With his shaggy hair and tall, athletic build, Tahith Chong may remind you at first glance of Marouane Fellaini.
And while many Manchester United fans will shudder at the very mention of the big Belgian’s name, Dutch winger Chong is the very antithesis of the much-maligned yet undoubtedly useful midfielder.
Red Devils fans may not have known too much about the teenager born on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao prior to his first team bow in United’s opening pre-season friendly on their tour of the United States against Club America on Thursday.
But after the 18-year-old enjoyed a lively debut – including delivering a whipped and wicked cross that led to Juan Mata’s equaliser in the 1-1 draw in Phoenix – social media was awash with intrigue.
And while a lot of them were getting carried away – one United fan commented “Tahith Chong is the next Ronaldo confirmed” after watching the game – there is nothing wrong with getting excited about a young prospect.
After all, many a young career has been launched after an impressive pre-season. Jesse Lingard, now a household name for both club and country, plundered four goals on the 2013 summer tour to Australia and Asia.
With a depleted United arriving Stateside for the first leg of their 2018 pre-season tour due to the likes of Lingard, Romelu Lukaku and Fellaini enjoying an extended break after their World Cup exploits, Jose Mourinho is without a large group of senior players.
In addition, Alexis Sanchez failed to fly out due to visa issues although Mourinho is expected to have the Chilean as well as David De Gea, Nemanja Matic, new signing Fred and Phil Jones available for their third game on tour against AC Milan on Wednesday.
This has resulted in Chong and a host of other unheralded youngsters jetting out to the US, including RoShaun Williams, Demetri Mitchell, James Garner, Ethan Hamilton, Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood and Joshua Bohui.
This group may not have many opportunities to impress Mourinho, with the big guns arriving soon. But Chong certainly took his chance against Club America, putting in a lively and technically proficient 30-minute cameo filled with neat touches, sharp passing and some excellent tackles after replacing the impressive Anthony Martial.
Here is an in-depth look at the frizzy-haired forward who could prove to be a real find this summer.
Name: Tahith Chong
Date of birth: December 4, 1999
Birthplace: Willemstad, Curacao
Joined United: July 27, 2016
Who is Tahith Chong?
The 18-year-old was signed from Feyenoord in 2016 and immediately caught the eye as part of Kieran McKenna’s Under-18 side.
He announced himself in his first season at the club by scoring a stunning strike against Southampton at Old Trafford in an FA Youth Cup game – which turned out to be United’s only goal in that competition – in December 2016, in front of the watching Mourinho.
A cruciate knee injury curtailed his first campaign in Manchester the following month. He spent a lengthy 10 months on the sidelines but the teen’s progress continued apace upon his return – scoring on his U23s debut in January this year, grabbing the only goal against Spurs, with Mourinho again in attendance.
The manager promoted him to train with the first team and having insisted he will not sign another attacking player this summer, opportunity is certainly knocking.
Where can he play?
A left-footer, Chong has featured in a left wing role in his youth but made his U23 debut on the right flank and has featured primarily from there for United. It is also where he predominantly played against Club America, drifting infield and sweeping passes out to the left.
As displayed throughout last season, he is versatile, allowing him to pop up anywhere across the front three.
Why should United fans be excited?
Chong was crowned Jimmy Murphy Youth Team Player of the Year at the 2017/18 end of season awards dinner, beating off stiff competition from Lee O’Connor and Garner.
Chong was the standout performer in the club’s academy last term and took home an award won in recent years by Marcus Rashford, James Wilson and Danny Welbeck, and before that by club icons Wes Brown, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
What they say
Kieran McKenna, United’s U18 manager:
“Tahith has hit the ground running in his time here and I think he’s just a fantastic professional. He has the right attitude to training and looks after himself really well off the pitch. He’s really personable and good with the staff and players, which has helped him to settle in quickly.
“On the pitch, everyone has been excited by his performances; he’s an eye-catching player. We’ll just keep pushing him to add to that with an end product so he can add goals and assists, as he has been doing, and can have a bright future in the game.”
Clayton Blackmore – former United player and youth team coach:
“The second I saw him I said, ‘We have got to get him’. The closest player I’ve seen to filling Ryan Giggs’ boots was Angel Di Maria but Mr Van Gaal did not play him in the right position.
“He [Chong] could be the next one. He’s playing on the wing, looking really good running with the ball as well like Ryan. He’s done well since coming back from injury. He can go the distance.
“There are lots of pitfalls – keeping away from injury, not getting dragged down by the wrong people, knuckling down. He’s come back from a really bad knee injury and the club have to look after him.”
What he says
“I think it’s the dream of everyone in this room to play in the first team. But obviously we’re still focused. We’re still working hard to get there. That’s the dream.”
The responsibility was held by Michael Carrick, who retired from playing at the end of last term and joined United’s coaching team.
Carrick made only five appearances in 2017-18 and Valencia wore the captain’s armband on numerous occasions.
The 32-year-old full-back skippered the team in the 1-1 friendly draw with Club America in Arizona.
Mourinho said afterwards: “The captain was Valencia last season. I think he is going to be the captain.
“And when he doesn’t play, we have to make decisions – it depends who is on the pitch. If (Chris) Smalling is, or if Ashley Young is, or if (Ander) Herrera is, or if (Juan) Mata is, if they are on the pitch, they are an option.
“I think a guy like (Nemanja) Matic has all the attributes to be Manchester United captain but of course he arrived only one year ago.
“But for me, I don’t care too much about the captaincy, I care more about the life in the dressing room and the leaders in the dressing room.”
The pair, who got to the semi-finals of the World Cup with Belgium and England respectively, are not on United’s pre-season tour as they take a post-tournament break.
Fellow forward Alexis Sanchez has been given the green light to join up with the squad in the United States.
Sanchez had initially been left in Manchester due to what the club said was a “personal administrative issue” – widely assumed to be a problem with his visa after he accepted a 16-month suspended prison sentence in Spain earlier this year over a tax issue.
Mourinho said in a press conference shown on Sky Sports News: “Today it was (Anthony) Martial. When Martial left the pitch, it was Mata (leading the attack). When Mata went to the sides, it was a kid that trained with us for the first time this pre-season (Mason Greenwood).
“There’s no Lukaku or Rashford – not here, and probably not even for the start of the Premier League.
“So it’s about when Alexis lands, and when he lands he has to play because he trained with us for five days before we departed to Los Angeles (on Sunday) and we left one fitness coach behind with him to keep training with him.
“Of course, it’s individual training but when he arrives, he has to play.”
Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Phil Jones were other United players involved in the World Cup’s last four.
United’s next match of the tour is against San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday in California.
Their opening Premier League fixture is on August 10 against Leicester at home.