Having had a keen interest in youth football for a long time and United’s youth team in particular I find few things more exciting than seeing a young player who gets fans excited and is capable of drawing gasps from the crowd. It’s generally unusual given the low number of spectators to have much of an atmosphere at youth games but certain players stand out so blatantly that they can bring a buzz to even the smallest crowds.
Over the past five years or so I’ve been lucky enough to see four such players in the flesh, players who you almost instantly feel can produce a piece of magic and influence the game every time they get the ball and who you get the feeling that even their own team mates are somewhat in awe of.
The first time I saw footage of Ravel Morrison playing in the 2008 Manchester United Premier Cup in a very strong United under 15 team containing Sam Johnstone, both of the Keane twins, Tom Thorpe, Tyler Blackett, Larnell Cole and Tom Lawrence. He stood out driving forward from midfield and even scored a hat trick against Juventus. I took note of the name as a player for the future but didn’t think I’d see any more of him for a year or so until he moved up to the under 18s full time. I arrived at Old Trafford for United’s FA Youth Cup match against Chelsea looking forward to seeing the likes of Welbeck, Brady and Macheda but within minutes of the start Morrison had taken over the game. One of the smallest players on the field you could instantly see his talent as he shimmied and slalomed past tackles and accelerate away from defenders and showed a calmness in front of goal lifting the ball over the keeper for the opening goal of the game.
Here was a lad who was only 15 and making his U18 debut and he was bringing fans to their feet every time he got on the ball. Morrison went on to become a key player for the U18’s every time he played that season and while things went sour for him at United he is still one of the best players I’ve seen at that level and is still young enough to fulfil his huge potential.
The second of the players is Adnan Januzaj who I saw playing live for United’s reserve side against Longford Town in a pre season friendly in summer 2012. Januzaj had already shown himself to be a huge talent in United’s U18 team but was returning from a long term injury when I saw him. Within the first few minutes you could see how good his vision and touch were and his talent was obvious when he skipped past a couple of tackles before playing a perfect through ball for Daehli.
It was a moment in the second half which really sticks in my mind though as the ball was dropping from fairly high in the air and the defender was very close to him he just flicked it first time with his heel over the defenders head and got it on the other side which drew gasps from the crowd. We all know what Januzaj has gone on to do this season and I feel he could go on to become a genuinely world class player.
The third of these players is the only one not to have played for United but is one we have been scouting for a while. I first saw 16-year-old Youri Tielemans playing for Belgium under 16s against Germany in a friendly in Ireland in May 2013. The Germans probably had the better team overall but in Tielemans Belgium had the outstanding player of the tournament. Playing centre midfield he went box to box, played the ball long and short off either foot, beat players at will and decided the game with a hat trick as Belgium won 3-2. This was a complete midfielder.
Since then Tielemans has gone on to establish himself in Anderlecht’s first team making 32 appearances this season and three appearances for the Belgium U21’s and becoming the third youngest player in the UEFA Champions League history. He is seen as one of the rising stars of European football and has been scouted by all of the top clubs this season.
The last player on my list and also the youngest is my main reason for writing this article. To alert fans to the presence of a potential genius coming through our ranks. At 13-years-old born on 31st August 2000 is a prodigy in every sense of the word. The son of former Portugal U21 International, Gil Gomes, Angel’s brother Rico was also on United’s books up until under 16 level before being released. Angel showed prodigious talent from a young age and won player of the tournament at this tournament in the Algarve a few years ago.
My first viewing of Gomes was at the Hibernian Cup in Dublin in August 2013. I missed the first game of the tournament against Stade Rennais where Gomes had already made an impact and scored from outside the box as United won 5-0.
As I took my place to watch the second match against Linfield people were already raving about “United’s number 10” Within minutes of the start Gomes had gone on four runs beating multiple players with a combination of flicks, step overs and drag backs as well as spraying the ball around with unerring accuracy and showing a good turn of pace. Later in the game he did a Zidane roulette followed by a clipped 30 yard ball and a perfect through ball which led to United opening the scoring.It was only after the match that I found out he was a 12-year-old playing against 14-year-olds.
In the next match Gomes lined up against the Ireland development team who were very big compared to United and Gomes was again the best player on the pitch as the Irish players couldn’t get near him and at one stage he nutmegged one player and there was another player coming in from behind him so he dragged the ball backwards through his legs and drew gasps from the crowd. The Irish lads began to get frustrated and started going in harder on him but he stood up to it and just kept playing his game and looked dangerous from the free kicks he drew.
This season Angel who had he been born a day later would have been eligible for the U13 team has continued his development and even played for a United U17 selection in games in Slovakia in October. He has regularly trained and played above his age group this season regularly contributing goals and assists and has actually scored twice from the halfway line this season. Gomes has also taken part in England’s U15 training camp this year a year above his age group and is likely to feature for United’s U15 team at Marveld at the end of this month.
Obviously its very difficult to predict the future for any young player especially a 13-year-old and you only need to look at the likes of Fabien Brandy among others to see how quickly a prodigious talent can fall by the way side but if he can continue to progress the way he has in his United career so far the name Angel Gomes could be a household name in years to come and could go some way to helping the United fans get over the loss of Morrison and Pogba.