Manchester United might just have another hometown hit on their hands in 17-year-old center back Teden Mengi. Let’s take a closer look...
One of the most important factors in player development is whether the prospect in question can advance beyond his age level and excel against older opponents. Teden Mengi has been doing that all his life. He first joined Manchester United’s U18s when only fifteen and then moved up again last season to the U23s. As a 17-year-old in the reserves, Mengi proved a quick study — making eighteen appearances (as well as eight more for the U18s).
The highlight, though, came in November when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named Mengi in the first-team squad for the Europa League group stage trip to FC Astana. He didn’t get off the bench that night, but the experience still ranks as a major step forward for the teenager.
When Mengi picked up a few games with the U18s, he looked a man among boys. He captained Neil Ryan’s side throughout the FA Youth Cup run, inspiring strong play with both his athleticism and leadership. If the much-anticipated semifinal against Chelsea ever gets played, Teden Mengi will be right there in the heart of defense.
All the Tools
Teden Mengi flashes both the speed and physicality that Manchester United need in a starting center back. He fiercely attacks balls in the air — both in defense and from set pieces — and uses his above-average pace to his advantage in 1v1 situations. The wise-beyond-his-years teenager also reads the game well, putting him one step ahead of the opposition.
No problems in the passing department, either. Mengi can bring the ball out of defense and looks relatively comfortable in possession. Don’t expect many spectacular assists or defense-splitting through balls, but Mengi can be a consistent passer in the modern game.
Honestly, it’s tough to pick holes in Teden Mengi. There’s always the worry that he might struggle at higher levels when the athleticism gap narrows between himself and his opponents. Perhaps some of his last-ditch tackles at youth level will become penalties or red cards at the senior level. But the same could be said of any young player — and Mengi’s strong mentality makes him a safer bet than most. It’s really just about keeping the youngster’s development on track because all of the signs point to stardom.
Teden Mengi is way way way too good for the u18 level... Man this guy is good, maybe already could go on loan next season to an Championship club— Bas (@MxZvGx_) February 29, 2020
In His Own Words
Teden Mengi does most of his talking on the pitch. On the few occasions that he does open up to the media, though, the 17-year-old’s leadership skills come shining through. Below are a few comments from ManUtd.com during the run-up to February’s FA Youth Cup quarterfinal against Wigan Athletic. (The U18s defeated Wigan 2-1 on February 28.)
On playing these cup ties at Old Trafford:
Home advantage at Old Trafford and the atmosphere will be a big boost for us. I think the Leeds tie [in the previous round] has to be the best atmosphere I’ve played in. The Leeds fans were crazy — and so were the United fans.
On captaining the U18s:
I think I’ve always been a leader and I’ve always looked to help everyone as best I can. I think that’s always been in me. I enjoy it. Everyone always comes to me when they need advice or anything else.
On the importance of the FA Youth Cup:
In your career, you only get two shots at it. Obviously, last year, we were knocked out by Brighton, so it would mean a lot to me if we went on and won it this year. The club makes us aware of how important the Youth Cup is. We have the most titles to our name, so if we can retain that and add another one that would be really good for us.
The Next Step
In Teden Mengi’s case, the ingredients are all there for a successful Premier League career. And, importantly, he’s got time on his side. That’s one of the benefits of consistently playing above your age level. Pencil him in for the U23s next season — probably as captain.
If Mengi can stay healthy and polish up the few rough edges left in his game, he could even be in line for a loan in the second half of the 2020/21 season. Long term, though, Mengi’s biggest obstacle might be the center back logjam ahead of him in the Manchester United first team. Between record signing Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, et al., there’s not much of an opening for the teenager. Thankfully, Mengi is young enough to wait it out — and, if he’s not in the mood for patience, he’s talented enough to force his way into the picture.