With Marcus Rashford out of sorts, Manchester United fans called on Ralf Rangnick to take the misfiring star out of his starting lineup and replace him with Anthony Elanga, a demand he acknowledged in their last two matches.
After getting the nod and impressing away at Aston Villa last weekend, on Wednesday night Elanga, 19, repaid the faith of both Rangnick and the United faithful when he marked another start with a well-taken goal.
In the 55th minute the academy graduate raced onto a clever through ball from Fred, controlled it expertly and headed home past Jonas Lossl to break the deadlock on the night. It was a small glimpse of the promising talent United have on their hands.
Anthony Elanga (right) has been brought into the Manchester United side in recent games
For many, Elanga’s breakthrough into the first team this season has come far too late. He produced a string of breathtaking performances in pre-season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the former boss who handed him his first two senior appearances at the back end of last term, scoring against Queens Park Rangers, Brentford and Villarreal.
‘The boy is electric, has energy and enthusiasm, he’s really enjoying himself,’ Solskjaer said at the time.
‘He’s done himself the world of good. We know he’s a good player, we know he’s a good lad. 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.’
Elanga repaid the faith of manager Ralf Rangnick by opening the scoring away at Brentford
The 19-year-old is making the most of his opportunity by showcasing his encouraging potential
To sum up Elanga’s eagerness to impress, Solskjaer added: ‘If you ask him at half-time to run over to the cricket ground and get us a drink, he’d do it. That’s the type of lad he is.’
Though for Solskjaer this clearly wasn’t enough. Jadon Sancho joined in a £73million switch from Borussia Dortmund, Cristiano Ronaldo arrived back at Old Trafford and, despite their struggles in the first four months of the campaign, Elanga was merely used off the bench in their Carabao Cup defeat at home to West Ham.
The Sweden Under-21 international, who joined United from Malmo at the age of 12, could have provided Solskjaer with some much-needed attacking inspiration at a time when his side were far too reliant on Ronaldo. It could have helped save his job.
Elanga arrived at Old Trafford in 2014 and initially played alongside Mason Greenwood in the Under-14 team.
At just 14, he was player of the tournament at the Copa Mallorca, earning him a place in their Under-19 squad at PSV Eindhoven’s Otten Cup the following year. Elanga, Greenwood and Teden Mengi, currently on loan at Birmingham, were the only 15-year-olds included.
Former United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought Elanga into the first-team fold last season
Solskjaer liked what he saw from the Swedish youngster in their Under-21 outfit
Elanga made his first two appearances at the end of last season and scored away at Wolves
The tricky forward eventually worked his way up to the Under-18s, where he bagged seven goals in nine matches for Neil Ryan’s side. As a result of that efficient form, he received the prestigious Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award in 2020 and a subsequent move up to the Under-23s.
It was there where Elanga won the EFL trophy on two occasions, scoring two goals in six appearances, and eventually caught the eye of Solskjaer.
During an appearance against Salford City last season, when he scored one and set up another in a 6-0 rout, he also received glowing praise from United legend Gary Neville.
Neville described Elanga as a ‘nightmare to play against’ and even likened him to Thierry Henry, which would have left him chuffed given he based his game on the former Arsenal striker.
‘I tried to match my game with his,’ he told The Athletic in October 2020. ‘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.
United legend Gary Neville has even likened him to former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry
Neville was impressed with Elanga after watching him tear Salford City apart back in 2020
Under-23 boss Neil Wood is not at all surprised by Elanga’s ascendancy at the club, waxing lyrical about his attitude and dedication.
‘Anthony’s one of the hardest workers we have,’ Wood also told The Athletic. ‘He’s desperate to improve, desperate for knowledge. He watches videos of all the top players, he wants to learn from all the top players and he’s the first to do extra work after training.
‘You can see the endeavour and work rate, we just need to tidy him up with his control and combination work around the edge of the box. We need him to produce a goal or assist when he gets into dangerous positions.
‘He knows he has to be a little calmer in those situations, and that’s an ongoing process, but he’s always willing to take on information. He’s a player who you can sit down with and have a really good chat about his football.’
Elanga was born into a footballing family. His father, Joseph, played as a defender for Swedish clubs Malmo and Brondby, while also earning 17 caps for Cameroon and a place in their squad at the 1998 World Cup.
After playing in Malmo’s youth teams as a schoolboy, he moved to England with his mum Daniella and began training with local team Hattersley FC, scoring 17 goals in 12 appearances for the Greater Manchester club and attracting interest from both United and neighbours Manchester City.
In the end the forward, who speaks fluent English, Swedish and French, opted for the red half of Manchester and seven years later he finds himself on the cusp of stardom.
Elanga was promoted to United’s first team at the start of last season under Solskjaer, making his bow in a pre-season friendly against Aston Villa, but he had to wait until May 2021 to earn his competitive debut against Leicester.
He then followed that satisfying first outing up by registering his first goal for the club away at Wolves, thumping home a terrific header in a 2-1 win at Molineux.
The early signs were more than encouraging for Elanga and, ahead of the new season, United supporters braced themselves for the start of a new academy success story.
The boy from Hyllie had to wait a little longer than expected for that to become a reality, but Rangnick has now provided the platform to make the most of his glaring potential.
Ralf Rangnick is also a big fan of Elanga, admitting he has studied the youngster on YouTube
Rangnick is certainly a fan of Elanga, admitting after the Brentford win that he previously studied footage of him on YouTube.
‘I must say from the very first day from my first training session, he showed up,’ the interim United boss said.
‘l had heard his name before and I was in my hotel room watching videos of him on YouTube, I thought this boy was really good.’
And Rangnick is more than aware he has a potential star on his hands.
‘He was almost on his way out on loan,’ he added. ‘I told him: ‘You will not go out on loan, you will stay here.”