When Louis van Gaal handed a debut to Timothy Fosu-Mensah in the 2015-16 campaign, it was clear that the player was special. He appeared eight times that season and played a variety of positions. The youngster was used at centre-back, left-back, right-back and even in defensive midfield.
That season, the Dutchman made 1.6 tackles per game and won 1.5 interceptions per game too (via WhoScored). He was hailed by Van Gaal in a 1-0 win over Watford- a game that saw Fosu-Mensah play at centre-back.
The Iron Tulip told reporters after the game: “Timothy has saved us three times I think because of his speed and I was very pleased he was on the pitch. I let him stay on the pitch in the second half because we was the player who always closed the door for us.”
It was a huge sign of faith. But Van Gaal leaving the club came as a blow to Fosu-Mensah’s hopes of playing regular first-team football. Under Jose Mourinho in the 2016-17 season, the versatile youngster played just four times in the Premier League, appearing just as many times in the Europa League.
A loan spell at Crystal Palace followed in the 2017-18 season when he played 24 games across all competitions. Coincidentally, it was Aaron Wan-Bissaka who took away his first-team place at right-back. Last season, he spent a loan spell at Fulham. A serious knee injury derailed his progress and he has been out since.
But the 21-year-old has now returned to training and is expected to be back playing soon. The question facing United and him relates to whether he can still make the cut for the first-team, with his current deal set to run out at the end of the season – the club are thought to have the option to extend his deal by a year, though (TransferMarkt).
It hasn’t been a promising last few months for the youngster. However, his ability can’t be questioned. At Selhurst Park last season, Fosu-Mensah earned rave reviews from Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.
When the former Schalke man was asked about his toughest opponent, he told Sky Sports (via Goal): “Crystal Palace’s right-back Timothy Fosu-Mensah, I have played against him twice this season, and even last season, he had me really well under control and I told him how happy I was to play against him.”
That sort of a compliment is rare, considering how City had romped to the title in the 2017-18 campaign. At Fulham, Fosu-Mensah was named as the Premier League’s quickest player– ahead of Sane and DeAndre Yedlin.
It isn’t just in terms of pace that he had impressed though. He was the club’s fourth-best tackler that year. He made 1.5 tackles per game and making 1 interception per game made him their sixth-best interceptor. If he had played more, it is likely these numbers would have been much higher.
These stats and comments say a lot about the sort of player Fosu-Mensah is. He is a workhorse who can do any job at the back that a manager wants. The fact that he has played in defensive midfield and on either side of defence makes him a player who is technically sound.
His completeness is probably what Van Gaal liked and that is why he used him in so many positions.
At United, the defence isn’t exactly an issue. Axel Tuanzebe has already played three times in the Premier League – a sign of his step up to the first-team. With Chris Smalling being linked with a permanent move to Roma, the 21-year-old will likely step up and replace him.
But Phil Jones has not made a single top-flight appearance yet. He has played twice in the Europa League, however a lack of first-team football could possibly see him depart as Smalling could as well. He is 27 and at an age where players are considered to be at their peaks.
That is where Fosu-Mensah could possibly get his chance. He is still 21 and one good performance could see him rise up the pecking order, considering how Jones has not been used. If the former England international does leave, the youngster could easily become his replacement.
Moreover, Ashley Young isn’t getting any younger. Fosu-Mensah’s ability to play at right-back makes him an option for that spot, even though that position might go to Diogo Dalot. United would need a second-choice left-back soon. As mentioned, the 21-year-old has done a job there previously, as well.
It certainly appears to be a case of giving him a run in the side and allowing him to flourish.