Tahith Chong joined Birmingham City on a season-long loan this summer and the 21-year-old enjoyed a fine debut for the Championship outfit on Saturday
Manchester United fans know Tahith Chong as a gangly winger with a slight build, unmissable hairstyle and a tendency to take on defenders at his leisure.
There is a feeling that over the past two years, the Netherlands Under-21 international has disappeared off the radar somewhat, with other youngsters such as Mason Greenwood thriving instead.
But the Dutchman could have been put on a different path to a bright future at Old Trafford after making his debut for Birmingham City in the Championship on Saturday.
Chong chose to head out on loan to the Midlands outfit on a season-long loan with first-team opportunities looking increasingly limited.
The 21-year-old has been looking for ways to revive his career at the club after stagnating over the past two seasons.
He endured a frustrating season in 2020-21 after initially joining Werder Bremen before seeing his loan spell cut short in January after 15 appearances and one goal.
His hopes of making a bigger impression with Belgian champions Club Brugge for the second half of the season faded quickly too, failing to score in the Jupiler Pro League despite their domination of the division.
But after linking up with Lee Bowyer’s side for pre-season, it appears the English boss has found a new role for Chong to slot into.
For the majority of his career since joining Man United in 2016, Chong has been deployed as a winger.
It made sense too, given his ability to whip in crosses with his wand of a left foot and eagerness to take on defenders.
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But it was notable how when he made his first outing for the club against Sheffield United on Saturday, Chong lined up in the midfield three.
With a tall and slender frame, the role certainly suits him but there was a question mark over whether he had the composure to receive the ball under pressure in tight areas.
It is fair to say Chong may have been lacking confidence too, after failing to score a senior league goal since his debut for Man United in 2018.
But his debut suggested that his positional switch could open the door to new opportunities in the future at the club — and perhaps Manchester United too.
Having been deployed as a box-to-box operator, Chong covered every blade of grass. The Netherlands Under-21 international was creative in the final third and worked tirelessly to help his defenders too.
Yet, with his new position, there was a sense of irony about how he almost contributed an assist for Birmingham.
After receiving the ball on the left-hand side, Chong strode forward with a quick burst of pace and lofted a brilliant cross to far post which was headed in, only to be disallowed out for a push.
Vincent Van Doornick/Isosport/MB Media/Getty Images)
Bowyer would have been left impressed by his work ethic too, as he was seen chasing down Sander Berge before executing an important challenge on the Norwegian inside his penalty box.
Such a display rightly earned Chong man of the match as Birmingham secured a shock 1-0 win at Bramall Lane and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will no doubt be pleased to hear such positive reports.
After all, it was only two years ago that Chong was subject of interest from Juventus, with United struggling to tie him down to new terms.
Eventually, he decided to renew his deal with the Red Devils, signing a new contract until 2022 with an option of a further year.
When the deal was announced, Solskjaer spoke in glowing terms about the forward having given him his debut in 2018.
“Tahith works extremely hard every day and he is constantly improving. His performances this season, whether for the first team or Under-23s, are testament to his hard work, dedication and to his character,” he told the club’s official website.
“We are pleased with the progress he has made since he stepped up from the academy and are looking forward to continuing to develop his talent.
“Tahith has great potential; given his age, ability and work-ethic, we can see that he has a bright future at Manchester United.”
His latest performance for Birmingham showed a sign of things to come and, if he continues to impress in his new role, Solskjaer’s prophetic comments could eventually become reality.
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