Phil Neville has revealed his surprise after watching Manchester United’s latest signing, Sadiq El Fitouri, in action for the first time.
The 20-year-old joined the Red Devils on an 18-month deal at the end of last month after impressing while on trial from Salford City - and Neville, a former player and assistant manager with United, admits he was stunned after watching the former Manchester City youngster for the first time.
Neville, who co-owns Salford City alongside his fellow Class of ’92 members, observed El Fitouri in a bleep test back in December with Paul Scholes.
Neville: I thought 'wow'
“I thought: ‘Wow, this boy can run!’,” Neville was quoted as saying by the Manchester Evening News. “I was even more surprised when he told us his background story. After being released by City he’d fallen out of love with football until contacting us.”
Neville went on to reveal his first thoughts after watching El Fitouri in a practice match - and how, after watching him for the fourth time, he knew Salford City had a real talent on their hands.
“Then we had a practice game, 11v11,” the former Manchester United and Everton midfielder continued. “It was absolutely freezing. Sadiq went down the wing, went past a player like Cruyff then stroked the ball into midfield.
“I’d been drawn to him since that bleep test but the more we watched him in training, the more I thought: ‘He’s a player’. After four times I thought: ‘This lad is definitely a player’.”
Neville knew El Fitouri was too good for non-league
Neville and Scholes took charge of a match against Kendal Town and decided El Fitouri had to play - and after just over half an hour they knew the Libya-born defender was too good to be playing non-league football.
“We both said he had to play,” Neville added. “Within 35 minutes we’d both seen enough for him to show us that he was far too good for this level.
“We both decided that the best judge of young talent and ability was Warren Joyce at Manchester United.
“I rang Joycey who told us to bring him down. Sadiq trained well over a week and did well enough to earn a contract.”
El Fitouri's first-team prospects
El Fitouri is currently part of Manchester United’s Under-21 setup, but will be hoping to force his way into Louis van Gaal’s thinking by the end of the season.
Van Gaal, who is currently on the lookout for a new right-back, may opt to take a closer look at El Fitouri when pre-season gets underway this summer.
United have been linked with Barcelona’s Dani Alves and Everton’s Seamus Coleman in recent weeks, but the former would command huge wages - despite his advancing years - while it would take a huge transfer fee to convince the Toffees to sell the latter.
If El Fitouri is as talented as Neville and Scholes suspect he is then Manchester United may consider handing the youngster first-team opportunities from the start of next season.
El Fitouri and former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes were the only players to join the Red Devils on permanent deals last month, while Andy Kellett arrived on a loan deal from Bolton Wanderers.