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Is Timothy Fosu-Mensah ready to be Manchester United’s next right-back?

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With competition and cover needed for Antonio Valencia next season, Fosu-Mensah has a case to be permanently added to the first team next season.

Crystal Palace v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

“Pretty sure he’ll be sold on somewhere in the next two windows, miles away from being an automatic Premier League starter and light years from being one for a top 4 club.”

“He’s strong, quick, loves a tackle and reads the game really well. No doubting he could be a worldie.”

”Haven’t been very impressed with him so far, that said, he was pretty much our only option over the last couple of games. I know he’s only 20 but he’s not Manchester United’s level at all.”

“For a kid playing in a team with problems like ours, he’s been great. His performance against City might be the best from a full back I’ve seen for us in the EPL era.”

If you had never seen him play and were trying to get a picture of the type of footballer that Timothy Fosu-Mensah is, then trawling through the Crystal Palace fan forums would leave you completely flummoxed.

Often opinions formed about loanees can be tainted by the fact that they are indeed on loan. It’s perfectly understandable.

Sure, getting a cost-nothing player for a season is fine, but seeing a youngster iron out his flaws in your team so that another club can reap the benefits later on is always going to be an uncomfortable watch. Especially when that club is competing in the same division.

When you dump the natural inconsistencies of a 20 year-old onto an already biased undercurrent, the split in opinion shouldn’t really come as too much of a surprise. Though, none of that is particularly helpful when we are trying to evaluate what kind of future Fosu-Mensah has at United.

In terms of appearances, Fosu-Mensah has played over 20 times for Crystal Palace this season, starting 17 games in the Premier League, 10 of which were at right back with the other 7 at centre half.

Fosu-Mensah’s displays centrally have been erratic at best, but it’s his performances at right full-back that United fans will be most interested in. Although he isn’t considered the nailed on heir apparent to Antonio Valencia, there is still a hope that Fosu-Mensah could eventually displace the Ecuadorian.

Valencia has been one of United’s most dependable players, but with him turning 33 in August and already looking close to burnout, a right back job-share with Fosu-Mensah next season, with the youngster ultimately taking the role full time the season after that would be the ideal scenario.

Worryingly, however, it seems as though Fosu-Mensah’s game falls down in the same areas in which Valencia’s does.

Described as lightning quick, aggressive in the tackle, but positionally suspect and completely absent as an attacking threat ……wait, who are we talking about here? Valencia or Fosu-Mensah? Unfortunately it’s both.

One Palace fan describes Fosu-Mensah as “the worst crosser of the ball I’ve ever seen,” and as hyperbolic as that reads, it doesn’t sound at all promising especially when you consider that Valencia could be a contender for that title himself. He’s also been losing points for a perceived lack of intelligence in his play, which is ironic given the second barrel of his surname.

“At right back he’s looked poor, gives the ball away too much. He’s quick and athletic but he would need 2-3 years of first team football to become a decent Premier League defender.”

If, as that Crystal Palace fan suggests, the target is to become a decent Premier League defender by the age of 23, then that looks a decent timeframe for the development of any promising youngster.

But even though time is on his side, the fact that it might not be on Mourinho’s could have a huge impact on Fosu-Mensah’s United career. With a genuine Premier League title challenge expected next season, it’s unlikely that Jose will want to replace one flawed (in an attacking sense at least) full back with another.

Mourinho doesn’t have the luxury of waiting the 2 or 3 years for Fosu-Mensah to hit the required high level and nor does he have to wait. £40m or so would land him the ready-made 25 year-old Djibril Sidibe from Monaco. While 26 year-old Belgian full-back Thomas Meunier could probably be secured for less from PSG.

Mourinho does like a defender though, in the traditional sense of the word, and Fosu-Mensah has definitely shown an aptitude for defending. Leroy Sane describes him as the toughest opponent he has faced this season, saying:

”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.”

Fosu-Mensah was named Man of the Match against City and impressed against Spurs at the end of February in Palace’s 0-1 defeat. Performances like that against high calibre opponents won’t have gone unnoticed. Neither will his versatility.

However, knowing Mourinho, he would have been more interested in poring over the negative reports rather than the positive ones. Fosu-Mensah’s weaknesses would be pushed to the forefront of his thinking and I’d imagine he would fixate on the reasons NOT to play him more than anything else.

United fans will see a rawness worth persisting with, that’s just how we are programmed. Mourinho will cut through the romance and see an immature ticking tactical time-bomb that could cost United goals.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Mourinho will try to force Fosu-Mensah out this summer. But the likelihood is that if he sticks around next season, his involvement will come in bits and pieces cup games with the occasional substitute appearance in the final ten minutes of league fixtures that have already been won.

The question is whether or not that will be enough to keep him interested after a full season of regular Premier League involvement.