Manchester United’s track record of bringing players through is the envy of most clubs, but one area in which the club have struggled to produce too many world-class players is in central defense. When you take a look at the central defenders that have played at the club over the past two decades, all the great ones, whether it was Steve Bruce, Jaap Stam, Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand were all signed from elsewhere.
Can young Tyler Blackett buck that trend? Blackett impressed in the pre-season tour of USA on the left of the three center backs, can he make that position his own? Can he make a name for himself amidst the pantheon of greats?
Blackett was born in 1994 in Manchester and started his footballing career with Manchester United at the tender age of 8, when he joined the club’s academy. The 20-year-old defender gradually moved through the ranks, impressing at every level, before signing his first professional contract in 2012, with Manchester United.
Although he hasn’t made a first-team appearance for the Red Devils since then, he has gone out on loan to Blackpool and Birmingham City during the 2013/14 season where made his professional debut. Although he is eligible to represent Barbados, Jamaica and England, he chose the Three Lions and has featured for them in the U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-19 level.
Style of Play
One of the main reasons why Blackett has been able to come through the ranks so seamlessly is his versatility. Blackett is one of those rare defenders, who can plays as both center back and full back. His 6 ft 2 in frame means that he has the physique and ability in the air to cut it as a top-class center back, while his pace and dead ball ability make him a threat as a left back as well. Deployed as a left-sided center back in Van Gaal’s three-man defense, Blackett impressed in the USA and that role is one that is likely to bring the best out of this hugely talented yet still raw defender.
Blackett’s biggest strength is his pace and physique. Modern center backs have not only be able to read the game, but also be agile and have the speed to deal with pacy forwards. Blackett is blessed with an abundance of pace and power, which makes him not only a tough nut to crack at the back, but also someone who is difficult to dispossess, while going forward.
His composure on the ball, coupled with his crossing ability is something that has helped him ease into the role of a left back. Unlike many center backs, Blackett has a canon of a left foot and is adept at making the most of a dead ball situation. Whether it is coming up from the back and using his aerial prowess or taking sublime set-pieces himself, Blackett is an all-round threat from central defense.
While it is perhaps true that Blackett has no real technical flaws in his game, one thing he must remember is that football is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. At times, it has looked as though, the Mancunian defender lacks the necessary confidence to come forward with the ball. For all of his attributes, he is still raw at the highest level and only time will tell if he has the necessary mental toughness to make it as a Manchester United defender.
Unlike last season, when Blackett was out on loan, he looks set to stay this time thanks to the lack of cover in central defense and his untapped potential at the senior level. With Reece James likely to challenge Luke Shaw for the left wing back slot, it looks as though Blackett might not be required at full back, but will be essential in central defense if the club are unable to secure any signings before the transfer window slams shut.
Calm on the ball, precise with his tackling and possessing bundles of pace and power, Blackett looks like he might just make a name for himself as one of the finest center backs that the club has ever seen. The 20-year-old has all the potential and all he has to do is simply stay fit and merely continue to do the things that has earned him a place on the fringes of the United first team.