It seems an age since Timothy Fosu-Mensah made his Manchester United debut, but the Netherlands international still possesses the same frightening potential that convinced Louis Van Gaal to promote him to the first-team squad in 2016.
Still, only 21, the vast majority of Fosu-Mensah’s career is still ahead of him, and the Premier League is yet to witness his full ability.
It may come as a surprise to most United fans that the former Ajax youngster has already racked up 45 appearances in England’s top-flight – there is a sense that the utility man hasn’t been given ample opportunity to impress at first-team level.
This preconception is perhaps due to the nature of his appearances – Fosu-Mensah has only completed the full 90 minutes on 22 occasions in the Premier League.
Regardless, after two loan spells at top-flight clubs, Fosu-Mensah is far more experienced than the current crop of youngsters emerging at Old Trafford.
After joining Crystal Palace for the 2017/18 season, he showed glimpses of his defensive capabilities and was one of the few stand-out performers in a woeful side managed by Frank de Boer.
His impressive form earned him a call-up to the Netherlands senior squad and he was awarded his national team debut in August 2017.
But he gradually fell out of favour at Selhurst Park, with the emergence of now-United man Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and new manager Roy Hodgson’s preference of the more experienced Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins.
The following season Fosu-Mensah was sent to Fulham, where he struggled to impose himself at yet another dreadful side before a cruciate ligament injury in April ended his loan spell prematurely.
But with the Dutchman now almost fully recovered from that injury, it seems he has a final chance to prove himself at Old Trafford.
Although his stint at Craven Cottage was largely disappointing, it should be considered how difficult it must be for a young defender to develop in a team devoid of any real quality – the same could be said about his spell at Crystal Palace.
Across both loan periods, Fosu-Mensah was deployed at either full-back or centre-back, but his route back into the first-team picture at United may be through a position he played during his time in the club’s academy.
With new signing Wan-Bissaka and the promising Diogo Dalot ahead of Fosu Mensah in the pecking order at right-back, and Eric Bailly’s return bolstering Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s options even further in the centre of defence, the 21-year-old will struggle to infiltrate the starting eleven as a defender.
But after Scott McTominay’s recent injury highlighted United’s lack of cover in the defensive midfield department, Solskjaer may be tempted to give Fosu-Mensah a chance in the role.
With Nemanja Matic likely to depart the club in January, 18-year-old James Garner is United’s only recognised holding midfielder, and although he too is a player with bags of potential, he is an obvious downgrade on McTominay physically – as good as he is on the ball, a partnership of Garner and Fred is hardly a daunting prospect for opponents.
Standing at six foot three, Fosu-Mensah could certainly fill the void left by McTominay, and could even play alongside him against the more physical sides in the division.
Prior to his call-up to the first team in 2016, Fosu-Mensah was regularly used in midfield for United’s U19’s and excelled in the role thanks to his daunting physical stature.
The only concern for Solskjaer may be Fosu-Mensah’s ability on the ball, but that is something that can he improve, potentially in the same vein as McTominay himself.
With other areas of United’s squad desperately in need of improvement and a lack of quality players available, defensive-midfield will be low on Solskjaer’s list of priorities in January – even if Matic does indeed leave.
Fosu-Mensah’s return though could solve that particular problem for Solskjaer, but he must grasp any opportunity that comes his way.
With United still competing across four competitions this season, Fosu-Mensah will surely get some minutes in the first team – but like teammates such as Andreas Pereira and Luke Shaw, Fosu-Mensah’s future at the club is far from certain, and his displays over the remainder of the season are likely to directly affect whether he remains with United in the summer.
If he can replicate the form from his early weeks at Crystal Palace in the centre of the park for United, he will become a brilliant asset for the club, and his future at Old Trafford will stretch far beyond next season.