“He’s a boy I can’t wait to see in pre-season for us.”
That is what Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said about Axel Tuanzebe back in May. The defender is certainly a player who could feature prominently in the Norwegian’s first-team plans next season.
At 21 years of age, the centre-back fits in perfectly with the Red Devils boss’s philosophy of developing young talent, and he has an opportunity to stake his claim for regular action over the next few weeks.
Tuanzebe already has a decent amount of first-team experience, following his two loan spells at Aston Villa in the Championship. Over the last 18 months, he has developed from being an inconsistent right-back to a first-choice centre-half helping Villa to promotion.
He had his challenges last campaign, most notably when he broke a metatarsal that kept him out for three months. However, on his return, he played his part as Villa won ten games in a row under manager Dean Smith at the end of the season. The defender also didn’t miss a single minute in the playoffs.
He is definitely a raw talent still, but his time playing in the second tier of English football was certainly a fruitful one in terms of his progress. Whether he has what it take to make it at the top level in the Premier League, it remains to be seen.
Tuanzebe certainly has the chance to push himself up the pecking order at Old Trafford. Marcos Rojo looks to be heading out the exit door if a suitable offer is made, while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have both shown they are not of sufficient quality if United want to compete for trophies.
If the pursuit for Leicester City’s Harry Maguire does drag on throughout the summer, preseason could well be Tuanzebe’s time to make an impression on Solskjaer in order to convince him that he deserves a shot to play alongside Victor Lindelof.
United head out to Australia on Monday where they will face Perth Glory and Leeds. They then have games in the International Champions Cup against the likes of Inter Milan and Tottenham.
Tuanzebe will need to make the most of the chances he gets, and while there is certainly still a need to sign a top-class centre-half. there is every chance that the defender could convince Solskjaer that he should be the third-choice centre-back heading into the new campaign.