A number of Manchester United players have had to remain patient this season so far.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is nothing if not loyal and his desire for United to produce more consistent performances has often been reflected in the consistency of his selections. And thus the likes of David de Gea, Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof have, largely without exception, been retained in the United side. The midfield has been more fluid in terms of players coming and going, but the back-ups in those positions like Dean Henderson and Alex Telles have been waiting patiently on the sidelines.
Axel Tuanzebe is the most immediate would-be replacement for either Lindelof or Harry Maguire right now, with Eric Bailly injured, though the Rochdale-born academy product is at least versatile and has stepped in as part of a United back three. He even deputised for Shaw at left-back for the final half hour against Everton with Telles unwell.
But Teden Mengi is among those at Old Trafford whose chance is yet to arrive.
The 18-year-old central defender, very highly regarded at the club, has had a taste of first team football and fans have liked what they’ve seen so far. But ultimately his senior appearance amounts to one substitute appearance in a dead-rubber Europa League tie. And since Mengi did not join James Garner, Dylan Levitt and company in going out on loan, he has been back in youth football since that appearance against LASK in early August.
United’s decision to keep Mengi at Carrington stemmed from the coaches’ desire to see the teenager, who captained United’s Under-18s to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals last season, benefit from working with the first-teamers.
And Mengi recognises that. He’s spoken about working with Lindelof and Maguire and how it’s helped him develop.
“Harry in particular [has been great]” said Mengi. “He’s really vocal and really specific in what he does and I can always turn to him for help if I’m struggling with anything. I’ve found that really good.”
That’s why Mengi has been happy to remain patient for now. He’s also seen Solskjaer’s willingness to include homegrown youngsters in the past season or two, with Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams, Tuanzebe and others getting their chances. And as the debate over whether United should head into the January transfer market for a centre-back bubbles to the surface, there is every chance the club will turn to Mengi rather than splash out on someone like RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano.
The references from coaches all the way down United’s youth system are glowing for Mengi.
Neil Wood has spoken about the player’s mentality and how he is willing to do whatever job asked of him in games, which Solskjaer will appreciate.
“That’s a good example of his mentality because he looked at me and said, ‘No problem, I can do that’,” said Wood after he’d asked Mengi to slot in at left-back, which he has done with aplomb in the occasional Under-23s game.
“Teden’s a calm person, an intelligent boy,” Wood added.
United entered the international break by winning what was arguably their most important match of the season at Everton on Saturday.
The under-pressure Reds came from behind to beat the Toffees thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ double and Edinson Cavani’s first goal for United.
United have a two-week break with many of their stars heading off on international duty – we’ll be keeping tabs on how they all perform, and on preparations for their next Premier League match against West Brom.
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“He has respect from the other players in the dressing room. They’ll feed into him. He’s quite social and he incorporates everyone into the squad. I don’t know if he wants to be the standout vocal leader but he stood out last season leading by example — by his work rate, by coming to training every single day and listening to the message, taking on what we want and putting it in action.
“He did that whether he agreed or disagreed with what we said; he got on with things. That attitude, along with his talent, takes you quite a long way.”
With Solskjaer a keen admirer of Mengi and equally keen to use the United academy rather than spend heavy on a player like Upamecano, who would arrive as a risk, perhaps the waiting won’t go on for much longer.
United are surely set to bid farewell to two centre-backs soon, in Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo. There’s no way they will be letting go of Mengi any time soon. His chance will come.