Who is Willy Kambwala? The France youth international who Man Utd have thrown into the deep end

The 19-year-old centre-back, renowned for his speed and leadership qualities, is the fifth academy graduate to make his debut under Erik ten Hag

Manchester United have had to make a few unorthodox selections this season due to their injury crisis, but none of the surprises Erik ten Hag has pulled this season can rival fielding 19-year-old Willy Kambwala away to West Ham on December 23.

Kambwala was so obscure that his name could not be found on the matchday programme at the London Stadium. He had only once before been named in the matchday squad, the previous week at Anfield, and wasn’t part of United’s main group on their pre-season tour to the United States, while many other youngsters featured.

So who is the defender that Ten Hag has thrown into the deep end? Sports Times has all you need to know…

  • Where it all beganKambwala was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 25 August 2004 and moved to France with his family at the age of five. He was raised in the town of Les Ulis in the southwestern suburbs of Paris and got his footballing education with French side Sochaux.
  • Willy Kambwala Manchester United 2021-22The big breakKambwala made a stir in French youth football and captained the France side at Under-16 level, which attracted the attention of United. Just a few months later, aged 16, he joined the Red Devils for a fee of £3.5 million on transfer deadline day in October 2020 amid reported competition from Liverpool as United moved to sign a host of young stars from abroad, including both Alejandro Garnacho and Alvaro Fernandez as well as Kambwala.
  • How it’s goingAfter a decent first season in England, Kambwala was forced to sit out the majority of his second campaign after suffering a serious ankle injury in October 2021 that forced him to miss 11 months of action, including United’s FA Youth Cup triumph in 2022.He returned the following season and began to make his mark on the U21s side, with whom he travelled to the U.S. separately from Ten Hag’s squad, and he featured for just 17 minutes against Wrexham during the trip.Then, having trained alongside the first-team squad for a short period, he was included in the matchday squad against Liverpool on December 17. With Harry Maguire, Lisandro Martinez, Victor Lindelof and Raphael Varane all ruled out due to injury or illness, he was handed his debut six days later against West Ham as he partnered Jonny Evans at the heart of the United defence.
  • Willy Kambwala Manchester United 2023-24Biggest strengthsDespite his age, Kambwala is very strong physically and is remarkably tall, measuring 6’4. On his debut for the U18s team against Derby County, his speed and intelligence shone through. He is also known for his leadership qualities and has given motivational speeches to younger players, advising them on how to make it as a footballer.
  • Room for improvementThe main thing Kambwala lacks is experience. He has barely trained with the first team and will need to adapt to the demands of senior football quickly if he is to become a mainstay in Ten Hag’s team.
  • Willy Kambwala Manchester United 2023-24What comes next?The fact United are out of the Carabao Cup and not involved in the Europa League means he will have to make the most of opportunities in the FA Cup or more rare openings that appear in the defence for Premier League matches, such as against West Ham. But the news Lindelof will be out for a month will help his cause.

Latest articles

Related articles