Brandon Williams has the qualities that Erik ten Hag will want in his Manchester United squad next season

With all of the pressing issues within the current Manchester United squad, the left-back position may be one of a few that does not need immediate attention. It could use with a light touch up, though. 

Having witnessed the Alex Telles experiment in full, there is an argument to be made that United already had a ready made back-up in Brandon Williams, currently on loan at Norwich, ready to keep pushing Luke Shaw

Telles never really kicked on after a promising debut away to PSG at Parcs des Princes. The Brazilian has one goal and six assists in all competitions over almost two full seasons at the club. And while those stats are not the worst, they are not overly impressive either and Telles is not a sufficient outlet for the way United want to play football. 

Although seemingly technically sound, Telles struggles mightily in keeping the ball on the floor and progressing it. Telles’ pass completion at United – according to FBRef – is at 76.3 percent per 90 due to his tendency to go long and crossing at every opportunity. Telles also only makes 3.81 progressive passes per 90 compared to Shaw’s 4.89. At a team that wants to build from the back, that is not good enough. And overall, the consensus opinion is that Telles has not been good enough. 

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Sloppy defensively with poor attacking contributions, it may have very well been more profitable for United to keep investing minutes into Williams’ development. The time that Telles is getting now – with Shaw out injured – would have been priceless for an academy grad. But then again, so has his time at Norwich.  

Williams broke into the squad quite unexpectedly during Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first season in charge and staked an immediate claim for first-team recognition. The 21-year-old really held his own in the deep waters and fans quickly rejoiced at the sight of another homegrown talent. But they turned on Williams just as quickly. 

Only 19 at the time, Williams suffered an inevitable drop off in-form followed by Shaw’s return to the top of his game – in part thanks to Williams’ emergence. On his day, Shaw is the perfect left-back for United and one of the world’s best. But with his injury record and proneness to being inconsistent, Williams should have been given more chances in rotation.

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In the end, the former academy captain was getting barely any consistent game time and began performing accordingly as a result. That was not a shock. But in the social media era, fans are unforgiving. A couple of mistakes here and there and even youngsters get on the receiving end of some serious heat. Frozen out of the squad and with Telles preferred, Williams chose Premier League playing time at the newly promoted Canaries – and rightly so. 

So far, the Englishman has logged 1940 minutes at the all but relegated side now managed by Dean Smith. But for a loan player, how the team does overall isn’t as relevant as the amount of senior football experience they are getting at the highest level. The most important thing is to determine whether a young talent can hang in the Premier League, and Williams certainly can.

I know I can play in this league and I know I can get to the top and that’s what I want to do,” Williams told the Norwich matchday programme a couple of weeks ago.  

At times, the United loanee has been the lone bright spark for the Canaries, offering them exactly the same qualities that he did to United a couple of years ago. Passion, aggression, determination, good positional awareness, ball control and high passing efficiency. On the flip side of the medal, Williams has also experienced being dropped and having to work his way back into the side.

It made me kick on and after (being dropped) I’ve been concentrating 100 per cent,” Williams said. “I have been putting so much into my work on and off the pitch and that has set me up for the rest of the season.

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While learning valuable lessons, Williams is in the 75th percentile in his position when it comes to pass completion with an 81.4 percent completion rate per 90. Williams also makes 3.45 progressive passes per 90 in a team that has been in a relegation scrap all season and often opts to go long. Promising.

Perhaps most impressively, Williams just looks like he loves to play football. You can see it in every tackle he makes and every goal that his current team scores. He has a natural feel for it. And having been captain at multiple academy levels for United, he is the type of character that you want in the squad. 

Williams is the type of character that a new manager wanting to reignite a fire in a currently massively lackadaisical squad will want in his ranks and United fans should be pleased that after a season of watching their favorite players not care for the badge, there is someone absolutely itching to pull on the shirt once again waiting in the wings. The more, the merrier. 

What I want to do next year is play for Manchester United at left-back and that’s my job,” Williams confessed. “That’s what I am determined to do because it’s my life and I will do anything for that.”   

Williams makes 2.24 blocks per 90 (78th percentile) and 2.79 interceptions per 90 (96th percentile) – showing exactly what United have been missing all season while shipping goals left and right. Even at 19, Williams – most of the time – showed a cool head and poise beyond his years. He read the game well and got his body in front of everything. 

Williams still does that now but is matured and much improved overall. And what United could mostly use right now is some fight. Some desire and players who are willing to fly into a tackle and show that there are two teams in the game. 

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Over the last three league games, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Chelsea have all effortlessly danced around United. There is not a challenge that was put in by a United player that even springs to mind. The formerly massive rivalry games had an overwhelming exhibition feel to them for arguably the first time since the sides with Williams in them recorded memorable wins at Stamford Bridge and the Etihad under Solskjær – just to name a few. 

There is nobody in the current United side that will throw themselves about in order to give everyone else on the team a lift or just to make themselves feel better, as Roy Keane famously said on Sky. And if you don’t specifically shop for players with those characteristics in the transfer window, they must come from within. They have to have the club deep in their heart in order to know what it means to bleed for the shirt. To set an example. A character like Williams offers that. It’s something that more often than not money cannot buy and ability alone cannot replace.

Will Williams ever become the set in stone first choice left-back at United? Who knows. He has the qualities and the personality to one day become an influential figure in the dressing room, that is for sure. And has he earned a chance to prove himself under a new manager that is trying to rebuild? Absolutely.

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