While the young Tuanzebe’s maturity is reflected in that proud record of captaining every age group, once part of United’s youth set-up, his ability to read and anticipate is said to have stood out above all else. To outsiders, his potential was clear when he was included in a Premier League matchday squad by Louis van Gaal for a trip to Crystal Palace at just 17-years-old.
A full senior debut came the following season under Jose Mourinho and – nearly four years later – Tuanzebe may have expected to be a regular by now. Instead, he has had to wait patiently for his opportunities.
A proper first-team breakthrough appeared to be around the corner during Mourinho’s second season, only to be put on hold by a 18-month loan spell at Aston Villa. There, he eventually formed a formidable centre-back partnership with Tyrone Mings which would propel Dean Smith’s side to the Premier League via the play-offs.
Solskjaer made sure that he would not be leaving on loan again after that and began handing him first-team opportunities around this time last year. The United manager even trusted Tuanzebe enough to select him for last season’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool at Old Trafford but he pulled out during the warm-up with the hip complaint which would spark his recent fitness struggles.
Before Tuesday night, Tuanzebe had only 18 United appearances to his name. His greatest achievement as a senior United player arguably still came on the 2018 pre-season tour, when he set a Guinness World Record by taking just 17.36 seconds to win a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Last night was Tuanzebe’s opportunity to finally change all that, to prove himself against elite opposition, and to establish himself as a United player. It has been a long time coming but, considering how highly-regarded he is within the club, it should be no surprise that he took it.
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