Appearing twice thus far on Manchester United’s pre-season tour of the United States, 18-year-old Tahith Chong has shown why many inside Old Trafford believe the young winger has got what it takes to shine at the Theatre of Dreams.
Yet to make a senior competitive appearance for the club, Chong’s full debut cannot be far away, such is his undeniable talent.
But it has taken more than talent alone to bring the young Dutchman to the precipice of cracking Jose Mourinho’s first team, as our friends at Football Whispers explain.
The Curacao-born attacker came to the attention of United scouts while on the books of Feyenoord, standing out not only for his distinctive hairstyle, but for his technical skills and on-field maturity too.
The Red Devils snapped Chong up as a 16-year-old in 2016, and the Dutch youth international has consistently impressed at academy level.
A left-footed right winger, Chong can also play on the opposite flank or centrally as a No.10, and his game is characterised by thrilling pace, dribbling skills and creativity, as well as discipline and hard work off the ball.
His progress was halted by a serious knee injury last year, however, with a ruptured cruciate ligament ruling him out for ten months.
While this kind of injury is no longer the career-threatener it once was, it is still a major setback to overcome, especially for a player so young and still developing; Chong could have been forgiven for appearing tentative and off the pace upon his return.
That certainly wasn’t the case, though. Returning to Under-18s action at the tail end of 2017, the dynamic winger picked right up where he’d left off, starring for United’s academy outfit and instantly becoming a key player at that level.
Chong’s fine form was rewarded with an Under-23 debut in January. Despite a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford, the Dutch newcomer appeared head and shoulders above both his team-mates and his opponents, despite his relative inexperience.
In a swashbuckling display of unrelenting energy and skill down the flank, Chong showcased a level of defensive and positional responsibility that will no doubt have impressed Mourinho.
Chong also demonstrated impressive leadership against Spurs, which stands as an encouraging sign of his readiness for further first-team involvement in the near future; he was completely unafraid to take the ball in tight situations, or to organise his fellow midfielders.
To cap off a fine evening’s work, Chong marked his Under-23 debut with United’s only goal of the game, collecting a loose pass just outside the penalty area before darting into the box and finishing expertly.
Chong went on to make eight appearances for the Under-23s before the season’s end, scoring three times in total and registering an assist, complimenting his Under-18 tally of seven strikes and seven assists.
All of this was enough to see the youngster named the Jimmy Murphy Youth Team Player of the Year, the award which recognises the most impressive young talent at United each season.
In a summer which has seen United been linked with big money arrivals in the wide attacking positions, with expensive moves for the likes of Willian, Gareth Bale and Ivan Perisic all mooted, Chong could emerge as a viable long-term alternative.
First-team coach Kieran McKenna, who oversaw Chong while in charge of the Under-18s last season, sang the teenager’s praises on United’s official website: “Tahith has hit the ground running in his time here and I think he’s just a fantastic professional. He has the right attitude to training and looks after himself really well off the pitch.
“He’s really personable and good with the staff and players,” McKenna continued, “which has helped him to settle in quickly. On the pitch, everyone has been excited by his performances; he’s an eye-catching player.”
When asked by MUTV of his hopes of establishing himself at first-team level with United, Chong replied: “That’s the dream”.
With a vacancy on the right wing in Mourinho’s side, that dream could come true sooner than planned if Chong continues to impress Stateside.
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by Tom Bodell