Despite being raised in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam and enjoying an eight-year stint as part of the Ajax youth academy, United fans would very much like to consider Timothy Fosu-Mensah a ‘home-grown’ talent.
This Monday, Jose Mourinho’s men visit Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace in the Premier League. However, Fosu-Mensah will be denied the chance to prove his worth to Jose for next season’s squad, as the young defender is unable to compete against his parent club.
Louis van Gaal: “I hope people will look back in the future and talk of the young players as my legacy.” pic.twitter.com/zC3qdTaDgT
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) February 12, 2016
If anything good came out of Louis Van Gaal’s reign at United (FA Cup win aside), it would be the opportunities he gave to players in the club’s youth academy.
As much as I hate to say it, without Van Gaal, there could well have been no Marcus Rashford – certainly not at the same levels he has already hit to this day.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was another player to make his first-team debut under LVG, helping fill the hole at left-back left by Luke Shaw’s devastating leg break.
One player who quickly became a fan-favourite during this period, however, was another defender by the name of Timothy Fosu-Mensah.
Now, I realise that Timbo only made 8 league appearances in the 2015/16 season, but the promise the then 18-year-old showed during those games earned him the right to be hailed as one of the focal United players to look out for in the future – even with Rashford in the side.
2 years ago today I made my debut for @manchesterunited and i made my debut in the @premierleague against Arsenal at Old Trafford. It was an amazing feeling and made even better that we won! pic.twitter.com/hZlY5cyB0S
— Timothy fosu-mensah (@tfosumensah) February 28, 2018
Fans still debate to this day as to where the 20-year-old is best suited on the field. Right-back, centre-back, midfielder, you name it. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if he even had the hands to rival Big Dave, but this shows just how useful a player like Fosu-Mensah can be for a team.
Timbo’s first season under Mourinho didn’t exactly go the way he or fans had hoped. The Chosen One failed to give him the playing time he needed to help the player cement his place in the first team.
Mourinho’s young defender of choice last season was another academy star in Axel Tuanzebe, whose emergence itself wasn’t what aggravated fans, but more the fact that his playing was at the expense of Fosu-Mensah’s.
The fact of the matter is that United certainly have an over-abundance of defensive players at the moment – and not in a good way.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling out?
Jose Mourinho is reportedly planning a defensive revamp at Man Utd.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) February 13, 2018
If I’m being completely honest, it was only yesterday I remembered Matteo Darmian was still playing for us, which is very telling.
Daley Blind, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, all players who if the club announced were departing in the summer, I’m not sure fans would care. Daley Blind not so much admittedly, I’m still of the consensus that Blind was the clear successor to Michael Carrick, but que sera, sera.
At the moment, United seem to have three already established centre-backs whose names do not make fans wince when announced in the matchday squad, Victor Lindelof, Marcos Rojo, and Eric Bailly.
Granted, Lindelof still has to match his defensive abilities with his skills on the ball, but even so, I’d still put him in the squad ahead of half of our defenders.
This ‘dead-weight’ in defence is what keeps young prospects such as Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah from getting the playing time they so badly need. When Jose Mourinho announced the departure of Fosu-Mensah to Palace on loan, most fans – including me – thought this spelled the beginning of the end of the Dutchman’s United career.
Thankfully, Timbo has shown his strength, pace, and defensive prowess that would make him a perfect suit for United’s defence throughout his season at Palace. His talents as a footballer will hopefully prevent his demise as a Red Devil.
So, is Fosu-Mensah a lost cause? In terms of ability, absolutely not.
If anything, Fosu-Mensah is playing very well in a side faced with the possibility of relegation, making 20 appearances in the league so far.
We all remember that tackle against Huddersfield at the beginning of the season, and I think the 20-year-old coped remarkably well last weekend against arguably the best striker in the world. Even for a lesser team, his class still oozes through.
The only thing that makes me worried about the longevity of Fosu-Mensah’s United career is Mourinho. I’m not saying Jose isn’t willing to put his faith in academy talent, we’ve already seen that with the emergence of Scott McTominay this season.
However, despite publicly venting his frustrations with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, Jose still fields either of the two week-in-week-out, leaving the question as to whether he will put his money where his mouth is – so to speak.
Until then, Fosu-Mensah faces an uphill battle, unless he is taken under the wing of Antonio Valencia and becomes his heir at right-back. While I am in no way doubting Fosu-Mensah’s ability, and despite it seeming ages since he burst onto the scene, he’s still just the ripe old age of 20.
Plenty of players fans believed to be the next big thing have come and gone over the years. Remember James Wilson? Adnan Januzaj? Ravel Morrison? Tom Cleverley? The list goes on. Fosu-Mensah is simply too good to become another forgotten starlet.
However, for me, Jose has to do much more to convince us that the lad does have a future at the club, no matter where he plays. Only time will tell, next season is a massive one for Manchester United and an even bigger one for Fosu-Mensah’s career.