by Teo Teng Kiat
For all of United’s much vaunted youth system, to the best of my knowledge, current third-choice goalkeeper Ben Amos, who made his league debut this season, is the only shot-stopper in recent memory to have successfully graduated from the Academy and gone on to play for the first team.
The England U21 player is regarded as one of the best ‘keepers to have come through the youth ranks in recent years, and has not looked out of place when called upon during this campaign. Another ex-youth goalie to have come good is Hannover 96’s Ron-Robert Zieler, who became only the fourth United-produced custodian to be capped for his country, after he made his debut for Germany in a 3-3 draw with Ukraine.
Below Amos, there is another genuine prospect between the sticks in the form of 18-year old Samuel Luke Johnstone. The Preston-born lad joined the club in July 2009, and was part of the squad that lifted the FA Youth Cup last season.
Promoted to the Reserves this season, the England U19 goalkeeper has continued to progress. He possesses fine reflexes and agility, and pulled off a few blinding saves in the handful of games I have managed to catch. His shot-stopping ability is probably his best attribute, while he also commands the area well.
He went on loan to Scunthorpe United in League 1 during September last year, and impressed enough during his twelve appearances to have his spell there extended twice. Johnstone returned to United on 10th January this year, and is first-choice for the Reserves now, following Amos’ promotion to the first team, and Kuszczak’s loan out to Watford during the transfer window.
There is no doubt that Johnstone is talented for his age, but he is unlikely to break into the first team any time soon, with De Gea, Lindegaard and Amos ahead of him. A full-season loan spell next year at Championship level, getting regular games, should help his development and hopefully see him make the step up at the club ultimately.
Behind him, there is Jonny Sutherland, Liam Jacob, Joe Coll and highly-rated recent acquisition Pierluigi Gollini in the Academy team. Sutherland has turned in some fine performances for the U18s this season and earned a call-up to the England equivalent last year.
The future does look promising for youth goalkeepers at the club, and perhaps the day will come when an established number one will come from within the ranks of the system itself.
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