Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United. A marriage that came together in unceremonious circumstances last season is still facing a test of its longevity. It has been over a year now, and yet, there are doubts over whether the Norwegian can keep the Red Devils going in the right direction, in the long term.
Nonetheless, the baby-faced assassin can be credited with getting a few things right. One of which is his integration and approach to honing the talents of youngsters coming through. Out of all that have come through him, one that has probably impressed United fans the most is the young fullback, Brandon Williams.
The world first sat up and took notice of Williams in a circumstance that is not too unfamiliar to United youngsters these days. When Ole and co. were traveling to Paris to hope to complete the comeback of a lifetime, the Red Devils boss looked to the club’s starlets to help the team at the time.
This isn’t the first time a United boss had to enlist several youth players into the first team. Louis van Gaal did it and was rewarded with a terrific display from one Marcus Rashford. Even though Williams did not have the same experience as Rashford, he was there to bear witness to one of the greatest nights in the club’s recent history.
Signed as a six-year-old at a youth tournament in Blackpool, Williams has made his presence known in the various age groups of United’s youth setup. Before making the step up to the first team, Williams was entrusted with the responsibility of captaining the U-18’s side.
After impressing for the U-18’s, Williams quickly progressed to the U-23’s and featured prominently for them in the UEFA Youth Cup as well.
Williams was not a part of the pre-season squad and was still working with the youth teams as Ole’s men went about their typical pre-season proceedings.
The England U20 international’s moment came against Rochdale in the Carabao Cup where he found a spot on the bench for Ole’s side. He came off the bench in the second half of that game to replace Phil Jones as the Red Devils won the tie on penalties after it was 1-1 after extra time.
Gaining Solskjaer’s trust
At the time, Solskjaer had to pick from three left-sided fullbacks – Ashley Young, Luke Shaw and Williams himself. With inconsistencies starting to appear in Shaw and Young, Williams stepped in and proved why the manager trusted in him.
The young Englishman’s first start came in the Europa League against AZ Alkmaar. Despite the match ending goal-less, the youngster was a powerful presence on the left dealing with the threat of Calvin Stengs, Alkmaar’s most creative player and the energy of young Yukinari Sugawara.
Since that game, William’s performances have been more or less consistent and he’s always put a shift in at the back and while going forward as well. There’s a lot to be encouraged about when he plays, at the same time, there are things he can improve upon as well.
When compared to other young fullbacks in the Premier League, Williams is still a bit further behind in the line. The likes of Bukayo Saka and Jamaal Lewis have been impressive for Arsenal and Norwich City, respectively.
Nonetheless, Williams still has competition in the form of Shaw, who has returned to form after the winter break, which seems to have done him a world of good.
Competing with Shaw?
Earlier in the season, Shaw’s lack of form and injury woes suggested that Williams could cement his position at left-back under Solskjaer.
Of late, however, things have taken a turn for the better for both players. The Norwegian has been tinkering with playing a back three, in which, Shaw is the third centre-half. This has led to some interesting results on the pitch for United.
Since returning from the winter break, Shaw looks much fitter and has slotted in very comfortably in his new role given the resurgence of Williams.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, Shaw said, “I think it’s nice for the manager to be able to play me in two different positions. Of course, what else is great for him is that Brandon [Williams] has been doing amazing when he’s been playing.”
When on top form, there’s no doubting that Shaw would be the one starting ahead of the youngster, however, the 24-year-old is happy to play wherever Solskjaer wants him to.
On his manager’s selection headache, he said, “He’s got positions to pick, me and him can play together at the same time, which I’ve really enjoyed doing when we have played. Wherever the manager wants me to play, I’ll play for him and the team.”
Solskjaer’s role in William’s development
Ever since the Norwegian took over the reins at Old Trafford, his tactical acumen has always come under question and there have remained questions over whether he can lead United to a period of success in the coming years.
The players, however, seem to have taken to a liking for the boss and Williams has praised Solskjaer for his role in a season of development.
While speaking with the Manchester Evening News, Williams said, “Ole is always there for me, He’s always telling me what I need to improve on, not letting me go in after training to work on things that I need to improve on.”
Williams made his 17th start of the season in the 1-1 away draw against Club Brugge in the UEFA Europa League, his performances and consistency in displays have meant that the Red Devils haven’t missed former captain Ashley Young, who departed for Inter in the winter break.
His energy and work-rate up and down the flank makes for a very industrious presence at left-back or left-wing-back depending upon United’s set up. Against Chelsea, and even in games before that, Williams has shown great tenacity in his defensive actions and a sort of aggression that this United defence has been lacking.
The youngster’s debut goal against Sheffield United earlier in the season in a 3-3 draw was a special one, which kickstarted the away side’s comeback on the day. A sweetly struck goal with his right foot into the corner past Simon Moore.
One of William’s best games came against Wolves in the FA Cup replay fixture which the Red Devils won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Juan Mata. Williams had to deal with the threat of Adama Traoré and Pedro Neto down his flank and controlled both players fairly well. Traoré’s pace and raw power make him a sizable opponent to come up against, however, Williams held his own against the winger.
It’s still early days and this is only his first full season in the senior squad, so it is difficult to predict just how far he will go with the first team. He has time on his side given that he is just 19 and can be gradually integrated into the starting XI in the long-term.
What can be said, though, is that he certainly has a fire about him and a passion and determination that makes him a force to be reckoned with. Only he can decide how far his legacy will go at Old Trafford, the future looks bright for this lion rising through the ranks.
Written by Ninad Barbadikar
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original Features, Player Profiles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.