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Angel Gomes, Manchester United's youngest-ever Young Player of the Year, made an impressive, albeit brief, first-team debut for the club on Sunday against Crystal Palace.
Jose Mourinho named a young XI and an even younger bench in an attempt to freshen up his players for their Europa League final this week, and Gomes was given six minutes off the bench with the score at 2-0.
Despite the limited nature of his participation, he still caught the eye. In fact, in the six minutes he played, he made more final-third passes (nine) than Wayne Rooney (seven)—despite the fact Gomes replaced Rooney in the 88th minute.
He was supposed to travel to Croatia with England's under-17s but withdrew from the European Championship squad due to injury. The nation's loss was United's gain, though; the player Danny Webber has likened to Paul Scholes, per the Manchester Evening News, has made himself known to the club's faithful in a short but sweet style.
Back in November, we profiled the first-year scholar, who won't turn 17 until August, and compared him to Manchester City's David Silva.
That view was reiterated by former Manchester United academy coach Paul McGuinness in an interview with Sky Sports:
He's a real talent. If he was Brazilian, people would be raving about him and, if he was six inches taller, people would be going mad.
I suppose that's our country. People doubt players if they're short in stature but no-one is doubting Andres Iniesta or David Silva. He's got the potential to be that type of player and, in England, you just don't get many players like that.
If you play him with better players, he'll get better himself and create chances for them. You don't want to build him up too soon but I'm sure they'll handle all that at United.
As we wrote in November:
Slight, technically stellar and wonderfully ingenious, he's a breed of player England rarely produces...
Gomes' game is all about the interpretation and use of space. Comfortable anywhere across the advanced midfield band, he'll duck and dive into pockets and use them superbly. He looks most at home as a No. 10, though he can excel from the flank if his side utilise a possession-heavy system.
After his debut, Gomes told MUTV how senior players helped him manage his game against the Eagles.
I felt the players made it easy for me really. Before coming on, I was speaking to Michael Carrick about how to get into the pockets and stuff and he helped me out a lot when I came on. He just kept trying to pass to me so I was happy and all the lads supported me and helped me, telling me what to do so I thank them for that.
I don't know what the future plans are for next season but I just want to continue playing, whether it's in the Under-18s or Under-23s, I just want to stay with the good habits and carry on pushing really.
Gomes will first look to create quick interchanges of play with a team-mate instead of attempting to push ahead himself like many other box-to-box midfielders might. This allows him to save his legs by letting the ball do the work.
As we noted:
It's not that he's not quick—his speed is probably a shade above average—but he has a culture to his game many his age lack. Again, the Silva comparisons make sense: When was the last time you saw the Spaniard try to outpace someone on the edge?
However, Gomes' clinical nature around the penalty box can be demonstrated by his stats this year. Academy head Nicky Butt said United have "massive hopes" for the London-born forward, who scored 12 goals in 19 appearances to claim the Jimmy Murphy Youth Team Player of the Year award.
United's new under-18 coach Kieran McKenna told Manchester United's official website that Gomes has a great demeanour:
Angel is clever and I think with him, first of all, he's got a really fantastic attitude towards the game. He loves his football and is bright and curious. He's interested in every training session and you can see that on the pitch.
He's always bright, always looking for his team-mates and always looking at the opposition too, trying to find a way to exploit any weaknesses they have got. He has a fantastic football brain really and a good attitude to go with it.
He'll need a possession-heavy system before he can take advantage of his strengths—close control, touch and passing. While there's plenty of potential for growth, it's clear even at 16 years of age that he'll never be particularly big or strong.
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So far, Jose Mourinho hasn't exactly attempted to do this, and the questions that face Gomes are the same that face Axel Tuanzebe, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and others: Will the Portuguese embrace their learning curves and create a setting in which they can progress or succeed?
It's no sure thing, although McGuinness was bullish on the chances of Tuanzebe breaking through in his interview with Sky:
Fosu-Mensah is a fantastic athlete but he maybe needs to nail down a position. He's got fantastic pace on the recovery to get him out of trouble at full-back. It's whether Jose thinks he can learn more going out on loan or with the team.
Tuanzebe has played one or two games now, in three or four different positions; right-back, centre-back, centre-midfield. He's got real potential to be a leader and whether he makes it at United or not, I'm pretty sure he'll be the captain of whatever team he plays for.
I think Axel has made a big bid to be right in there. He can play in a few positions and has a fantastic attitude. I think he'll want him in the squad and I think he's been cementing, recently, a place in the squad.