article by Teo Teng Kiat at twitter.com/tengkiat
Manchester United have always had a tradition of giving youth players a chance, and bringing them through, even if they don’t necessarily make it to the first team (Fletcher is probably the last real star to have broken into the team). Just look at the amount of ex-United players in other Premier League clubs, and further down into the Championship. Take a good look at the picture above, though. There might just be a couple of faces in there which might be making the sports headlines on a daily basis in the very near future.
The players from the United Academy, comprised of Under-18 players, beat Sheffield United 4-1 at Old Trafford yesterday in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup final, after a 2-2 first leg draw, to lift the trophy for a record-extending 10th time. Sir Alex and Sir Bobby were in attendance, as the United kids demolished the opposition in front of an estimated crowd of 20000-25000 people.
Paul McGuinness, the coach, has done a superb job of managing this talented bunch of players, who have been described by many to be the best crop of youngsters emerging since the class of 1992, which comprised the likes of Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, Neville and Butt. I’ve watched them play this season, during the later rounds of the FAYC, where they had to overcome teams like Liverpool and Chelsea in their run to the final, and have been suitably impressed by the entire team.
The name that has been mentioned most by observers of the team would most likely be that of Ravel Morrison. The attacking midfielder scored twice yesterday, and is regarded by many as one of the most talented players to have come through the ranks since Paul Scholes. Morrison has this ability to seemingly glide past players effortlessly with his dazzling dribbling skills, as evidenced by his second goal, where he drifted past two defenders before finding the opposite corner of the goal with a precise strike. Highly tipped to break into the first team (he made his debut as a substitute in the League Cup this season), he needs to sort out his disciplinary problems off-field if he is to fulfil his promise. Involved in witness intimidation and assault charges, it would be a great shame if his burgeoning talent is wrecked by incidents off the pitch. United have stood by him so far, and the hope is that Sir Alex will be able to manage this boy, who has the chance to be a genuine star at the club.
Paul Pogba is another player to have his name come up regularly. The French midfielder, signed from Le Harve when he was 16 (Arsenal were reportedly interested too), has a penchant for scoring screamers, with a few cracking goals against WBA, Derby and Portsmouth this season at Academy level. He also has wonderful passing ability (he hit a stunning 50-yard ball on the half-volley from inside his own half straight onto the toes of a teammate yesterday), and looks a little like a more physical version of Iniesta. An intergral part of the central midfield, it surely won’t be long before Fergie gives him his first team debut as well.
A third midfielder that people have been raving about is Ryan Tunnicliffe, who recently won the Jimmy Murphy Academy Player of The Year at the end-of-season awards ceremony. A tenacious presence in central midfield, he provides the steel and energy in the side, playing a hardman-like role. On a couple of occasions yesterday, he lost the ball, but each time he chased back and put in recovery tackles to win it back. Not afraid to put his foot in, his crunching tackles and interceptions help to win the ball back. The box-to-box style of his play reminds me, and many others, of a certain Roy Keane. The boy looks like a potential fans’ favorite, and hopefully he’ll get his chance alongside Morrison and Pogba.
Apart from the trio mentioned so far, there are a few other good players as well. Will Keane, who also grabbed a brace last night, has been a goal-machine for the Academy this season. Those two goals made it a total of 9 in the FAYC for him, and his second goal was calmness personified. John Cofie is a natural goalscorer as well, while on the wings, Gyliano Van Velzen, Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole are pacy and skilful, with the ability to get behind the defence, although their final ball is inconsistent. At the back, Tom Thorpe, who captained the side last night, is a good reader of the game at centreback, and is a rather promising defender as well.
There is no doubt that this team is a pretty special one. I have been impressed whenever I saw them play this season, and it shows what a good job our Academy has done with their youth programme. These players certainly have the potential to do what the class of ’92 did back then, and form the nucleus of a future United side. Talent, however, is no guarantee of a top career; they have to put in the hard work on a consistent basis from now on, and build on this triumph. Hopefully, if all goes well, we will be singing the names of these lads on the terraces in the future.