Former Manchester United and England winger Lee Sharpe is yet to be convinced by the Reds’ £86m summer purchase Antony, who was widely expected to light up Old Trafford. 

"The jury is still out on Antony. He seems a little bit two-dimensional, always coming onto his left foot and having a shot. He doesn’t seem to have the decision-making tools at this level or have the awareness of what’s going on around him.

"We can see he’s got a lot of ability on the ball but there needs to be an improvement in his distribution, which can come because he’s still only young. He still needs time to settle and grow into the club.

"He’s got potential but he has to allow his manager to coach him because we’ve not seen the best of him yet by far. I think he’s fortunate to get so many minutes, with Jadon Sancho not being around."

Mention of Sancho – another expensively-bought wide-man, struggling to make an impact at the Theatre of Dreams - prompts a discussion with the affable 51-year-old about the pressure that comes with being a creative player at Manchester United.

It is after all something that Sharpe knows all about and managed to overcome, delighting down one flank in the Nineties, while Ryan Giggs shone down the other, on route to United winning a clutch of league titles.    

Can the burden be too much, this demand to get bums off seats?

"It comes with the shirt you’re wearing. No matter what position you play as soon as you put on that shirt there is a level of expectation. That’s the same with Jadon Sancho.

"It's a tough position to play in but he certainly has the ability. Maybe he needs to speak to Marcus Rashford and find out what was going on in his head.

"Because Rashford struggled for confidence and performance but he turned it around and there are players there who can help him, same with the manager. I still think there is a huge role for Jadon Sancho at the club."

While Antony and Sancho flatter to deceive, a third young winger is acing his auditions on a weekly basis. Step forward teenager Alejandro Garnacho. 

Sharpe offers up a back-handed compliment when explaining why the Argentine is impressing.

"You need a bit of naivety. A lack of awareness of where you’re playing and what is at stake. Garnacho has that because he just goes out and plays as if he is with his mates.

"He gets the ball and his first thought is to run forward and take people on. He’s happy with a step-over or a trick. He’s happy to run in behind and score goals. His energy levels are great. His entertainment levels are great. His ability is phenomenal.

"I know there is talk of him not signing a contract but hopefully that can be sorted because I don’t think he can go to a bigger club or get more minutes.

"He’s under an amazing manager in Ten Hag and has amazing players around him. He has supporters who love him. So I hope he decides to stay."

If a couple of under-performing talents suggest all is not right at Old Trafford that of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Just three defeats in 18 have secured United a solid footing in the top four and, still in every knockout competition, a memorable season beckons.

In broader context the Reds are now playing as a team with so much of their pronounced improvement down to new boss Erik Ten Hag. What has especially impressed Sharpe about the Dutchman?

"I liked how he set out his stall after they got beat in their first two games.

"He showed them how short of kilometres they were in their running, and took them out for a run himself, to show he was prepared to put himself through it and do what was needed to be done.

"The other encouraging thing was how he handled the Ronaldo situation. He put a marker down of authority and showed he was bigger than anyone at the club. That he wouldn’t take any messing, whoever they are.

"Then there’s his work on the training pitch. By the looks of it, he’s an amazing coach and communicator. He has told everyone exactly what their jobs are and what is expected of them.

"You can see they’re working harder and closing down more. There is now a Ten Hag template in the team."

And could this template lead to genuine title challenges in the not-too-distant future?

"Without a doubt. No-one outside of Manchester United would have expected them to be where they are right at this moment.

"Had United beaten Arsenal they would have been in contention for the title so what Ten Hag has done already is unbelievable. 

"Another transfer window in the summer and another six months of working with the players and I don’t see any reason why next season they can’t be title contenders."

All of which will be music to the ears of United supporters who have been through the proverbial mill this past decade.

Off the pitch meanwhile, there are further reasons to be optimistic with the news that the Glazer family are set to end their unpopular ownership of the club.  

What does Sharpe – a lifelong fan of the Red Devils himself – make of this development?

"I think a lot of Manchester United fans are encouraged by the reports because something needs to be done.

"There needs to be reinvestment as a whole, and I don’t just mean the players – because they have invested in players – but the ground, the training facilities. And if they’re not prepared to do that, they need to sell it and move on.

"It would be beneficial for the club if they get in someone who is a little bit more interested and on site."

FIRST PUBLISHED: 26th January 2023

The 888sport blog, based at 888 Towers in the heart of London, employs an army of betting and tipping experts for your daily punting pleasure, as well as an irreverent, and occasionally opinionated, look at the absolute madness that is the world of sport.