What should Manchester United do with Tahith Chong next season?
Background image: Ian Mcallister
Tahith Chong made the surprising choice to sign a new contract at Manchester United despite Inter’s serious interest. Like Jadon Sancho and Brahim Diaz before him, a continental experience enticed him but, upon realising the move was for more marketing reasons tied to his Chinese ancestry, he opted for the Red Devils he knew.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reputation rests on elevating young talent from the Carrington academy to the first-team at Old Trafford. Forward Mason Greenwood [35App/11G/4A] and left-back Brandon Williams [25App/1G/1A] immediately benefitted from the Norwegian's appointment. Chong and Axel Tuanzebe are next cadets in the queue with 10 appearances apiece, followed by James Garner and Angel Gomes with six. Yet, to follow Greenwood into the first-team, Chong must match his standard. His pace and technical ability are evident but he's yet to piece it together with consistency at the top level. One assist is all he has to show for the campaign. A few cameos were promising but the rough edges cut through the others. The question becomes whether he can advance his game coming off the bench for United or is better off accepting a loan spell at a club that will use him regularly.
There's no point keeping him in the U23s. He logs seven goals and six assists in 10 appearances in the Premier League 2 and EFL Trophy. Opponents at that level cannot cope with him but the tables turn when he appears for the first team. In addition, Solskjaer finally has a settled unit. Breaking into the starting XI at this stage represents a mammoth task.
The 20-year-old probably expects more playing time in 2020/21 but should be aware the boss will almost certainly target a proven forward in the summer market. Social media mavens already champion Jack Grealish with Aston Villa increasingly likely to go down. Jadon Sancho also figures prominently on United fans' wish list. Factor in Marcus Rashford's return, Odion Ighalo's loan potentially made permanent and Dan James a year wiser and it's difficult to see Chong doing enough during the run-in or in pre-season to earn a starting role.
A loan spell might be his ticket. Multiple Premier League sides crave such natural talent. He couldn't ask for better than Graham Potter at Brighton unless it's Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. Alireza Jahanbakhsh can't force his way into the Seagulls' starting XI and Harry Wilson may return to Liverpool, leaving the Cherries with an opening on the flank. At either club, Chong could develop his skills. At Southampton, Ralph Hasenhuttl lacks a natural right-winger in his squad. While the Saints more famously sell players to top clubs rather than accept them on loan, Danny Ings and Kyle Walker-Peters came to Saint Mary's from Liverpool and Tottenham these past two seasons, with Ings move made permanent this year.
• 6ft 1in
• 20-years old
• Forward [left & right winger]
A consistent performer for United's reserves since his 11-month injury at 16. Fully promoted to the first team in the 19/20 season.
The dutchman renews his #mufc contract until 2022 🔴 https://t.co/ynxvHtNE6V
All this presumes Solskjaer's comfort with loaning him out. Chong's contract only runs through 2022 and United still hurt for depth at most positions. If he can improve his finishing and decision-making, the 20-year-old's pace makes him ideal as an impact sub who can come on to worry fatigued defenders.
Ole may take things slowly or he may consider a season in the Championship a better option, one more likely to see the youngster eager to return. If Solskjaer keeps Chong at Old Trafford, he should at least feature more often in cup competitions. Starting once each in the EFL and FA Cups this term as well as coming off the bench at half-time against Tranmere Rovers wan't enough.
For Chong to figure in the club's long-term plans, he must polish his game but if the club wants him, it's also on Solskjaer to see to it, one way or another, that the player receives sufficient opportunity to do so.