COMMENT: Energy. Humility. And a little intensity. It can take a player far in this game. With his director. As with his teammates. Just ask Anthony Elanga for proof…
It was announced when Cristiano Ronaldo arrived. It would be a game-changer for the academy. An example to follow. Reflect. His way of working. His way of life. These youngsters going through the system and aspiring to become a Manchester United player would have no better role model up close than the Ballon d’Or.
But for this column, the best example. Most relevant. The most practical. It must be Elanga. If any of his peers wanted to know how to navigate their way into United’s first-team plans, they only had to look to their former team-mate and how he’s done it for the past 18 months.
During his two stints as academy manager at Newcastle United, Peter Beardsley eased the nerves of any young debutant with the simple commands: “Get out and run a bit…”.
But there was a meaning behind those words: don’t sit down. Jump into it. Chance your arm. And those are words that Beardsley didn’t mention himself, it’s the same advice he received during his playing career. From Bob Moncur to Arthur Cox to Bobby Robson with England, they all knew how Beardsley played. There was no great need for specific instructions. He was just a fuzzy Geordie of energy and intensity. Basically, get out there and run.
This is exactly what we see from Elanga today. Indeed, we have highlighted in previous columns the stark difference that Elanga has shown when introduced this season. Getting into the game. Understanding the rhythm of the game. It’s not for this 19-year-old. Every time he’s on the field. Whether as a starter or on the bench. He played with an energy and enthusiasm that offered a clear point of difference to several of his senior teammates. This made him popular with the Stretford End. He made the exes fall over themselves to show it off. But it’s more than your typical youthful exuberance. This is Anthony Elanga. That’s how he plays.
Is it too early to draw a comparison with Beardsley? Well, not for this column. At least not the Beardsley of Newcastle. From the one Kenny Dalglish signed for Liverpool. Aggressive. Courageous. With a turn or two. Elanga plays like a young Peter Beardsley. But it’s that intensity on the pitch that really boosts the comparison.
Peter Beardsley in action for Newcastle at the Dell in 1985
And it is with this intensity that Elanga approaches everything related to her career.
“He’s a nice guy who works hard and is really humble,” said senior teammate Bruno Fernandes. “I think he deserves everything that happens to him. Along with his accomplishments, he trains hard. Since last season, when he joined the first team, he has trained very hard and is, as I said, very, very humble. He has a bright future ahead of him.”
His mentor, even his champion, the support of Fernandes is important. A true leader in this United team, Fernandes does not suffer fools. Like Ronaldo, he is there to help. To advise. But he will only do this for those who want to listen. And when a young teammate does it, Fernandes goes all out.
After scoring in their 2-2 draw at Aston Villa a fortnight ago, Fernandes was again eager to highlight his junior team-mate’s contribution: “I told him my goal came from his head. It doesn’t seem like much but it’s a really important moment in the game. We’re really happy for him because he deserves this chance.”
Again, Fernandes doesn’t talk about all academy players like that. But for the Swede, he did everything possible to do so. There is a lesson here for those left behind by Elanga at the academy. An example to follow.
It is worth highlighting the success of Largie Ramazani this season. He uprooted trees in Spain. Not as a United player. But with Almeria, in the Spanish Segunda division. Now in his second season, Ramazani steals, six goals and one assist in 17 La Liga games. The 20-year-old shows off everything the Carrington coaching staff was saying in this column 18 months ago.
By right, Ramazani should be where Elanga is today. player of the same type. Same kind of Beardo intensity. But with failure (as this column has discussed)… attitude.
Now it looks like the penny has fallen. But Ramazani had to leave United for that to happen.
In the case of Elanga, no such intervention was necessary. With this current peak, there will be troughs – this is inevitable. But for his former academy teammates, United’s current No.36 wrote the book on how to succeed at Old Trafford.
All it takes is energy. Humility. And when that chance comes, just “run a little”. Ronaldo will always be an influence, but when it comes to this generation within United’s academy, they couldn’t have a better role model than Anthony Elanga.
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