Manchester United and Napoli have agreed a loan fee regarding a January deal for 24-year-old centre-back Axel Tuanzebe.
Tuanzebe spent the first half of the season on loan at Aston Villa but started only six Premier League games having suffered from a change in manager and formation.
He was starting fairly regularly in the early weeks of the season in a back three alongside Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa. But once Dean Smith was sacked in early November, new manager Steven Gerrard has preferred a flat back four, leaving Tuanzebe with precious little chance to play.
Since Gerrard was appointed, the defender has been afforded only eight minutes of game time.
It will see Tuanzebe, who was hailed last season for pocketing Kylian Mbappe in a Champions League game against Paris Saint-Germain, cut his loan at Villa Park short.
He has been tipped for a number of days to join Napoli, with the Daily Mail now reporting that a fee has been agreed between United and the Serie A side. The proposed deal will see Napoli pay an initial £500,000 fee for a loan until the end of the season, with add-ons for Champions League qualification and a certain number of appearances to inflate it to around £1m in total if met.
There is not thought to be an option to buy included in the agreement.
Tuanzebe was once hailed as a star of the future at Old Trafford. He joined the academy ranks at the age of eight, won the club’s prized Jimmy Murphy Player of the Year award in 2015 and was unusually captain of the Under-18 team while still a first year scholar - aged 16 to 17.
Tuanzebe’s first-team debut came under Jose Mourinho’s management in January 2017 and he has made 37 senior appearances for United to date. The player enjoyed a successful loan at Aston Villa in 2018/19 as the club won promotion from the Championship, but his young career has been unfortunately hampered by untimely injuries over the years.
His aforementioned performance against Mbappe in September 2020 was his first appearance in 10 months, which made it all the more surprising to have played so well without match practice.
It was hoped that a return to Villa on loan this season would have given Tuanzebe his first real opportunity to play regular Premier League football. But it hasn’t worked out that way and his expected switch to Italian football is a fresh chance to prove himself.
Serie A has proved to be a good option for English centre-backs in recent times, with Chris Smalling and Fikayo Tomori relaunching stalling careers with Roma and AC Milan respectively.
At the end of the season, Tuanzebe will have just one year remaining on his United contract, which makes the next few months vitally important in terms of his long-term career.