What has happened to Tyrell Malacia? The curious case of the missing Man United defender

Tyrell Malacia's last appearance for Manchester United came on May 28, 2023
Tyrell Malacia's last appearance for Manchester United came on May 28, 2023 -Credit:Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

Manchester United signings under Erik ten Hag have not had the long-lasting impact many fans had hoped for, especially so in the case of Tyrell Malacia.

The left-back was the manager’s first signing as United boss, arriving from Feyenoord for £13m. He briefly usurped Luke Shaw in the pecking order but is now comfortably viewed as the back-up in that position - that is, when he is available.

Malacia has not kicked a ball all season, and it is approaching 11 months since he last trotted out in United colours. The Dutchman, who played 39 times last term, underwent a major knee operation in the summer and missed the whole of pre-season as a result.

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While the likes of Amad Diallo and Kobbie Mainoo have made returns from serious setbacks, Malacia is yet to reappear. The 24-year-old was captured in the 2023/24 squad photo but has not been snapped by club cameras since.

The defender had spent some time in the Netherlands during his recovery and was spotted undergoing light individual work a week before Halloween, when sources hinted at an ambitious November return. That was frightfully optimistic, it appears.

Malacia suffered a setback in his rehabilitation and a comeback in the new year was targeted. He was back at Carrington in December to work towards that goal but it seems his recovery journey has hit another snag.

That has become the theme of United’s season when it comes to injuries. Luke Shaw is yet to return from his second setback of the season, Lisandro Martinez has suffered his third issue of the campaign and Mason Mount has missed 26 games in his maiden year thanks to two problems.

Malacia’s situation is the oddest of them all. “You can accept in a position that a player is not available but when two players are not available over the course of the season that is very frustrating,” Ten Hag said in March.

"I think it's going to be difficult for him (Malacia) this season to be available. He will fight, he's back on the pitch, but not in the team and the process had some setbacks for him and he's still going forwards really slowly and the season is coming to an end.

Malacia initially returned to Carrington in July -Credit:Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Malacia initially returned to Carrington in July -Credit:Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

“In December, I had the talks internally with the medical and performance [staff]. They assured me they (Shaw and Malacia) will both be fit in January and so you will have two left full-backs.”

Ten Hag’s umbrage is partly fuelled by the fact that he had allowed Tottenham loanee Sergio Reguilon - now at Brentford - to return to his parent club in January amid the promise that Malacia would be back in shortly into 2024.

Now, with Shaw out, he is being forced to play unorthodox options there, namely Diogo Dalot, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and currently-injured Victor Lindelof.

It’s been a busy and not particularly fruitful period for new medical lead Gary O'Driscoll, who arrived from Arsenal in September.

He has been unable to halt the revolving door into the physio room and questions are now being asked of whether Ten Hag is working his players too hard, with some squad members pensive about his intense demands.

Malacia, though, cannot have this excuse, albeit his knee injury has clearly had a long-lasting impact. The lack of clarity from club communicators has allowed speculation to arise on social media about his progress.

On the face of it, it’s a markedly puzzling situation given the cruciate ligament injuries to Joel Matip of Liverpool and Tyrone Mings of Aston Villa have been set quicker return periods than the one Malacia has already been sidelined for.

The thought is that Malacia had been carrying his knee problem for a while but had put off surgery in a bid to impress his new club. Surmising that this may have done more harm than good is not an inappropriate thesis, unlike some of the crass online comments directed towards Malacia.

Tyrell Malacia. -Credit:Eamonn and James Clarke
Tyrell Malacia. -Credit:Eamonn and James Clarke

However, new claims this week have alleged that the player has not helped himself. The Athletic states that a surgeon in London had been proposed for his operation last summer but he had preferred to undergo the procedure in the Netherlands, which United agreed to.

But the flight over and subsequent operation was conducted without the club giving the final green-light and upon his return to Carrington months later it was found that small fragments remained around his meniscus.

A decision was made to undergo a second round of surgery with the same surgeon under the oversight of United in November, meaning that Malacia had to restart the whole of his rehabilitation process.

Malacia has been snapped modelling clothes for a childhood friend’s fashion business, ForevaDifferent, in February but he has scarcely been publicly seen otherwise. Rehabilitation complications seem to have been the bane that is keeping Malacia sidelined, although the report says the defender had not always updated the club on his initial early progress.

It adds that Malacia has been recovering away from Carrington in recent weeks and is commuting between Manchester, Barcelona and the Netherlands with United kept in the loop with everything that is happening in each location.

The hectic run-in schedule and the amount of work on the hands of the medical staff means a return before the end of the campaign seems unlikely. The good news is that once he has recovered from his problem - probably ahead of pre-season - it is not expected to have any long-lasting effects.