James Wilson impressed in his Manchester United debut towards the end of the 2013/14 season
The picture of new Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, alongside Ryan Giggs and David Beckham is a reminder of how far we have come since both players made their debuts for the club. Giggs, now assistant manager at Old Trafford, made his debut against Everton in the 1990/91 season, whilst Beckham made his first appearance in the League Cup against Brighton in 92/93. The pair of them, along with a whole host of youngsters who grew into greatness, went onto lift title after title and in the case of Giggs helped the club to win two European Cups along the way.
How does the current batch of youngsters compare and is there any possibility of a break through star this season?
We caught up with Doron Salomon who gave us his view on all things Manchester United youth related:
1) Are there any players from the U18s from last season that you feel will break into the United squad this time around?
It’s a difficult one to answer purely because there may not be many openings in the first team. Our squad is bloated and van Gaal has already hinted he wants to reduce the size of it. James Wilson and Tom Lawrence got a taste of it at the the end of last season and the former is maybe the best of the younger players (under the age of 19) in terms of having a chance.
You’d probably want to look towards Jesse Lingard and Michael Keane as the players with the most realistic chance of getting playing time this season. Michael Keane has had a few very impressive Championship loan spells now and may be ready to serve as a back up centre back or right back. Jesse Lingard’s versatility and pure natural ability make him a good candidate – in fact he was unlucky not to get a look in last time around.
If you want an outsider or longshot – Joe Rothwell. He’s a central midfielder who’s not too dissimilar to Carrick and has battled back well from injuries and illness in recent years. The staff really like him and various first team players have talked him up. Should we pick up some injuries in the middle then he may get a chance.
2) Who is currently the most gifted U18 at the club?
There isn’t actually a huge pool of players to choose from. At present there are only 18 players in the squad and when you think that’s covering both first and second year scholars it’s a small group.
The most talented is probably Marcus Rashford – a pacey, tricky winger-cum-forward who was a regular in the side from Christmas onwards last season despite being an U16 at the time. He’s got a very mature footballing brain already but is more than capable of being instinctive and producing the spectacular.
3) Who do you feel is the most gifted young player you have seen play against Manchester United in recent years?
United have often been good at keeping the most talented opposition players quiet with some of the best performances coming from lesser thought of players. Zeli Ismail at Wolves always seemed to play well against us but has really struggled with the step up to men’s football. Southampton as a group have stood out with their performances – Ward-Prowse certainly left his mark a couple of years back.
Ryan Ledson at Everton is an impressive central midfielder. He captained England’s U17 side recently and will no doubt be managed and nurtured the right way at their club. But the best player I saw at that level last season (although not against us) was Patrick Roberts at Fulham. Technically he’s brilliant, his turn of pace is scary and his eye for goal deadly – he made his first team debut, was outstanding in the FA Youth Cup final, starred for England’s U17 side, and will no doubt shine in the Championship next season despite being just 17.
4) Could you ever see Paul McGuiness managing a first team? Just how good a coach is he?
At the moment I don’t think I could. He seems very content with his role and it is quite different to managing a first team. He’ll only ever work with a player for two seasons in most cases before they move up to the U21 squad or leave the club. The lack of a settled squad from season to season therefore differs greatly from the kind of squad management and planning that exists in a first team environment. As someone who was at the club as a player, has strong family connections and clearly understands the values and traditions it’s vital he’s kept around.
His record speaks for itself – numerous trophies and strong cup runs whilst helping to clearly improve individuals and prepare them for both the U21s and the first team. His sides play attacking football and represent the club in the right way. He’s at the heart of helping to ensure the boys stay grounded despite being at such a large club – for example there’s a black boot only policy whilst a player is in the Academy. That the Academy play such good football and keep producing players for the first team is a credit to him.
5) Out of Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison – who were you more disappointed to let go?
With hindsight it would be Pogba given how their respective careers have gone and United’s desperation for quality in the centre of midfield; but at the time it was definitely Morrison. Not so much because I disagreed with letting him go – in the end it was the only option – but just because he was so talented. He would make the game look so easy it was a joke – when he tried, he was unplayable. He was the kind of player United fans would have loved too, an entertainer who you’d happily pay to watch. That his talent remains unfulfilled is an immense shame.
6) What can we expect from the U18s this season?
I don’t think the U18 squad is overly strong this season – there certainly isn’t a huge amount of depth or experience and we may end up seeing players used in unfamiliar positions to help cover in areas where we’re short. Unlike some of our competitors, we’ve not bought new players (yet) to supplement the squad and there is a large core of local talent or players who’ve been with the club their whole career. The benefit of a small squad is that every player will get regular minutes and consistency of selection will help the team. Expect the squad to be supplemented with some U16s at times – Zak Dearnley, Callum Gribbin, Faustino Makela and RoShaun Williams the obvious four to step up. Williams already looked assured at the heart of the defence last season as an U15!
As ever, once the FA Youth Cup comes around Paul McGuinness will be looking to play his strongest team and get wins but the rest of the season the focus will be on player development. As it stands, the strongest XI at U18 level is probably something along the lines of:
Henderson; Reid, Tuanzebe, Borthwick-Jackson, Thompson; Mitchell, Kehinde, Riley, Redmond; Rashford; Croskery