The endorsements kept piling up as Manchester United tracked a teenage right-winger tipped to be one of Europe’s hottest properties.
Amad was first spotted by United in 2016 when he appeared in an Under-15s match for Atalanta. Interest piqued, the club continued to monitor the youngster as he progressed through an Italian academy with a reputation for producing technical players.
The winger was watched by United’s head of academy recruitment, chief scouts and the technical chief scout before the green button was pressed in October 2020, a deal worth € 41million agreed after Amad had continued to rank at the very top of United’s gradings for academy or first-team development players.
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At the time the fee looked significant – although only € 21m was committed upfront – for a player who was yet to start a senior game and had only five substitute appearances to his name.
The development graph for talented prodigies is never smooth, but Amad’s has often peaked quickly with a change of scenery without quite tracking to where most in the game expected it to be now he is three months away from exiting his teenage years.
This is a forward who scored on his debut for Atalanta, his third appearance for United and his debut for Rangers, but none of those goals have been added to and his experience in Scotland is turning as cold as the Glaswegian winter.
As Rangers chased a goal against Celtic on Sunday that they desperately needed in the context of the title race, their on-loan No. 9 was left on the bench. Since that goalscoring start against Ross County at the end of January, there has been only one more league start and 70 minutes in the cup at Annan, as well as three brief cameos off the bench.
The signs were ominous when Amad was taken off at half-time at Celtic Park on his second appearance for Rangers, looking out of his depth when it came to the physicality and tempo of such a game, and the fact his only start since was that routine win against Annan says a lot.
He has been an unused substitute in all four Europa League games, against Borussia Dortmund and Red Star, and a loan that was supposed to give the teenager a grounding in British football is instead in danger of exposing his limitations to it.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst said last month that the “intensity” will be much higher for Amad now and it doesn’t look to be something he’s adapted to, which will be a concern for United. Not being able to get up to speed in an Old Firm game is one thing, but Amad has dropped to the fringes with alarming haste.
It should be remembered that a season-long loan to Feyenoord collapsed at the end of the summer transfer window due to a thigh injury, a blow that also set him back this season. There was interest from European clubs in January once again but having lost that development time United wanted him to play domestically and a switch to Rangers, with the attraction of the Europa League and a title race, was seen as a happy medium after interest from the Championship.
But if Amad’s fortunes don’t improve between now and the end of the season there will be some difficult decisions to make this summer, with the player turning 20 in July.
For a player rated so highly in development circles, this should be a time when he is playing regularly, but there have now been only six senior starts in his career, of which only four have been league games. It’s a remarkably skinny CV for a player so highly thought of.
United are still in need of a right-winger, with Jadon Sancho showing he’s probably better playing off the left, and Amad fits the bill, but would Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino be bold enough to make him a first-teamer on the basis of some encouraging references?
There is also no point in Amad remaining at Old Trafford next season if his role is to be a squad player accumulating starts in domestic cup competitions. He already has limited experience of senior football and even scarcer experience at the elite level, so it is essential he is playing games every week.
It seems unlikely that will be at United, so another loan move is probable. Can United risk another season of trying to acclimatize him to domestic football, or would it be more beneficial to send him somewhere he is going to play, so he can at least accumulate more first-team football?
These are major decisions facing the club this summer. A potential fee of £ 37m always looked like a considerable investment on a relatively unproven player and at the moment the chances of it being a success are hanging in the balance.
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