Before our final pre-season match on Sunday afternoon, Aston Villa announced the loan signing of Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe.
On the bench to face Salernitana, Tuanzebe had just committed to a third temporary spell at Villa Park. Having first signed for the Villans in January 2018, Tuanzebe made five appearances that year as he was hampered by injury.
Even with this troubled debut campaign, Steve Bruce saw enough to re-sign the player on a season-long deal. In a summer that also saw the arrival of John McGinn, Tuanzebe’s signature brought excitement back to Villa fans after the summer was spent worrying about tax bills and looming threats of administration.
That season, Tuanzebe made 25 Villa appearances and became a real fan favourite. Despite further struggles with a metatarsal fracture (meaning he missed games from December – March), Tuanzebe returned to action midway through the clubs record-breaking ten wins in a row.
The former England U21 then played every minute of the club’s successful play-off campaign.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
As Villa returned to the top flight for the 2019/20 season, Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause saw their loan deals made permanent. Ezri Konsa and Bjorn Engels were also snapped up by the club. This left a move for Tuanzebe deemed unnecessary by Villa’s hierarchy and both the club and centre-back parted ways.
Not only was the pool of defenders at Bodymoor Heath ever-growing, but Tuanzebe had been promised a bright future in Manchester by the club’s new manager – Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Signing a new contract with the reds, Tuanzebe felt ready to kickstart his United career.
Unfortunately, Tuanzebe played a stop-start season at Old Trafford. Although, leading the team out in an EFL tie against Rochdale made him the youngest player to captain Manchester United since Norman Whiteside in 1985.
As for Villa, the club survived relegation on the final day as the defence recorded the second-worst goals conceded in the league.
As Villa finished a commendable 11th last season, a long-term centre-back partnership was established.
Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa both played 36 from 38 Premier League games last season and the formidable pair helped Villa keep 15 clean sheets – third-best in the league!
Meanwhile, Tuanzebe was struck with injury again. Suffering the hangover from an ankle injury from the previous season, Tuanzebe didn’t feature until October, where he was thrown in at the deep end in a Champions League away tie to PSG.
Our fan favourite recorded 7 clearances, 1 block, 92% passing accuracy, whilst winning 100% of his aerial battles as he returned from ten months on the sidelines.
On the night Tuanzebe made his competition debut, football fans across Europe sat up and took notice of the young man.
As United recorded a historic win in the French capital, Tuanzebe’s defensive marshalling of world-cup winning Kylian Mbappe stole the headlines.
The usual pace, power, and dynamism of Mbappe was extinguished attack after attack by the former Villa man as the media flew the flag for Tuanzebe to be the next United legend the following morning.
His individual duel against one of the world’s elite predictably stole the headlines.
However, again, United didn’t have faith in their player to reward him with a more frequent place in the team. He made his first league start of that season in January 2021.
At this point, the story reaches the present day.
Villa have completed the signing of Tuanzebe for the third time, yet again the player seemingly insists it be on loan.
Penning a new two year deal at Old Trafford before making the move this summer, Tuanzebe’s determination to make it in Manchester has to be admired.
At Villa, he will have to force his way into the side. Initially, he will provide cover for primarily Ezri Konsa at right-sided centre-back, however, he can also be stationed at right-back should Smith require.
Tuanzebe – who until January this year held the world record for the fastest time to clear the board in Hungry Hippos – (17.36 seconds in case you were wondering) – has a fondness for Aston Villa.
He knows the difficulties he’ll face in order to breach the defensive partnership at Villa and establish a place as his own. However, this is a man so clearly unafraid to stand up to challenge.
Knowing of his quality, the man who signed him first for Villa (Steve Bruce) was eager to persuade him to join forces at St James’ Park (Newcastle). In the North-East, Tuanzebe would likely play more regular football, but he values the support he’s already received at Villa Park.
With the loan fee costing an apparent £5 million, it remains to be seen whether Villa sees Tuanzebe as part of their plans post-2021/22.