follow in the footsteps of the esteemed leaders the club have had ingrained into their history.

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The last consistent pairing at Old Trafford was Vidic and Ferdinand – Image: SportsJoe

Perhaps the old-fashioned leadership qualities were underappreciated back in the day; in the glory days of Manchester United. The likes Steve Bruce, Jaap Stam and Nemanja Vidic had an innate ability to almost single-handedly drag their team through a tough match, a tough period, by the scruff of the neck. No matter the situation, they were willing to stand up and be counted, which was always distinct in Manchester United’s ruthless mentality. That mentality was as much a reason as any for United’s dominance on the domestic league.

Can the same be said for the current defence? Despite countless possibly fortunate chances to prove themselves, the Manchester United centre-backs are simply not good enough to provide a catalyst for change if the Red Devils are going to return to former glory.

With the current predicament unstable with no settled defensive pairing in almost a decade, there is no reason why Axel Tuanzebe shouldn’t be at the forefront of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans. Admitting he “cannot wait” for the 21-year-old to return to the club, Solskjaer appears to be ready to take the gamble, a calculated one nevertheless.

The scars of the old failed regimes would not be there on Tuanzebe. Unlike his team-mates, he will enter pre-season with a degree of confidence and momentum in his career. Whilst the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling are approaching cross-roads in their United career, there is feeling that the returning defender’s one is just getting started.

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Image: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Composed on the ball, dominant in the air and intelligent in his decision making, the Bunia-born centre-back offers plenty of alternatives to his defensive competitors in the heart of defence. Rather than starting fires which has been a regular feature in the team’s back-line, witnessed all too much for the United’s faithful liking, Tuanzebe puts them out. While like any young defender he will make mistakes along the way maybe leading to ups, downs and bumps in the road, it is vital Manchester United stick rather than twist.

With widespread accusations that many of the Manchester United players share a weak-minded mentality who do not care enough about the club, why can’t Tuanzebe emerge and allow that innocence of youth to bring an air of stability back?

Always deemed as a one to watch and a player for the future, the return of Axel Tuanzebe from his successful loan spell could suggest that long-remarked future is now.



About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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