Of all the data you could gather on Manchester United – trophies won, goals scored, opponents beaten – there’s one stat that trumps them all. For almost 80 years, United have not played a single game without fielding a player developed by their own academy.
A 1-1 against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on October 16, 1937, helped United earn promotion from the old English Second Division, behind Aston Villa, that campaign. But more significantly, it began a sequence – 3,867 games to be precise – of fielding players produced themselves that remains unbroken.
The most successful era, of course, was the famed ‘Class of 92’ featuring Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Gary and Phil Neville, who went on to form the bedrock of two decades of stunning success under Sir Alex Ferguson.
We are unlikely to ever see that many players make a mark on a Premier League team again, what with the financial pressure on teams to win in the modern era, but there are signs of hope again in United’s youth ranks.
Marcus Rashford is making a big impact while big things are expected of 16-year-old Angel Gomes – a cousin of former United winger Nani – among others in the current United Under-18 side.
Here, we take a look at United’s most promising starting XI aged 23 or under who could go on and establish themselves in the first team this season.
United and youth team goalkeeper prospects are a bit of grey area as no youngster has ever gone on to enjoy a sustained career, but Pereira’s promise is perhaps summed up best by the fact he signed a new four-year contract with the option of an additional 12 months earlier this month.
At Old Trafford since 2012 he impressed Jose Mourinho last season with his commitment in training after returning from a loan spell at Belenenses in January and made his United debut in January in the FA Cup fourth round tie against Wigan. He started for the first time in the Premier League, against Crystal Palace on the final day of the season.
Made his professional debut at left-back in February 2016 in a 3–2 Premier League win at home to Arsenal. In October last year signed a new long-term contract until 2020.
Started the second half against Galaxy on Sunday and made a good run to set up Anthony Martial for United’s fifth goal, but was slow to track back for LA’s opener. Huge promise but could be best served this season by a season-long loan move.
The pacey defender broke Darren Campbell’s 100-metre record at Ashton-upon-Mersey school in August 2014, which had stood for 25 years. The Manchester-born teenager is another product of famed Fletcher Moss Rangers.
Has formed a strong partnership with Axel Tuanzebe at various youth levels for United. A calm and reassuring presence at the back, while also being a humble and down to earth character, there’s a lot of excitement at United surrounding the burly teenager.
Won plaudits when he made his United senior debut against Arsenal at the Emirates last season, performing admirably against one of the Premier League’s best players in Alexis Sanchez. He was certainly more assured than more senior counterparts Phil Jones and Chris Smalling alongside him in the centre of defence who both looked shaky in the 2-0 defeat.
Eric Bailly and new signing Viktor Lindelof are likely to form United’s starting centre-back partnership this season but versatile Tuanzebe should be given his chance to act as an understudy to both of them in his preferred position of at centre-back as well as Antonio Valencia at right back. Jones and Smalling have both repeatedly failed to establish themselves at the heart of United’s defence for too long.
Tuanzebe was impressive when coming on at half-time in United’s pre-season opener against LA Galaxy on Sunday. A perceptive player who rarely has to slide into a tackle, his imposing physique also belies his grace on the ball.
The Congolese-born England U19 and U20 youth international won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award in 2015 and was the first first-year scholar to captain the U18 side since Gary Neville. He followed that award with the Denzil Haroun Reserve Team Player of the Year award last season.
Another who started his youth career with famed Manchester boys club Fletcher Moss Rangers; the same academy where Marcus Rashford came from. A former left winger converted to left back last season, he was another to make his senior debut on the final day against Palace, starting at left-back.
Has represented England at U16, U17, U18 and U20 levels and was a member of the England U17 squad that won the 2014 European U17 Championship.
Due to his explosive pace and early years as a winger, Mitchell is a potential game-changer, excelling in one-on-one situations. Mitchell can also play up front if required because he is such a fine finisher.
The Salford lad made his breakthrough into the reserves last season. The promising midfielder shone at that level, averaging a goal a game from his six starts, including a majestic hat-trick at Liverpool. However, it was his form in the reserves that also provided much cause for optimism. The free-kick specialist registered his first goal with a trademark set-piece effort at Derby and he should be a key member of the side in 2017/18.
Has been making waves in the club’s youth sides with reserve team manager Nicky Butt revealing Gribbin had a ‘lightbulb’ moment in the 2-0 UEFA Youth League win over Wolfsburg last season when he was praised for his defensive display in addition to his obvious technical and attacking talents.
Much was expected of the Belgian-born Brazilian when he first arrived at Old Trafford in 2011. Ahead of the 2013/14 season, Pereira was named United’s reserve team captain season and was named player of the tournament at the Milk Cup with three goals as United won the Premier Section.
He made his senior debut as a substitute against Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the League Cup in September 2014, his Premier League debut following later that season, in March 2015, against Tottenham, while he was named U21 Player of the Season.
He marked his first competitive start for the senior team in September 2015 with a sublime free-kick goal against Ipswich in the third round of the League Cup.
Having shown a lot of promise for a number of seasons, Pereira’s growth stagnated under Louis van Gaal, who showed little faith in him, but he burst back onto the scene last year while on loan at Granada in Spain. Even though Granada were relegated from La Liga, the Brazilian impressed, scoring five goals in 37 appearances, introducing a new-found sense of maturity and purpose to his game.
Internationally he has featured for Brazil at five different age grade levels, including one U23 cap. He scored a sublime individual equaliser against Serbia in the final of the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup final in New Zealand, but Brazil lost 2-1 after extra time.
Pereira’s eye for goal and sharp turn of pace should be a great asset to a side that struggled to score too often last season. Given the chance, Pereira could excel as the most advanced player in a midfield three, say with Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera behind him. The one obvious area he needs to improve is his ball retention, although for such a skilful player he also combative and likes a challenge, winning 44 per cent of his duels last season.
It’s interesting that after being consigned to the U21s under Louis van Gaal, Pereira now seems to be in Mourinho’s plans. He played 45 minutes against LA Galaxy on Monday and read what you will into the fact he wore the No15 shirt for the tour opener, although squad numbers for next season are yet to be finalised.
Darren Raekwon McIntosh-Buffonge is one of a number of highly-rated youngsters in a star-studded U18s side. In the 2015/16 season he made 13 starts, scoring once and providing a notable seven assists.
Last season the midfielder operated superbly in both attacking and defensive slots in the middle of the park and contributed a number of goals and assists for Kieran McKenna’s men. He made 21 appearances in total, scoring seven times, and also managed to break through into the reserves.
One of these new breed of players who plays in both wide and central areas in forward positions. It’s hard to pin down what position best suits Boonen as he’s not an out-and-out midfielder, winger or No10 type of player. His best attributes are his movement and vision and he is an intelligent player who takes up brilliant positions.
Has made 25 appearances for the U18s over two seasons since arriving from Genk in the summer of 2015 after impressing following a trial. He has scored 12 goals and made seven assists in that time. A very exciting prospect with big things expected from those that see and work with him regularly.
Born seven months after United won the treble, the Netherlands U17 and U19 international looked impressive in a left-wing role in his debut season with the Reds last year after being signed from Feyenoord. He is an old school winger, someone who hugs the touchline and likes to cross the ball.
His trickery and speed make him a natural wideman. Chong won his first individual trophy as a Red by scooping the best attacking player award at the Otten Cup in his homeland after helping Tommy Martin’s side reach the final last season, only to lose to Anderlecht on penalties. The Guardian selected him among 60 of the best young talents in world football last October.
Likened to Paul Scholes, Gomes is arguably the brightest young talent at United today.
He became the youngest player to score a hat-trick for Manchester United at academy level since 2001 last September in a 5-1 win for United’s U18s against Everton – despite starting the game on the bench.
He rounded off a fine season by becoming the youngest-ever recipient of the Jimmy Murphy Player of the Year award in May, having scored 12 goals in 19 starts for the U18s.
In a United U18s side packed with talent – one that keen observers believe could be the closest the club has come to another Class of 92 – Gomes is the standout star, as well as being one of the youngest. He may only stand 5’ 6” tall but he’s a skilful and tricky player, hard to bring down, and with an eye for goal as well as a pass.
Gomes was born in England while father Gil – capped 19 times by Portugal at U21 level and a U20 World Cup winner – played at Hendon, later moving to Salford City. He is of Portuguese heritage but has represented and captained England at both U16 and U17 level.
The precocious talent has always played above his age group, representing the U18s when he was only 14. He replaced Wayne Rooney in the 2-0 victory at home to Crystal Palace on the final day of last season and in doing so, aged 16 years and 263 days, became the youngest player to represent United since Duncan Edwards in 1953, as well as becoming the first player born in the 2000s to appear in the Premier League.
Gomes is a cousin of former Manchester United winger Nani.
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