Manchester United can finally move on from makeshift full backs

Manchester United have spent a fortune since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement to try and get back to the top of domestic and European football.

That United’s best signing of the decade by far remains David de Gea, signed as an inexperienced, flimsy goalkeeper under Ferguson is an indictment on how unsuccessful that spending has been.

Full back has long since been a neglected position in all of that, perhaps because it has traditionally been seen as unglamorous despite becoming increasingly important in the modern game.

But United now finally have suitable options in a role where makeshift options have become the norm.

Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images


Young and Valencia lingered far too long

Valencia was a makeshift right back option towards the end of Ferguson’s reign, while Young moved to full back during the early days of David Moyes’ spell, which started in 2013.

It was expected that United’s squad would go through an evolution and the pair of former wingers only clung to their positions through professionalism.

But as United invested major sums in the transfer market, they failed to replace either man effectively.

Moyes didn’t even try and the two men Louis van Gaal bought to do that – Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw – did not work out as expected.

It was an utterly damning indictment on United’s recruitment setup that Valencia and Young were the club’s first choice full backs for so long; years past their peak, in positions they were forced into through necessity.

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

There is finally fresh blood

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson briefly threatened the first team in 2016, around the same time Timothy Fosu-Mensah forced his way into the setup too.

Fosu-Mensah would perhaps have established himself more by now if not for injury, although London loan spells at Fulham and Crystal Palace have been uninspiring.

But he’s back in training next week and joins Ethan Laird – who has made some eye-catching Europa League appearances – as young cover for Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The former Palace man is as good as any emerging defender in England.

Diogo Dalot can also offer pace and energy from right back. So from having just Valencia and Young as viable right back options, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has four players of the right age to choose within six months of the former captain’s departure.

Dalot can also play at left back, where Brandon Williams has gone a long way to easing United’s reliance on Shaw to finally get fit and make good on his early promise at Southampton.

Shaw should have been given a jolt by that and still has time to rediscover his best form. But if he doesn’t Solskjaer finally has better options than an ageing Young to fill the gap.

That’s long overdue but very encouraging for Manchester United.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.