The 2017/18 season was a learning process for most of Manchester United’s Under-23s squad – and Zak Dearnley was no exception.
The youth product moved up from the Under-18s to link up with Ricky Sbragia’s group but had a frustrating time with injuries and only really made his mark towards the end of a campaign that, unfortunately, ended with relegation to Premier League 2’s Division 2.There were obvious reasons behind this fact, not least that results are not the be all and end all at this level and the individual’s needs are placed above the team’s. Hence, the loaning out of key men Demi Mitchell and James Wilson in January, while Scott McTominay spent most of the season with Jose Mourinho’s first team.
Due to misfortune along the way, even an upturn in form towards the end of the programme failed to ensure a route to safety but Dearnley appreciates he has taken a lot from the experience. Indeed, he will be all the better for it and can look forward with relish after signing a new contract with the club this week.
”It was too little, too late,” he said of the improved run of results.
“The lads did the best they could and we all gave 110 per cent throughout the season. We did what we could but, unfortunately, it’s not gone our way.
”Personally, it’s not been bad, it’s been okay but it was a bit of a stop-start season for me. I was injured, came back and got injured again before returning to finish the season very strongly. I have to carry on that form. Injuries are part of football. You’re going to get setbacks and knockbacks but you must pick yourself up and carry on with it.”I’ve learned a lot from the injuries, like how to look after myself and how to stay injury-free. After a little break, I’ll come back fitter and stronger and will hopefully start next season off well.”
When asked by ManUtd.com to sum up exactly what he has discovered from a tough campaign, on and off the field, the 19-year-old was quick to focus on what will stick with him moving forwards.”One thing I’ve learned from this season, not just for me but the team, is when you’re having that situation where you know you could get relegated,” he stressed.
“It’s about staying positive, to keep going and fighting until the end.You don’t know what’s going to happen but I have to say that, character-wise, I learned a lot about myself, also with the injuries as well. It was a case of dealing with that, being out of the team and then getting in the team. You just have got to stay strong and never give up. I’ve learned this lesson and staying positive is what I will take out of this season.”
Having signed a new contract with the club, there is every reason for Dearnley to be optimistic about the future. He was part of the side that won the ICGT trophy in the Netherlands after the league campaign and can reflect on a goal at Old Trafford in the 4-0 win over Sunderland in Premier League 2 in April.The young forward is also clearer in terms of knowing which position could end up being his best.
“It’s always good to play at Old Trafford and more special,”he said.
“It’s always a big game there and even more so considering what we had to do to try to stay in the league. It gives you more confidence when you know what it takes to play there.I prefer it out wide but don’t mind playing up front, like I did earlier in the season. There don’t seem to be as many wingers any more; it’s more like three forwards. Of course, it’s good to play in more than one position but I do like attacking down the wings. I can cross it and set goals up. ”You have to play a more patient game up front, having your back to goal and a lot of that kind of stuff. There’s a bit more space on the wing and I definitely like taking defenders on.”
Here’s hoping Dearnley has better luck next term, especially on the injury front.