Jose Mourinho has expressed his delight with the way Axel Tuanzebe conducted himself on his debut during Manchester United’s 2-0 defeat to Arsenal in the Premier League.
The 19-year-old received his first Premier League as Mourinho entered the game against Arsenal keen to rest key players ahead of Thursday’s clash with Celta Vigo.
And on what was an otherwise disappointing afternoon for the visitors, Tuanzebe shone like a jewell, producing a stellar, growingly confidence display on the right hand side of defence.
Mourinho, speaking after the game, was quick to heap praise on the youngster.
“The kid was brilliant,” he said. “I think first of all he’s a good player, which is important, it doesn’t matter the position he plays. I think globally he’s a good player and he starts by being a good player, by being a good kid, a good professional, a good learner, a humble boy. So first of all he’s a player and that’s the most important thing.
“Every minute that he spends training with us is fantastic for him and every minute he plays in the Premier League is a bless. So at this moment I don’t think the position matters.
“What matters is to get on the pitch, to get the experience, to play against Alexis Sanchez, to play against Ozil, to play against Welbeck, to play against big players.
“His best position by routine, by dynamic, which he brought playing with kids of his age, is central defender. I think playing with the big boys especially in this period of his career, I think right-back.”
The cool, unflustered expression said it all. Tuanzebe has spent months encircling the first team, wondering when – if ever – his first start would come, working hard alongside players with more experience and prowess than him. Seeing his name on the team-sheet, after all this time, would have been initially quite chilling (a kind of “oh, my god, this is actually happening” feeling, I imagine), but on the pitch his face was a picture of concentration.
He achieved a huge life goal today; this would be an afternoon that would go some way to defining the nature of his footballing career, and he took to the big stage with complete ease, calmly stroking the ball around the pitch and positioning himself well, even when both Alexis Sanchez and Kieran Gibbs were running at him. An important blueprint, above anything, ahead of more appearances further down the line.