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Anthony Elanga - From ‘United’s saviour’ to a loan move two years in the making

Jonathan Fadugba

The chaotic nature of professional football means you can never take anything for granted. You can be the next big thing one minute. The next minute you’re out of the door. 

This is the situation currently facing Anthony Elanga at Manchester United. 

The Swedish international has gone from Old Trafford star boy, shining on the biggest stage in a Champions League last 16 knockout game last February to nearing the exit door, with strong reports of a loan move imminent in this January transfer window. 

Borussia Dortmund look favourites to sign him on a loan deal until the end of the season but other clubs around Europe are also interested, with Erik ten Hag reportedly willing to let Elanga leave the club.

The Swede last started a league game for United before the World Cup and has only made five league starts all season. 

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So what’s the situation with Anthony Elanga and how did it come to this? And where next?

“He’s United’s saviour”

It all started so well for the youngster. Son of former Malmö FF star Joseph Elanga and born in the Swedish city himself, Anthony shone for Manchester United’s youth teams after joining as a 12-year-old in 2014. 

Regularly talked about as one of the most exciting youth prospects within Manchester United’s famous academy, which holds an incredible record of having featured a youth academy or homegrown player in every single matchday squad for the past 85 years, Elanga has been fast-tracked into the first team at Old Trafford over the past eighteen months.

Outstanding performances at youth level and a desire from former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to integrate more academy players into the first team setup saw Elanga get his chance perhaps ahead of schedule, when in May 2021 he made his Premier League debut in a home defeat to Leicester City. 

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Just weeks later Elanga scored his first Premier League goal in a final day win away to Wolves. 

“What you don’t see is his attitude, desire and personality. He has a great attitude and is really humble, works really hard,” said his then-manager Solskjaer. “The future is bright for him, I think, and I know I can trust him to keep his feet on the ground and make the most of his talent.”

The plan was for 19-year-old Elanga to go out on loan that summer. In a sense therefore, any loan deal now could be seen as his development plan simply being reversed in motion, after initially fast-tracking beyond expectations. 

A string of brilliant performances by Elanga in pre-season of 2021 however changed Solskjaer’s mind. 

“”It would be easy to say the boy should go on loan, but he’s doing so well. He’s electric, his pace, his skill, he’s not afraid of anything and he’s got the courage and the bravery of a Man United player,” Solskjaer said after Elanga’s top performance against QPR. “If he keeps on like he is I might want to keep him.”

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Solskjaer did eventually decide to keep Elanga, but despite his comments no game time was forthcoming. The youngster did not play a single minute of Premier League football in 2021/22 under Solskjaer despite his pre-season comments, and we all know what happened next. United’s form nosedived, Solskjaer was sacked and another transition period began.

As seen on YouTube

Elanga remained at Old Trafford, picking up minutes in cup games here and there and the UEFA Youth League. But when Ralf Rangnick was announced as Solskjaer’s interim replacement, Anthony Elanga’s fortunes changed. 

Six more or less wasted months of development time turned into a major opportunity for Elanga when Rangnick stumbled upon him seemingly at random, after browsing clips of him on YouTube one day.

“I must say, from the very first day of my first training session, he showed up,” said new manager Rangnick. “l had heard his name before and I was in my hotel room watching videos of him on YouTube and I thought ‘this boy is really good’.

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“He was almost on his way out on loan. I told him ‘You will not go out on loan, you will stay here’ and he has developed in training.”

Another loan move denied, but this time Rangnick kept his promise. Game time came Elanga’s way and he took advantage of it, dazzling in several games playing off either right or left hand side as a wide forward as United tried to rediscover their form. 

The highlight was that goal away against Atletico Madrid to briefly give United hopes of reaching a Champions League quarter final. Elanga took his goal brilliantly to rescue a 1-1 draw, and by this time the United fans had penned a song about the Swedish international, raining it down from the Wanda Metropolitano terraces that night in glee to the tune of Snap!’s Rhythm is a Dancer:

“Rhythm is a dancer, Anthony Elanga, you won’t stop him if you dare!
He’s from Scandinavia he’s United’s saviour, scoring goals from everywhere!

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Woaahhhhhh it’s Elanga! Woaahhhh you should see him in the air!

Woaahhhhhh it’s Elanga!”

It was arguably the high point of an ultimately disastrous season for the Reds. 

Elanga became a regular under Rangnick, making 14 Premier League starts and won his first cap for Sweden at senior international level. But Rangnick’s demise and exit has been to Elanga’s detriment. 

Where next?

This season the arrival of Antony and the emergence of Alejandro Garnacho mean Elanga’s minutes have been limited to just 392, compared to 1,214 in 2021/22. A long-delayed loan move – first stalled by Solskjaer and then Rangnick a year later – now looks inevitable. 

Fortunately the door does not look completely closed for Elanga at Old Trafford. Once again, his attitude has been praised, this time by Erik ten Hag, a really positive sign given three managers have now congratulated him on his character.

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“He’s doing well and he’s a young guy,” Ten Hag told Viaplay Sweden last October. “Last year, he came in for a lot of games and this year, obviously, I would say it’s normal to drop down in minutes. He is a great kid to work with. Always positive and I think his brightness, his positive attitude and by working hard, he has the capabilities so now we have to improve that.”

While Everton have been strongly linked, the club is currently a toxic environment for a young player to come into due to their on and off-field situation, as well as huge supporter unrest.

A move to Borussia Dortmund however could be perfect. A club with an exceptional track record of developing young talents, where Elanga would almost certainly get game time in an expansive league where he can show all his attacking prowess, speed and creativity.

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A fellow Swedish international, Alexander Isak, would be a reference point for such a move, and it need not spell the end of Elanga’s time at Manchester United. As Ten Hag has shown with players like Jadon Sancho and Facundo Pellestri, his development of young players is not linear. Each player is observed on a case by case basis, and so far he is getting results.

For Anthony Elanga, it could simply be a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder. A chance to prove himself in a fresh environment, with a loan move that has been two years in the making. 

Publicerad 2023-01-19 20:53

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