When Man Utd signed Ritchie De Laet from Stoke City in January 2009 it of course raised eyebrows.
The young man from Belgium was a virtual unknown, joining Stoke City from United’s feeder club Royal Antwerp in August 2007 and after brief stints at Bournemouth and Wrexham in 2008, he became a United player.
He immediately went into the reserves as many scoffed at United signing a player that could not make it at the Britannia stadium, but after a slow start under reserve manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer he flourished and in April was part of the reserve team that won the Torneo Calcio Memorial Claudio Sassi Sassuolo ahead of teams like Juventus and Ajax.
On the final day of last season, De Laet was given his first team debut against relegation threatened Hull and he did not fail to impress as he put in an assured performance at left back, helping a young United team keep a clean sheet. His defensive display on the day was impressive but equally impressive was how he bombed forward up the wing to support attacks. It looked like United had yet again unearthed a gem.
After an inspiring performance against Valencia during pre season where again he showcased his ability to overlap and aid attacks, De Laet has continued to impress in the reserves and when the opportunity has arisen he has performed in the first team making appearances against Wolves and Barnsley in the Carling Cup.
De Laet can play all across the back line but excels in either full back position. Not afraid of the physical aspect of the game he is also a solid tackler. He has reasonable pace and at 6ft 1 has decent aerial ability. What particularly impressive in the Hull game was how certain he was in his play both defensively and offensively. The task of playing in the Premiership against relegation threatened Hull did not appear to daunt him.
People have questioned his positioning and the gaps he leaves in defence when he goes on one of his marauding forward runs but at just 20 years old these are thing that can be improved on especially as he has the likes of Gary Neville, John O’Shea, Patrice Evra and Wes Brown to learn from.
On October 6th, his performances were rewarded as United upgraded his performance based contract to a 3 year deal, but he cannot now get complacent, as De Laet will know that it takes hard work and talent to succeed at United.
He will also realise that he will have a hard time breaking into and cementing a spot in the first team with Patrice Evra and Fabio ahead of him at left back and John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Rafael all preferred choices at right back. But his attitude thus far has been great and if he can continue to work as hard as he has and take chances when they are presented to him he could find himself in the first team sooner than he thinks.
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