Wed. Aug 12th, 2020

Man Utd

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Timothy Fosu-Mensah has given Manchester United new reasons to keep him

4 min read

Manchester United’s flight to Biggin Hill was delayed by 90 minutes on Wednesday evening and one could be forgiven for joking bringing Timothy Fosu-Mensah back from the dead warranted a ruse.

The photographers usually line up at Selhurst Park to capture arriving players and Fosu-Mensah’s presence would have been more of a shock than a 17-year-old Axel Tuanzebe’s on Halloween in 2015. Odds on Fosu-Mensah appearing against Crystal Palace would have been longer than a Pep Guardiola sermon, given his only outing at left-back was on his debut with Guillermo Varela at right-back and Michael Carrick, now Fosu-Mensah’s coach, at centre half.

A quirk of Fosu-Mensah’s United career is he could break double-figures for starts and two of them FA Cup semi-finals four years apart. Fosu-Mensah was 18 and keeping Antonio Valencia out of the side at the time Louis van Gaal selected him at Wembley in 2016 and Chelsea await on Sunday.

Those close to Fosu-Mensah cautioned he will be ‘in bits’ today after a rigorous 90 minutes against a mercurial Palace attack. Solskjaer’s willingness to keep Fosu-Mensah on for over 100 minutes perhaps signalled a confidence that at least one of Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams will regain fitness for this weekend.

That Fosu-Mensah started ahead of Diogo Dalot was significant in that he is now the de facto fourth-choice full-back. Dalot’s confidants sounded peculiarly pessimistic about his prospects of playing at Palace and at 7.15pm on Thursday night it was apparent why. It cannot be a coincidence Dalot last completed 90 minutes in the Premier League in last year’s scandalous surrender at Everton.

Dalot was profusely apologetic that Easter Sunday, lingering on the pitch with Scott McTominay in front of the defiant United supporters, but the promise of his debut in Bern and impact in Paris feels very distant now. A loan next season seemed advisable and now appears inevitable.

At 21, Dalot is not irredeemable. Regular playing time at an elite level could lead to an eventual call-up to the Portugal national squad and participation at next summer’s European Championship, before returning rejuvenated to United. However, Dalot has had an air of resignation about him since United invested more than twice as much in another right-back in Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Fosu-Mensah is effectively a right-back now, having developed through the esteemed Ajax and United academies in midfield. Both of his starts for the Netherlands were at full-back and he excelled against Everton, Tottenham, and West Ham as a right-back under Van Gaal, impressed by his marauding performances in the role for the Under-21s.

Warren Joyce was responsible for having Fosu-Mensah get white chalk on his boots and, in 11 starts for the U21s, Fosu-Mensah played across the back four and in midfield. He has already been used in all four positions at senior level.

Dalot’s stock soared on the back of an accomplished performance at left-back for Porto at Liverpool in the Champions League knockouts at the age of 19 and Solskjaer played him there twice last year – at Everton and against Brighton – and he did not perform.

Every squad needs a Jack of all trades and Solskjaer was an ever-present in the season where John O’Shea nutmegged Luis Figo. Solskjaer might jest O’Shea incepted the concept of the inverted winger from left-back in 2002-03, when he was a lithe and elegant attacker with astute defensive reading – who also played at right-back, centre-back and in midfield.

Fosu-Mensah's last two United appearances were against Crystal Palace
Fosu-Mensah’s last two United appearances were against Crystal Palace

Fosu-Mensah covers four bases and was possibly the seventh centre-back Solskjaer referred to last week, rather than the maligned Marcos Rojo, last seen sunning himself at a golf and spa resort in Argentina. However much it must smart to be frittering six figures on a weekly basis on Rojo, he has almost certainly played his last game for United.

Despite two variable loans with Palace and Fulham, Fosu-Mensah’s reputation on the continent is respectable. Fulham wanted to end his loan midway through last season, United did not want him and he did not want to relocate to Huddersfield, interested in a mid-season move. The stars aligned for Fosu-Mensah to break into the first-team with Marcus Rashford in that fraught February of 2016 and maybe they are doing so again.

United could have released Fosu-Mensah by now had they ignored the one-year option in his contract but Solskjaer was impressed by Fosu-Mensah’s attitude in training prior to the lockdown and he maintained fitness with Frenkie de Jong during football’s hiatus.

As someone sidelined by a serious knee injury for over a year as a player, Solskjaer has empathy with a player who went 15 months without a competitive appearance. Only Will Keane endured a longer gap between league appearances while still at United than Fosu-Mensah. He is back from the dead.

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