Axel Tuanzebe has always been seen as somewhat of a cult hero at Manchester United. He rose through the ranks and earned the chance to play for his boyhood team like so many in the past. So why this question over his future?
Rise to the first team
Axel played his entire youth career from 2006 all the way through to 2015 for the Red Devils. Playing as a centre back for the most part, it was clear to see where he was going to fit into Utd’s plans. He showed great promise for his age ; a breath-taking combination of pace, agility and power. It seemed a no brainer for Axel to leave on loan to Aston Villa in the 2018 – 19 season. In that season he helped Villa achieve promotion to the Premier League. Upon his return, Utd were looking for defensive options. The stage was set for Axel to take his place amongst the greats.
His recent form
Axel began the 2020 – 21 season in fine form. He found himself in the starting line-up for Utd’s visit to Paris in the Champions League. It was a stand out performance for him. He pocketed Kylian Mbappe and left the French superstar with scraps to feed on all game. He was quick, strong and decisive. It was a sure sign of things to come and that this season he would take that leap into the first team.
This breakthrough never materialised. He was limited to substitution appearances and made very few starts in cup competitions. There was something that Ole was seeing which we all weren’t, preventing Tuanzebe from accompanying Harry Maguire at the back. He was not helped by Eric Bailly coming back into form following a long injury spell and Axel couldn’t leave his mark. His lowest point in a Utd shirt came against Everton on the 6th of February 2021.
With 2 minutes to go, Ole brought Axel on to shore things up at the back. He would have the disastrous opposite effect. In the dying moments of the game, he gave away a needless foul on the half way line which culminated in a last minute equaliser for Everton. It was a foul that showed his inexperience and lack of game management all in one. The weeks previous had eluded to this sort of thing happening as when coming on as a sub, Axel looked shaky.
What now for Axel?
It is clear that Axel has the ability to play at a high level but is that level at Man Utd? Some dub him ‘the next big thing’ but let’s look at this objectively. He’s 23 and has been at the club for 15 years. If he was going to break through, wouldn’t he have done it by now? He currently sits as Utd’s 4th best option at the back and with plans to bring in a centre back this summer, he is only going to drop. It may not be sensible to pull the trigger and sell straight away but maybe a loan move is exactly what both the club and the player need to move on.