Promoting youngsters has always been an important tradition at Old Trafford. The Busby Babes and the Class of ’92 have been an integral part of the club’s success over the years.
A recent report by the Press Association highlighted that players who finished their youth careers in the United youth academy played a remarkable 32,157 minutes in the English top-flight last season. This is around 10,000 minutes more than the next best.
The appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has created a buzz around Old Trafford recently. The Norwegian has made it clear that he is willing to give youngsters a chance to prove themselves.
“We’re built on that tradition. We need young players coming through,” said Solskjaer.
Here are five talented youngsters that could become important players in coming seasons.
Tahith Chong made his debut for the first team in the recent FA cup tie over Reading. In a generally slow-paced game, Chong played with energy and purpose. Chong has been a regular for the reserves this season and has also featured for the Netherlands u21 team.
The 19-year-old suffered a damaging knee injury in 2017, that kept him out of action for 10 months. Yet, the Dutchman came back strongly to bag the Jimmy Murphy Best Young Player Award in May 2018.
The Dutchman is left footed and prefers to play on the right wing, with his direct, pacey runs causing havoc for opposition defences. He is also an accurate crosser. Right wing has been considered one of United’s weak positions and there is genuine belief that Chong could be the long-term solution.
Highly thought of by the reserve and first team coaches, he played 94 minutes on the pre-season tour of the US, more than any youth player.
Chong needs to improve on his physicality as well as end product of goals and assists. He will soon be knocking on the first team door.
James Garner may only be 17, but has is already a natural leader. Garner has captained England at the u17 level and has also donned the armband for the United u18s.
The teenager was one of several youngsters who impressed on the pre-season tour of the US.
A defensive midfielder by trade, Garner is a calm and composed player. An excellent passing range, to go with his ability to carry the ball forward make Garner an exciting prospect. His ability to dictate the tempo from midfield has drawn comparisons to former player and coach, Michael Carrick.
Carrick’s appointment as assistant coach will help the youngster massively. The club will soon have a top quality midfielder on their hands.
Central defence has been an issue for the Red Devils for several seasons. This season, Victor Lindelof has excelled in the role, yet the Swede does not have a reliable partner. Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling have all been used to no great avail.
Tuanzebe could be the solution to the club’s centre-back issues. The 21-year-old is currently enjoying a fine loan spell at Championship side Aston Villa.
He has all the qualities of a modern defender. Strong in the air and accurate with his passing, the Englishman has the potential to become a world class defender.
Capable of playing at right back as well, Tuanzebe has impressed Villa coach Dean Smith. “If Ole wants to ring me up, I’ll give him an excellent report on Axel. He is quick. His understanding has improved, so he doesn’t need to rely on his pace. He can hit accurate passes too,” said Smith.
The most high-profile name on the list, Greenwood was an unused sub in the Champions League loss at Valencia. A modern and versatile forward, Greenwood is capable of playing on the wing, as a number 10 and more recently as a striker, all to devastating effect.
The 17-year-old is deadly in front of goal and has been scoring for fun at youth level over the last two seasons. In addition to his goals, Mason is pacey, direct and equally adept with either foot.
Though primarily left footed, he prefers to take set pieces with his right. Greenwood is highly rated by his coaches for demonstrating a technical ability and maturity that far exceeds his years.
Ethan Laird was praised by boss Solskjaer, as being one of United’s the top young players recently. Mainly a right-back, he has also played at left full and central defence when required.
His biggest asset is his pace, which he regularly uses to bomb down the right. He is an attacking threat and has five assists in 10 u18 league games this season.
Laird, who has been with the club since the age of nine, signed his first professional contract in October last year, signifying United’s intent to keep hold of such a talent. Laird though, still needs to work on his positioning and defensive awareness to take his game to the top level.