This is the eighth post in a series of 10, where reddit users /u/monsieurryan and/u/rdzzl have rated the ten best players playing for Manchester United’s youth teams. This post is on Axel Tuanzebe and the previous posts include #10, Joe Riley, #9, Demetri Mitchell , #8, Tosin Kehinde, #7 Sean Goss ,#6 Marcus Rashford , #5 RoShaun Williams and #4 Joshua Harrop.
Axel Tuanzebe is the absolute best defender that has come through the Manchester United academy in recent times. He was the first — first year scholar captain of the U18s since Gary Neville was. He won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award in that same season. After only about a year or 18 months he has been called up to the u21 level. He has also been called up to the bench for senior matches when he was still only 17 years old. He is a natural leader on the pitch. He excels at reading the game and is very comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has a good “frame” to be a defender. Currently a tall and slightly muscular physique, he will need to put on a bit of muscle to even compete at the u21 level let alone the senior level. But for all of the praise he is still years away from being a mainstay at the senior level. The earliest I could imagine would be 2019/2020 and that would only put him around the age of 21. Axel is eligible for both England and Congo as he has been at United since the age of 11. /u/monsieurryan
Natural leader. The two first words that pop up when I think about Axel Tuanzebe. In a way, we are silly spoiled at the moment with both Williams and Tuanzebe coming through at the same time. Both leader type youngsters, and both excellent, young defenders. I used to lean extremely heavily in favour of Axel, but do now feel more equal about the two. I still think Tuanzebe is a slightly better player, but of course things can change over the course of the next few years. Axel Tuanzebe has by some people been compared with a young Rio Ferdinand , a comparison that may very well hold some water. He is indeed a ball-playing defender, that can also read the game well. What I like about him the most, is how he knows when not to tackle. This is rare in young defenders, as they are often easily dragged out of position, and into challenges where they have no business being. Think Phil Jones, just younger. Tuanzebe is the opposite of this. He’ll fall back when needed, position smartly, and use his body to force attackers into less dangerous positions. These are all traits needed to become a world class defender, and they are lacking in many centre backs even at a Premier League level. Having shown glimpses of ability to do this already, makes me thrilled for him and his potential.
It is fair to say he has already earned himself a decent amount of hype. He does however seem completely unaffected by this. In every interview with Axel, you get the feeling that there is a much older man in there speaking for the guy carrying the 18 year old body. Count me in on this hype train . I am very much excited about youth players who have both the attitude and the qualities to break through, as opposed to only the latter. The quality is, in my opinion, a more decisive factor than the talent after a certain point of development, and it is encouraging that he already has this in place.
We know he has been training with the first team for a while. A perfect role model for him would probably be Chris Smalling at this point, who himself has had the physique and a humble attitude, and recently developed very decent ball playing abilities. Axel’s build offers slightly less pace than that of Chris, I believe, but makes for a more compact surface for muscle. I think he could turn into a brilliant centre back without weaknesses if he keeps developing like this. This is the best young defender I’ve seen come through since Michael Keane was 17-18, but I believe it is more accurate to compare Axel to Wesley Brown in terms of talent.
The trio of Williams, Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah could potentially have us filling one, two, or three slots at the first team in a few years. And while modern football will lead you to believe that this is almost impossible aside from the golden Barcelona squad, the best Ajax squads and United’s own class of 92, I think it is time to let ourselves hope for these lads to make an impact
. I also think a player like Tuanzebe’s slot on the bench helps provide not only motivation, but a great experience spending the match day with the first team. All these things are perfect for a young player seeing that the chance is there to be taken. It is all on themselves to make the leap into the first team within a year or two. Hopefully, in the wake of the Euros, we’ll get to see a few of the faces on this list on the preseason tour in the summer. Any fewer than three or four players out of this top 10 list on tour would be a massive disappointment for me. And Tuanzebe is one of the most obvious parts of those three or four players.