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29/12/2023 16:22

Elanga proving Ronaldo right but Man United can point to transfer vindication

When Anthony Elanga missed a decisive penalty in the 2022 FA Cup shoot-out defeat to Middlesbrough, it was Cristiano Ronaldo who had a word in the ear and an arm round the shoulder leaving the pitch.

Fast-forward a couple of months and Ronaldo , having converted an Elanga cross to score against Norwich City in April, celebrated in his iconic style and invited the Swede to join him. When Ronaldo criticised the attitude of young players in general during his explosive interview with Piers Morgan that hastened his United  exit, Elanga responded and said he understood where the Portugal great was coming from.

The two shared a position, an outlook and a work ethic, with Ronaldo taking Elanga under his wing during their time together in Manchester. Both have departed over the last 12 months but while Ronaldo’s exit spawned headline after headline, Elanga’s went a little more under the radar as he moved to Nottingham Forest

He’s front and centre just now though and comes up against his old club in the form of his career. The 21-year-old was instrumental in the win over Newcastle United last time out and has four goals and five assists for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side this season. That’s the same Premier League attacking output as Marcus Rashford, Rasmus Hojlund, Antony and Alejandro Garnacho combined.

He’s a pivotal player for Forest and his performances have led some to wonder whether United could have utilised him in their side this season given their attacking woes. Those were eased slightly by a 3-2 win over Aston Villa on Boxing Day but question marks remain over the Reds’ frontline.

In total he played 55 times for United, scoring four goals, but was mainly restricted to substitute appearances under Erik ten Hag. Given United’s struggles in attack, it’s not inconceivable that the Swede could have forced the manager’s hand and his way into the side in similar fashion to Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire who could easily have departed alongside him this summer.

But with Rashford a shoo-in when the season started given his campaign last term and Ten Hag having splashed out £150million on Antony and Hojluind opportunities looked to be scarce. United also had Alejandro Garnacho, arguably a player with a higher ceiling than Elanga, coming through and competing. Not many queried the decision to sell in the summer and Elanga doesn’t regret leaving

“When I make a decision I stick by it. I have not regretted that decision one bit,” he said in an interview with Mail Online earlier this campaign.

Elanga departed for £15m having come through the ranks at Old Trafford. He was spotted playing for Hattersley United at junior level and courted by Manchester City as well as United. He rose through the ranks to win the coveted Jimmy Murphy award, following in the footsteps of Ryan Giggs and Rashford.

Impressive showings in the Academy led to a first-team debut under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and he was handed a run of games by Ralf Rangnick. It was a huge opportunity for Elanga to absorb and develop with Ronaldo to the fore.

“I have learnt from arguably the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo,” he added. “I have learnt from Bruno Fernandes, Raphael Varane, Casemiro, I can go through the whole team because they are all world-class players not just what they do on the pitch but off the pitch as well with their discipline and how they look after themselves.”

Elanga is now striking out on his own and striking fear into opponents. Ronaldo held him in high regard and he’s starting to show why. United have their own star of the future in Garnacho but Elanga’s is burning brightly just now.

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