Wed. Sep 23rd, 2020

Man Utd

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Man United youngster Mengi responded to what Solskjaer was saying about him

4 min read

Teden Mengi strolled down the side of the pitch at the Peninsula Stadium oblivious to the praise that had been fired in his direction over the last two hours.

The 18-year-old had just finished a satisfactory night’s work as captain of United’s Under-21s, playing in an unfamiliar left-back role in the 6-0 win at Salford City in the EFL Trophy, and still wearing his kit he spoke to Sky Sports and the written media with all the poise and calmness he has continued to show on the pitch.

On national radio, while Mengi had been guiding United’s defence to a clean sheet against the League Two side, his manager had been making loose comparisons with Matthijs de Ligt, the centre back who captained Ajax as a teenager before moving to Juventus for £67.5million as a 19-year-old.

At one point in the second half, a Salford cross fell to the feet of Mengi in his own six-yard box. Rather than panic, the teenager took a couple of touches and calmly dispatched the ball back out to the right-wing, trying to get United back on the attack. It had Gary Neville, on co-commentary duties for the club he co-own’s website, purring about his “composure”.

That composure was on show as Mengi, a confident talker for an 18-year-old but one clearly well versed in avoiding an easy headline, spoke to the press after the game.

Was he expecting a chance in the first team in cup competitions this season? “For me I’m not looking too far ahead. Same old me, I’m just looking to work as hard as I can.”

How does he convert the promise he’s shown into permanent ability? “If it happens, it happens. It’s down to me to keep working hard and if that opportunity comes then I need to take it.”

But one subject Mengi embraced with the enthusiasm of a teenager was talking about his experience training with the first-team. United aren’t short of senior central defenders at the moment, but Solskjaer has seen the potential in the Manchester-born centre back, who made his first-team debut against LASK Linz in August.

“It’s been really beneficial. Learning how they play, the difference of speed in the play. It’s a lot faster, it’s been really good to be around them and I’ve really enjoyed it,” Mengi said of his experiences with the senior squad.

“Everyone speaks to you really, it’s a welcoming environment and [players] will come and speak to you and put your arm around you and say well done, that kind of thing.”

The challenge for any United centre back is to break the established partnership between Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, but for Mengi just seeing them on the training ground has benefited his game.

“[It’s] really good because at a young age you get to see experienced players who have played with the first team for a long time, for years and the best players in the world.

“It’s a great experience, you learn so much from them by just training with them. You learn so much, it’s a big eye-opener, it’s been brilliant.”

And defending against the likes of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial? “It’s a different level, different gear.”

Mengi will surely get more first-team chances this season, while continuing to captain United’s Under-23 side in Premier League 2 and in the EFL Trophy.

Solskjaer hasn’t been afraid to give the best youngsters coming out of the academy a chance and as he freely admits, he’s seen “something special” in the home-grown centre back.

“We always had that in the back of our minds that our academy will provide players and Teden has definitely impressed me. It’s different trusting defenders on the big stage, of course it is,” Solskjaer told BBC 5Live.

“You’ve got to make sure he’s ready for it, you see examples of Ajax, who play in a different league but Matthijs de Ligt, they made him captain when he was 18. You can see something special in them.

“Teden’s got something special in him. It’s about picking the right moment to give him a chance.”

That moment will surely come at some point this season. Mengi didn’t know he’d been mentioned in the same answer as De Ligt after the rout at Salford, but even if he did he’d have treated the comparisons with the same sure-footedness he’d dealt with everything else thrown at him on the night, on and off the pitch. With his feet firmly planted to the floor.

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