Manchester United have had a summer to remember in the transfer market by signing Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho - and now the form of homegrown winger Anthony Elanga has added further excitement as the club ready a long-awaited assault on the Premier League title.
The club famed for The Busby Babes and the Class of '92 have produced two top-class homegrown forwards in the last five years in Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, and another is on the horizon in Elanga.
Elanga, 19, made a huge impression in his first appearance in front of fans at Old Trafford in Wednesday's friendly with Brentford, scoring an acrobatic volley to give United the lead in a 2-2 draw with the Premier League newcomers.
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It was the Swedish-born winger's second goal in three pre-season games after his confident strike from just outside the area in Saturday's 4-2 defeat at Queens Park Rangers and enhanced his prospects of a run in the first team next season.
With Marcus Rashford set to miss the first three months of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, Daniel James is looking like United's top choice at left wing but Elanga looks set to provide the Wales forward with some fierce competition.
This was Elanga's first taste of action in front of the United faithful in the biggest crowd at Old Trafford since March 2020 and a fan base that has become accustomed to seeing young talents emerge were given an early treat when Elanga met an Aaron Wan Bissaka cross with real venom to put them in front.
But Elanga has been on fans' radar for a few months, ever since scoring his first Premier League goal in only his second league appearance, landing a bullet header in the 2-1 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on the final day of the season.
He has been causing plenty of excitement to observers of Man United's youth system in the last year, not least Gary Neville, who watched on in part horror and part admiration when Elanga starred for the under-21 side in a 6-0 drubbing of the former defender's Salford City in last season's EFL trophy.
"He's a nightmare to play against," declared Neville as Elanga ran rings around the League 2 side which the former United captain co-owns , setting up a goal before rounding off the win with a classy goal of his own.
Neville described the finish as "Thierry Henry-esque" as Elanga used his pace to latch on to a through ball down the left wing before cutting inside and effortlessly curling into the bottom corner with his right foot.
Neville's assessment was fitting, as the former Arsenal and Barcelona forward was Elanga's favourite player growing up.
“Thierry Henry was my idol and I tried to match my game with his,” Elanga told The Athletic last year.
“He was quick. He could play anywhere across the front three – striker, left wing, right wing – and that’s how I want to replicate my game.”
Another player Elanga looked up to was Samuel Etoo, a former Cameroon teammate of his father Joseph, a journeyman defender.
Elanga was born in Sweden in 2002 when his father was playing for Malmo, while the family moved to England in 2013.
United spotted Elanga less than a year later and brought him into their youth set up where he has impressed youth coaches throughout his development.
“What you see there is a boy that sees the light of the first team and wants to get there and he’s going to work every day to try and get himself in it," United's under-23 coach Neil Wood told the Manchester Evening News last year.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also gave a glowing assessment of him when he called him into the squad for the Europa League quarter-final tie with Granada last season.
"He’s got an X factor," said the United coach.
"He’s got the acceleration, pace, speed, that’s a given for wingers and he’s got qualities I like.
He’s a goalscoring winger, he’s confident, he likes to beat men, right foot, left foot, he’s got a great attitude.
United are already well stocked when it comes to wide forwards after finally signing Jadon Sancho this month from Borussia Dortmund for £73million, providing yet more speed and quality to a squad containing James, Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial, even if the latter has spent the last two seasons as a centre forward.
But in a club that nurtured world talents like George Best, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, there will always be an appetite for players who can frighten opposition defenders and excite the home crowd.
Elanga has not hidden his ambition to make the first team and follow a well-trodden path under Solskjaer.
“You look at the likes of Mason and Rashy, there is a pathway there,” he told the Press Association last November.
It just shows you that if you’re willing to put the work into it and continue to work hard day in, day out in training there’s a pathway for you there."
Elanga took another big step towards that path on Wednesday and will be hoping to be back on the Old Trafford pitch when United begin their Premier League campaign against Leeds on August 14.
United fans will be equally keen to see another academy player nurtured in Manchester make the grade and add yet more excitement to a season they cannot wait to begin.
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