The list of Anthony Elanga’s achievements since Ralf Rangnick was installed as Manchester United interim manager back in November is continuing to grow.
Fresh from making his Champions League debut, scoring his first Champions League goal, experiencing playing in front of a packed-out Old Trafford crowd for the first time and scoring against arch rivals Leeds, Elanga could be about to make his senior debut for Sweden this week, after being included in the squad for the very first time. They face the Czech Republic in their World Cup play-off semi-final on Thursday evening and sporting the famous yellow shirt for the first time would mark another milestone in the youngster’s already promising career.
Considering Elanga — who will celebrate his 20th birthday next month — had been dusting the cobwebs off of his suitcase ahead of the January transfer window opening, in anticipation of leaving Old Trafford on a temporary loan deal, it has been quite the turnaround for a player that was out in the wilderness just four months ago.
After being a regular fixture in United’s pre-season preparations back in July, scoring twice in the space of just five days in the clashes with QPR and Brentford, everyone expected Elanga to play a role in former United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans at the start of the season. He impressed, both after stepping off the bench at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium and starting against Brentford at Old Trafford, displaying the characteristics of a young player with a point to prove.
He had started two of United’s last four Premier League games of last season, too. It was clear that Solskjaer had seen enough from him to give him a chance.
However, his encouraging performances in pre-season did not do enough for him to force his way into Solskjaer’s plans once the competitive action got under way. He made just one further appearance under the Norwegian — a 17-minute cameo against West Ham United in the Carabao Cup — and was not named in a Premier League matchday squad until Rangnick’s first game in charge against Crystal Palace on December 5.
He stepped off the bench that day to experience playing in front of fans at Old Trafford for the first time, before earning his Champions League debut three days later by starting against BSC Young Boys. He has been named in every matchday squad since, included on all 20 teamsheets that Rangnick has submitted since landing the job.
From his first day at Carrington, Rangnick took a liking to Elanga, immediately including him in his first training session with the squad. The Swede has blossomed under the 63-year-old’s management and has responded excellently to the trust shown in him.
It, therefore, begs the question as to why Elanga was ignored by Solskjaer after making such a positive impression in pre-season? In the former United manager’s defence, Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo had been added to the squad in the summer, meaning they took up two attacking roles in the matchday squad.
But considering just how well Elanga has fitted into Rangnick’s United side, and the significant progress he has made in such a short amount of time, it would be fair to say that the German has succeeded where Solskjaer failed, in terms of getting a tune out of one of the club’s most exciting youngsters.
Okay, Solskjaer had other options, and United’s early Carabao Cup exit denied the Norwegian a chance to blood youngsters in that competition. But Elanga’s performances in pre-season meant he deserved a chance, especially after the Norwegian waxed lyrical about him so much.
Speaking back in July, Solskjaer said: “He works so hard, he’s always smiley, bright, asking what more he needs to do, he’s so hungry to improve and get better. He can play wide left, wide right, up front, so anywhere along the front line. He’s going to be an asset.”