Of all the surprising things that have happened this season, for me, the most surprising thing is the emergence of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. It’s a pleasant surprise, mind. As someone who watches the U18 and U21 sides, I have a sort of loose mental rank of players I think could and should be given minutes in the first team, and who looks close to it. Right now, there’s two players demanding minutes. Andreas Pereira and Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Joe Rothwell is there or thereabouts, too. Plus, we all know my feelings on Varela. Borthwick-Jackson is a prime example of a player taking his chance. He’s come from relative obscurity, surrounded by far bigger names in our academy, those who everyone expected to be given an opportunity before he was. A virtual ever present in the U18s last season he was a capable player, who got forward and liked to cross, as we’ve seen, but he never stood out to the point you think, he’s going to be in the first team, this season.
We cannot kid ourselves, the number one reason for CBJ being in the first XI is mainly due to Shaw, Rojo and Young being injured, while Blind is occupied with playing centre half and Darmian is awful on the left. But his performances since he made that first appearance as a substitute against West Brom back in November have, rightly, kept him in contention and arguably prevented United dipping into the transfer kitty in January to find a replacement. With each game he’s growing in confidence, and obviously, experience.
His defensive attributes are impressive. A cool head, sound positioning and quick footed, he shut down a dangerous Willian, with ease. But it’s his attacking threat that is catching the eye so well of late. In stark contrast to the up and down, all action, aggressive, direct running that you get from Luke Shaw, which, undoubtedly has it’s plus sides, CJB is a picture of composure. I said it in my review last night, (don’t twist this, he’s not on that level) his crossing style reminds me of David Beckham. We’ve not had ANYONE who can whip a ball in like that in almost 15 years! He puts in high quality balls into the right area time and time again. If he can maintain that, as he grows as a player, he will be formidable.
Which leaves us in a quandary. Luke Shaw was a £30m signing. He is only 18 months older than CBJ. I worry for the development of both players. We cannot have two players vying for this position in this same stage of development. One will suffer as the favoured one, which surely, will be Luke Shaw, gets that precious game time, that is needed to develop.
So I have to ask the question; who plays? When Shaw returns, I see CBJ being an able and competent deputy for the remainder of this season and possibly next. But once you hit 20, you have to be playing regular football for the good of your own career. Can he be better than Shaw? I’m not sure. Probably too early to say. All I can say is, that with the composure and ability we’ve seen so far, only a lack of game time can halt this development. It would be a shame to see him go, but also a shame to see him stay as that would mean either he or Shaw aren’t going to get enough time, or one of them is regularly injured.
There’s a lot of big decisions to be made at Manchester United and I think deciding what to do for the benefit of the squad and Borthwick-Jackson could be an important one. It’s to his credit that Cameron has forced his way into this situation and I am starting to enjoy seeing his name on the team sheet. Another potential success story on our Academy’s hands. Not bad for a ‘destroyed’ academy and a club that’s lost it’s identity, is it?