Somebody once said you’ll never win anything with kids. Now that, has been proved wrong by a special group of individuals and an extraordinary manager that put his faith in them. And together did they rule English and European football largely aided by a core of footballers that grew and learned their trade at the very same club. Fifteen years on, Manchester United managed by a man from the Netherlands who is never shy of giving youngsters a chance might just have another group of players from the famed youth academy that could potentially play a major role in the club’s future.
With the influx of quality and quantity in the summer and the sale of Longsight lad Danny Welbeck to Arsenal came the obvious accusations. The club that is often known for producing and promoting players from their own academy was criticized for trying to buy their way to the top and the impending identity crisis that was going to follow. Though, that was never the case. Louis Van Gaal has already given senior team debuts to seven players from the youth ranks and some have notably played themselves into the manager’s plans giving him a selection headache, albeit a good one. Here’s a lowdown on the more familiar faces that could have a telling effect in the club’s foreseeable future.
Tyler Blackett, perhaps the most familiar face of all, has played every minute for United in the league this season until his sending off against Leicester. Born in Manchester, he has been at the club since he was eight. Often deployed by manager Warren Joyce as a left full-back in his time with the under 21s, a position he played in, even during the cameo against Everton at the weekend, looks to be more assured at the heart of defence. Blackett is seen as a left-footed defender that is more comfortable on the ball and someone that is able to initiate an attacking situation from the back, something Louis Van Gaal loves in a defender.
After a rather futile loan spell at Birmingham last season, where he was substituted after 24 minutes owing to an injury, the young defender did knuckle down. But in a bid to recover and get playing again, he made the utmost use of United’s Carrington training facilities to better himself through additional training – an attitude which will not go unnoticed under Van Gaal. His accomplished presence on the ball has been noticed too; a 97.9% pass-completion rate against QPR from 97 passes was the best of any United player in arguably their finest team performance yet.
Verdict – Could become a future regular.
Wayne Rooney’s reckless tackle in the win at West Ham led some fans to question whether the fiery Merseysider has got the temperament required to be wear the armband. An alarming dearth of leaders within Van Gaal’s squad though has quickly rubbished any talk of Rooney being stripped of his captaincy, but in Tom Thorpe the Reds have a player accustomed to leadership.
The 21-year-old’s footballing CV is certainly one to be proud of. He has captained United at U18s level, leading the club to FA Youth Cup triumph in 2011 before taking the armband in the inaugural U21s Premier League season of 2012/13, and winning it.
Internationally as well, his headship accolades are even more commendable. Thorpe skippered England’s kids to victory in the Under 17s European Championship as well as leading the U19s to the semi-finals in 2012. Authoritative and a huge vocal presence on the pitch, Thorpe could be the ideal partner for Blackett, with whom he has played a plethora of games, and one day become the calming influence on which currently looks like a unsettled United back-line.
Thorpe’s problems lie in whether Van Gaal will give in to the pressure and buy a proven central defender that fans are craving for, in January. Now 21, Thorpe will have to impress sooner rather than later if he were to change Louis Van Gaal’s plans. As things stand now, with the club under more pressure to deliver than ever, the youngster’s chances seem rather limited.
Verdict – Good prospect. Limited chances to succeed and sustain.
A large section of United fans have been slow to forgive Sir Alex Ferguson and rightly so, for allowing Paul Pogba to leave the club for peanuts, only to see him evolve into one of the most sought-after youngsters in world football. But the Reds currently have another talented attacking midfielder among their ranks nearing the end of his current deal and has yet to pen a new deal, one who is capable of playing in the coveted number 8 role blessed with the ability to score breathtaking goals out of nothing.
The unavoidable comparisons between Adnan Januzaj and Pereira are too obvious to ignore. Both have the temerity to terrorize defenders with their pace and flair on the ball, both are Belgium-born and have scored some wondrous goals, several crucial match-winners, in their short careers so far. Pereira announced himself last season with a string of world class goals for the U21s, a spectacular 25-yard winner in the semi-final victory at Anfield in the 1-0 win over rivals Liverpool last season, catching the eye in particular.
Pereira has made the bench on several occasions so far this season, and the 18-year-old made his senior team debut in the disastrous 4-0 debacle against MK Dons in the Capital One Cup. With an array of talent ahead of him in the Red Devils pecking order, though, patience will be required. With the club already top-heavy and a compact fixture-list, Andreas will have to bide his time and wait on his chance to arrive if he really wants to make it to senior team at United.
Verdict – Great potential. Very limited opportunities to impress the boss.
A key factor in Van Gaal’s willingness to let Javier Hernandez (on loan) and Welbeck seek pastures new, Wilson’s goal-scoring prowess did provide an excitement and promise towards the end of what was a disastrous last season. Eyebrows were raised when Ryan Giggs chose to hand the 18-year-old a first-team debut against Hull City in the interim manager’s final home match in charge – a game the retiring club icon would have wanted to leave a lasting impression on. But the man Giggs described as a “natural goalscorer” certainly repaid the faith, with his double helping United to a 3-1 win.
Wilson reminded fans of what he could do by smashing four past rivals Manchester City in a 4-1 Manchester Seniors Cup win in August. For one of those goals he picked the ball up on the halfway line and ran straight through the heart of City’s back four leaving them in their wake, before netting, a sight to get any United fan yelping with glee.
In Wilson, United have the perfect blend of youthful exuberance and fearlessness who can provide an able cover for the illustrious stars currently battling for places in the current squad and also learn from them during training and games. With Robin van Persie not getting any younger, Radamel Falcao’s future past next summer uncertain and Rooney possibly deployed in a deeper role, those disappointed by Welbeck’s departure will soon have another homegrown star to get buzzed about.
Verdict – Cream of the crop. Could save United plenty of cash.
McNair arrived at United in 2011 as a No.10 after being spotted by the same scouts who picked out Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson. Slowly but surely he has moved backwards, and can now play in central midfield, or alongside Thorpe at the back in United’s U21 side.
Called up as an emergency right-footed center-back in the absence of fellow Irishman Evans, Jones and Smalling due to injuries, McNair had quite a debut against a more physical West Ham, drawing a lot of praise post-game from the boss himself. He pulled off a fantastic defensive diving header to deny West Ham a crucial equalizing goal. He completed all 12 of his attempted clearances, more than any other player on the park, as 10-men United battled to keep all three points after Wayne Rooney’s red card with less than an hour played.
A no-nonsense defender that is good at breaking up danger and clearing his lines, McNair was rewarded for his performance against West Ham with a start against Everton. Despite being pushed for long periods and having a player like Lukaku to mark, McNair came out on top on several occasions largely keeping the Belgian forward at bay. In Paddy McNair, United have got a composed defender that is adept at sensing and preventing danger in the tightest of scenarios. And a player who could very much be in Van Gaal’s future plans.
Verdict – Could become a future regular.
With genuine mettle at their mercy, United and Louis Van Gaal can possibly unearth another group of individuals that have risen through the ranks at United waiting on a chance to play first team football at a club where they began to kick a ball with purpose. Louis Van Gaal, a man that has given debuts to the likes of Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert to Iniesta and Mueller wouldn’t disregard youth all of a sudden, would he?
The lesser known fact that the weekend’s win over Everton was the 3,078th match in succession that a homegrown player has been included in the match-day squad is a testament to the club’s philosophy and identity with the latter still richly preserved.