The defender has only made two appearances since joining the Italian giants in the January transfer window, with injuries plaguing his time in Serie A. Tuanzebe is now set to head back to Old Trafford at the end of this season, report Corriere dello Sport, via Sport Witness, with Napoli searching for new centre-backs after being linked with Southampton duo Jan Bednarek and Mohamed Salisu.
The 24-year-old will look to impress incoming Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag upon his return, with just one year left on his contract at Old Trafford. Tuanzebe also has a final shot at living up to former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ‘s lofty prediction, touted as a future United captain.
In the early stages of the 2019-20 campaign, the academy graduate broke into the first-team picture after a successful loan spell at Aston Villa, where he helped Dean Smith and co win promotion to the Premier League. Tuanzebe soon earned Solskjaer’s trust, being handed the captain’s armband for a League Cup victory over Rochdale, the town where he grew up upon moving from DR Congo aged four.
After selecting him as skipper ahead of established stars such as Paul Pogba and Sergio Romero, the ex-Red Devils boss declared post-match: “Axel is a captain in the making, he’s a leader. Why not give [the captaincy] to young kids? We know we can give it to Sergio and we can give it to Paul, that’s no problem and they’ve been captains before.
“But it was Axel today and how does he handle it? He was absolutely fine, he enjoyed it. It’s just a way of telling him that we trust him.”
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Playing just 130 minutes of football during his injury-ridden spell in Naples, Tuanzebe may regret cutting short his second loan with Villa which was intended to last the entirety of this season.
Having only appeared as a substitute under new manager Steven Gerrard following Smith’s sacking in November, the player’s agent hit out at the Liverpool legend. “Axel didn’t decide to move until it became very clear that he isn’t the manager’s first-choice centre-back and the Napoli offer was very tempting,” Dimitri Tuanzebe, also his brother, explained to ESPN.
“I have a lot of mixed emotions when it comes to Axel’s time at Villa. He is loved by the fans as he contributed highly to the club’s success in the Championship where he was one of the key players that helped Villa return to the Premier League. However, following the arrival of Steven Gerrard at Villa Park, it felt as if the rivalry between Man United and Liverpool came to life.”