Opinion: Erik can revitalise returning loan players

Tuesday 28 June 2022 12:32

What a difference a few weeks makes.

It's barely a month since last season finished, but how nice it was to see Manchester United's first-team squad rocking up at Carrington for the start of pre-season 2022/23.
The less said about 2021/22 the better, but that campaign already feels 2,000 light years away. Erik ten Hag's arrival has laced the place with a new optimism, and everyone at the club is looking forward with positivity.
You could see that on many of the pictures shared on Monday (27 June). There was freshness in the players' faces and a relaxedness to their dispositions. And you suspect that's not just because of the new training kit, or the few weeks' holiday they've just enjoyed.
Ten Hag's arrival signals a new start. For everyone. Over the coming weeks, the Dutchman will be paying close attention to each player and every little detail he can spot. And who knows what that could mean for the make-up of the squad?
Could it even make for some quite radical changes?
Training highlights: Ten Hag’s first session Video

Training highlights: Ten Hag’s first session

Erik ten Hag arrived early & left late on a galvanising first day at Carrington. Watch his energetic training session...

Take Anthony Martial, for example. The Frenchman's smiling demeanour on day one at Carrington embodied the new-found, upbeat atmosphere, and no wonder.
The last couple of years have been difficult for the striker. Since a brilliant 2019/20 season, when he scored 23 goals and was named the Players' Player of the Year, he has suffered injury issues and lost his place. He spent the second half of 2021/22 at Sevilla, where injuries once again beset him.
But there's a big opportunity for Martial under ten Hag. United's leading striker last year was Cristiano Ronaldo, who netted 24 goals, but the Portuguese legend is 37 years old and probably unlikely to play every game.
With Edinson Cavani gone, Martial has a clear pathway to first-team minutes and chances to impress, if he can excite Ten Hag during pre-season. He'll be working with a new manager that has a strong track record when it comes to revitalising players. Think about Sebastien Haller, who struggled at West Ham United before exploding into life under Ten Hag at Ajax.
A determined, injury-free Martial can be a huge boost to United, despite the difficulties of the last couple of seasons.
The full-back positions are also areas of intrigue.
Brandon Williams spent 2021/22 on loan with Norwich City, in the Premier League. The Canaries were relegated, but the full-back was one of their real bright spots, impressing everyone at Carrow Road with the competitive instincts and self-belief that first endeared him to United fans.
After the first day back, he tweeted: "Back on home turf."
He's a local, Academy-produced lad, who already has 50 first-team appearances to his name. He's versatile, too, as a right-footer that can play on either flank.
Williams has four more experienced defenders obstructing his path to the starting XI but, of them, only Diogo Dalot managed to reach 30 appearances last term. Luke Shaw, Alex Telles and Aaron Wan-Bissaka all have their specialist skills, but none boast Williams' positional adaptability, and both full-back positions are up for grabs as we head into 2022/23.


Another Red who spent last season on loan was Axel Tuanzebe. The defender has endured a spate of injury issues in recent years, and further problems limited his game-time at both Aston Villa and Napoli in 2021/22.
But we know what the Rochdale-reared Academy product can deliver at his best. The night he sorted out Kylian Mbappe in Paris will go down in United folklore, even if Tuanzebe never plays another game for the club.
Axel captained the first team against Rochdale in 2019 – the night Brandon Williams made his debut – which means he has skippered the club at every single possible level. He's a mightily impressive character, and despite United's strength in depth at centre-back, both Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane have missed their fair share of games in the last 12 months.
Tuanzebe can also play in central midfield, which is another feather in his cap. He's been around for years, but at just 24, it still feels like his career has many further gears to reach.
And then there's Donny van de Beek, who played under Erik at Ajax. 
Memories of Donny's Champions League goals during the Amsterdam club's awesome run to the semi-finals in 2019 still linger, and the player will no doubt feel hopeful about the prospect of rebooting his United career under his former manager's tutelage.
He spent last season on loan at Everton, during a hugely challenging season for the Toffees, but there were glimpses of what he can do in the Premier League via a Man of the Match performance against Leeds United.
Donny can play anywhere in midfield, whether that's in a deep-lying position, from a box-to-box role, or even in the no.10 spot that Bruno Fernandes has made his own.
With Ten Hag's trust, he will hope to rekindle the form he produced when he wore the red and white of Ajax.
What are Ten Hag's pre-season priorities? Video

What are Ten Hag's pre-season priorities?

The Debate | A journalist joins ex-players Wes Brown and Danny Webber to discuss our new manager's agenda...

The pressure is always on at United, and every fan knows the scrutiny that can besiege players if they don't hit the ground running.
But all the individuals mentioned have the chance to start again under Erik – a manager who is renowned for making players of all shapes and sizes take their game up a level or two.
Keep a close eye on the Reds' pre-season matches, because a few United careers might be set for some exciting second chapters.
Everyone's smiling, which is a great start for Ten Hag and his coaches. Now to get to work.

The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.