As Angel Gomes picked up two assists and won a penalty in England U20’s 4-0 thrashing of Portugal, it was a stark reminder of the frightening potential still yet to be fulfilled by the Manchester United playmaker.
The 19-year-old has played just nine minutes of Premier League this season, partly due to injury, but mostly at manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s discretion.
Fellow youth academy graduates Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood, and James Garner have recently nailed regular spots in the senior matchday squad, but Gomes hasn’t even warranted a place on the bench since United’s loss to Newcastle at the start of October.
And while Williams, Greenwood, and Garner have all signed fresh contracts keeping them at Old Trafford for the long term, Gomes’ current deal expires in the summer.
Spanish giants Barcelona were linked to Gomes last summer, highlighting just how much ability the cousin of former United winger Nani possesses.
Should United dither any longer over offering the Englishman a new contract, he may well consider leaving the club in search of first-team football.
That would unquestionably be a huge loss for the Red Devils, especially with the current selection of players in his position – the number ten role.
With Paul Pogba injured, United’s options in behind the striker have been limited – Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Juan Mata have rotated in the role, but none have produced anywhere near enough creativity this season.
The trio have managed just one goal and two assists between them – far below the standard expected at United.
The likelihood is that Mata will leave the club at the end of the season, while it is unlikely that both Lingard and Pereira will be in Solskjaer’s plans beyond next summer considering their current form.
With such a lack of quality in attacking midfield, United will almost certainly sign a playmaker in the next summer window.
But even if a player such as Leicester City’s James Maddison signs for the club, there is still a need for another option – any injury to Maddison, or whichever playmaker that joins next year, would leave United with Pereira or Lingard, and the same lack of creativity that’s haunted them so far this year.
Should United tie Gomes down to a new deal though, he would be the perfect backup to rotate with a marquee signing.
Even Gomes himself probably doesn’t expect to start every game at this stage in his career, but being second-choice number ten at a club like United would provide him with enough playing time to develop.
All the pressure would be on the new signing, and Gomes would be free to express himself when given a chance, and potentially push him for a starting spot.
If United want to compete at the top of the Premier League, they will need a strong squad – not just a strong starting eleven.
Solskjaer will want to invest elsewhere in his squad next summer, such as on the wing and up front, so signing a backup number ten will be very low on his list of priorities.
Anyhow, it would be foolish to splash more cash in such a heavily inflated transfer market when the perfect player is already at Old Trafford.
But as the months tick down towards 2020, Gomes’ future at United becomes more and more uncertain.
If Solskjaer truly wants to build a team around players that are United through and through, Gomes should be given whatever he wants to stay.
Even if it means sending the youngster out on loan for a short period to further his development, and satisfy his need for first-team football, it would be benefit United in the long term.
Gomes is one of the most promising young players in the world, and having him as second-choice number ten ahead of Pereira and Lingard next season would represent a club looking to progress – not stagnate.