Axel Tuanzebe is being heavily linked with a January move to Italy, according to reports.
The Manchester United defender is currently on loan at Aston Villa - the third time he’s had a temporary move to the West Midlands club - but could be on the move next month with the 24-year-old having limited game time this season.
Tuanzebe was a regular part of Dean Smith’s Villa side but has played just eight minutes since Steven Gerrard took over in November.
As a result, speculation is rife that his loan deal could be cut short next month.
What do we know so far?
Reports this week from Sky Italia stated that Napoli are interested in bringing the United youth product to Naples.
Journalist Gianluca Di Marzio has subsequently reported Napoli are hopeful of Tuanzebe joining them on loan in January, with United asking for a fee of €1m.
Meanwhile, transfer expert Fabrizio Romano tweeted to say the clubs are ‘in contact’ about a potential loan move with an option to buy.
The MailOnline claim United would be willing to let the defender leave permanently but a transfer ‘remains far from being concluded’. They also report he is valued around £25m by the club.
What has Steven Gerrard said?
The Villa manager has said he wants Tuanzebe to remain at the club, even beyond next season, but did hint United could recall the centre-back in January.
“It’s very much in Ax’s hands and Manchester United’s hands. We want him here, we would be delighted to keep him,” said the former Liverpool midfielder. “We don’t just see it as a loan until the end of the season. It’s something we want to explore further than that. We just hope we’ve got that opportunity.
“He’s a player we like very much and we’d like him to stay until the end of the season at least. Axel is his own man and will want to make his own decision.
“He is obviously owned by Manchester United which we all need to respect. I hope he wants to be part of this.
“Most loans, to give you a hint, normally have a recall option,” he added. “I don’t think it makes sense to loan any player out in this day and age, especially when you are going through a pandemic, to not have a recall option. We will see how that one pans out in the short term. We want to keep him.”
What next for Axel Tuanzebe?
It’s difficult to see a long-term future for Tuanzebe at United, even with the undoubted quality he has.
But ahead of him in the Old Trafford pecking order are Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly. In truth, it’s unlikely he’ll displace any of the quartet, meaning he could be fifth choice at Old Trafford.
At 24, there’s a real need for Tuanzebe to play regular first-team football. The problem arises whether he’ll gain that at either Villa or Napoli. The latter are flying high in Serie A, whereas, at Villa, he’s struggled to dislodge Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa from the side.
For now, any January switch for Tuanzebe should be one which guarantees him the most game time.