Just as Greater Manchester was about to be locked down again Manchester United unlocked the potential in Axel Tuanzebe last year.
Tuanzebe’s performance against Kylian Mbappe in the Parc des Princes was the zenith of United centre-back performances last term. Inconsistent management and morale-shattering defeats to Istanbul Basaksehir and Sheffield United derailed Tuanzebe’s progress and the pursuit of Raphael Varane has prompted a return to Aston Villa for a third loan spell.
Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa is a robust partnership to break up but Villa were surprisingly porous against Premier League newcomers Watford in a 3-2 defeat last week. Tuanzebe is familiar with manager Dean Smith’s demands from Villa’s promotion back to the top flight in 2019.
Newcastle, managed by Tuanzebe’s first Villa manager Steve Bruce, were the frontrunners to sign Tuanzebe but dithered. It is a testament to Tuanzebe’s class he was always bound for a Premier League team and, injury-permitting, a debut is inevitable within the next week with Villa due at Barrow in the Carabao Cup second round.
Villa instigated the loan by contacting United and the deal was agreed quickly and smoothly early this month. A source said Villa showed ‘more interest’ than Newcastle.
Villa were Tuanzebe’s preferred destination. Tuanzebe started alongside Mings in Villa’s Championship Play-off final victory over Derby in 2019 and Tuanzebe’s conversations with Smith convinced him he would get regular playing time.
United still value Tuanzebe, reflected by his contract extension, amid ongoing uncertainty over the futures of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones. Bailly has publicly stated he would have to consider his future if he is not a regular and he is the fourth-choice centre half. Jones is fifth.
Despite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s inconsistent handling of Tuanzebe, they have maintained a good relationship. Tuanzebe evaluated his season in the summer and quickly concluded a loan was essential.
Tuanzebe’s loan to Villa and contract renewal with United were presided over by his brother, Dimitri, now his principal representative. The Tuanzebe family has established Millennial Sports Management, an agency jointly run by Dimitri and his sister Nadege.
Axel was previously a client of Unique Sports Management, the representatives of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, until that association ended in April. The decision to keep it in the family has already proven to be beneficial, with an impressive loan agreed to accelerate Tuanzebe’s development. Nadege graduated from university with a business degree and Tuanzebe’s father is believed to be an influential figure.
The family wants to keep Tuanzebe’s best interests at heart and their intimate involvement in his affairs follows a trend at United. Marcus Rashford is represented by his brothers, Dwaine and Dane, and Raphael Varane’s brother, Anthony, has input into his decision-making.
Mason Greenwood’s father, Andrew, still handles his son’s affairs and Scott McTominay’s father, Frank, was named in the Football Association’s list of recipients for intermediary fees. Juan Mata senior has looked after his son throughout his decade in England.
Nadege, Dimitri and Axel were raised on the Freehold estate near Rochdale railway station after his family left the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Tuanzebes are already one of the town’s modern success stories.