Anthony Elanga experienced the extreme high of scoring in the Champions League knockout stages against Atletico Madrid, just over two weeks after the dejection of missing the decisive penalty in Manchester United’s FA Cup defeat to Middlesbrough. He has come from seemingly nowhere to force himself into the first-team picture at United and now looks determined to stay there.
There is no doubt that Elanga is the main beneficiary of the interim management of Ralf Rangnick, having not featured in the league this season prior to the German’s arrival. The German tactician may have given Elanga his chance, but it is the player himself who has seized it; providing the bright spark in an otherwise underperforming team.
He is not the first United player in recent years to be thrust into the first-team picture. The man Elanga is often picked ahead of, Marcus Rashford, is one of the most notable young players who have seen themselves propelled into being a key man early in their career. He will be desperate to ensure he is an important player for United moving forward, but who is Anthony Elanga?
Elanga’s character shown early in career
Elanga is only 19 and has only made 17 senior appearances. Granted, this is a small sample size to be used as an indicator of how successful his career may be, but the signs are promising. The Sweden under-21 international does not shirk responsibility and shows bravery in the way he repeatedly attempts to take on his man; an essential trait for a winger. He is right-footed but capable with his weaker left side, fast, and has an eye for goal. His four goals so far for United are a glimpse of this, and his seven goals in eight games for Sweden’s under-21’s further demonstrate his desire to get in goalscoring positions. He can also play as a central striker and is good in the air, as shown with a bullet header to score his first professional goal, against Wolves in the final game of last season.
Elanga is a player with many strings to his bow and looks an incredibly exciting prospect. This means nothing yet, though. All too often young players with bundles of talent have fallen by the wayside for one reason or another. One reason that is often attributed to this is becoming distracted or not having the desire and mentality to stay at the top level. It is difficult to assess a player’s character from half a season of senior football, but the signs here also look good. After missing the eighth, and decisive, penalty in an embarrassing FA Cup fourth round exit to Championship side Middlesbrough many would have gone missing in the games that followed and played safe when called upon. Elanga did the opposite.
Rangnick didn’t start Elanga in his side’s next fixture, a 1-1 draw with Burnley, but introduced him from the bench with the Red Devils chasing a late winner. In recent weeks, however, Elanga has shown just how important he can be. The winger came off the bench to score in United’s 4-2 win over fierce rivals Leeds United, but it was decisiveness in the following game in Madrid that showed he had more than overcome the adversity of the shootout miss and vile abuse directed at him by some on social media.
Before Elanga entered the fray, United had not managed a single shot on target. In big games, especially in the Champions League, chances can be at a premium and once you get one you must take it. Elanga only needed one; latching onto a Bruno Fernandes through ball before coolly dispatching past the onrushing Jan Oblak. In a hostile Wanda Metropolitana, it was the 19-year-old who silenced the crowd. In doing so he became the youngest Manchester United player to score a Champions League knockout goal, aged 19 years and 302 days. Even more impressively, he did it with his first touch of the game.
International options for Elanga
If Elanga continues at his current trajectory it won’t be long before he is being considered for a senior international call-up. The problem is that you could be forgiven for questioning which country that would be for. Elanga is the son of former Cameroon defender, also named Anthony, who made 17 appearances for his country. Elanga Senior was playing for Swedish club Malmo when his son was born, which is the reason he is eligible for the Swedish national team. English fans will be excited to hear that the young talent is also eligible to represent the Three Lions, as his family moved to England when he was a child and he joined United aged 12.
The youngster’s international future is unclear and there is likely to be a scramble from the three nations he is eligible for to try to persuade him where his international allegiances should lie. To date, Elanga has only represented Sweden at youth level and this may well be a strong indicator of the country he wishes to represent moving forward. However, whether we will be tempted to follow in his father’s footsteps, or play for the country in which he has lived in for the last seven years, remains to be seen.
One thing that is for sure is that Elanga looks like a young player with all the tools to make it at the top, both physically and mentally. If he is nurtured properly, as Rangnick must be credited with doing so far, then there is no ceiling on his potential.
Following his goal in Madrid, Rangnick told BT Sport in his post-match interview: “He is playing as though it is a dream come true, it is a joy and fun to watch him play, I wish a few other players would take him as an example and as a role model”.
Comments like this from his manager are further testament to the mentality and character of Elanga.This should stand him in good stead for the highs and lows of top level football, as it has done so already in his fledgling career. He is sure to be an exciting player to keep tabs on in the coming years.