What Next: Angelo Henriquez
There was a healthy buzz surrounding the arrival of promising striker Angelo Henriquez when Manchester Utd paid a €4mil fee for the 18-year-old in the summer of 2012. Though no-one expected him to go straight into the United first team, a series of loan moves has seen the young Chilean drop of the radar somewhat and, given the recent upheaval and changes at the club, there are some pertinent questions arising regarding Henriquez’s future.
Henriquez had in fact been in the Red Devils sights for some time. Following impressive performances for the Chile U15s, he was taken on trial in 2009 and caught the eye of Alex Ferguson who signed a pre-contract agreement with Universidad de Chile giving United a first option to buy up until 2014. The idea was that Henriquez would establish himself and gain experience in Chile before a move eventually materialised.
It didn’t take long. Bursting onto the scene as a precocious 17-year-old, Henriquez showed poise and maturity beyond his years to notch 11 league goals in seventeen appearances for the recently crowned Sudamericana champions. Another four goals in a run to the 2012 Libertadores semi-finals and a hatful of goals at international youth level saw the starlet gain widespread praise and United swooped to exercise their first option.
Intelligent movement, clinical finishing, composure and superb technique are key facets of Henriquez’s game and the young striker is also blessed with good pace, impressive heading ability and link up play which allow him to play through the middle or in a wider forward role. He would need time to adapt, particularly to the physicality of the English game, but by all accounts it looked like United had a real gem on their hands.
A six-month loan move to Wigan at the beginning of 2013 followed but, despite Roberto Martinez’s good record at developing youngsters, he wasn’t afforded much playing time as the club battled against relegation. Henriquez made just eight appearances, mainly off the bench, scoring once in a 3-2 home loss to Sunderland. Still just 19, there would be plenty more opportunities to come for the level-headed young striker.
A new season and another loan followed, this time a year long stint with Zaragoza in the Spanish second tier. Henriquez started strongly with four goals in his first five games but injury stalled his progress and he spent a large chunk of the second half of the season on the sidelines. Nevertheless, with six goals in 25 appearances he was the club’s second highest scorer and Henriquez himself cited it as an important experience in his development.
The news that Henriquez would be farmed out on loan to Dinamo Zagreb raised a few eyebrows with many expecting a move to a more visible European league. Nevertheless, Henriquez has not let that bother him at all and made an eye-catching start to life in the Croatian capital with 14 goals in 15 games. The move has also offered him a chance for European football in the Europa League in which he has netted three goals already, while he is also becoming a regular part of the Chilean national team set up under Jorge Sampaoli who knows him well from their time at Universidad de Chile. If he can continue this phenomenal form then it will force Van Gaal to sit up and take notice.
So what does the future hold for Henriquez? Still only 20, it’s far too early to write him off, especially when he hasn’t been given a shot to prove his worth for Manchester United. With the likes of Falcao, Rooney and Van Persie currently ahead of him in the pecking order though, Henriquez will gain more from regular game time on loan than sitting on the Old Trafford bench. Nevertheless, with the departure of Welbeck and Chicharito potentially on his way out, the Chilean could bring some fresh impetus to an ageing forward line. United will no doubt bring in new players but at the same time cannot continue to spend at their current rate so Henriquez could potentially slot in as a third or fourth choice striker next season.
The most likely scenario is one more loan move to a top European league before he is given a proper crack but, never shy of blooding an untested rookie, Van Gaal may make room for him, especially if a return to continental competition enforces a need to rotate the squad further. Either way, Henriquez is one of the brightest young striking talents around and so expect to be seeing a lot more of the Chilean in the years to come.