Upon the announcement of Jose Mourinho’s arrival at the club, besides the unbridled joy of many a United fan at the appointment of one of the game’s finest coaches, there was a small cluster of supporters who had some apprehension at the prospect of him taking the helm, namely, the youth team watchers. Given the lack of academy graduates at each side he’s been at, the concern over whether we’ll see home-grown talent given a chance is valid, although there’s a general feeling that the Special One may go about his business differently this time around, and that he’s both been made aware of and gets what the club is about. With that in mind let’s take a look at five players currently in our ranks that Jose Mourinho could thrust onto the production line and into the limelight in the following season and what they could offer.
The Democratic Republic of Congo-born, Rochdale raised, Tuanzebe is a name becoming more known amongst the ranks of Manchester United fans. He was the 2015 Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year and in winning the award he joined notable alumni, and it indicated, beyond the mere fact that he’d had a great season, just how highly rated he is by people within the club. The 18-year-old centre-back was an unused substitute away to Crystal Palace last season and you’d expect him to make it onto the pitch at some stage next season.
He appears to be next in line if an opportunity opens up in defence and it would be fair to assume to that if it wasn’t for an unfortunate injury sustained during the same time that van Gaal was handing out debuts liberally in the second half of the season, that he would have made his breakthrough already. He’s an outside shout for the pre-season tour and will be hoping for that opportunity to impress in less pressurised settings. Very comfortable on the ball and a no-nonsense tackler, Tuanzebe chance may soon be here.
Regular watchers of the United Under-21s will know the name and will also know why he deserves to make it onto the list. Manchester born, and a part of the dying breed of genuine box to box midfielders, his success at Old Trafford would be a true crowd pleaser. Joe’s future was in doubt after the end of the season prior to the news that he’d been offered a new deal; turning 22 in January, he’s one of the older players currently at the club not to ‘make it’ yet but the club still appear to also see what admirers of his do.
Ex-United player Darren Fletcher said about Rothwell two years ago that; “Once he develops physically, [he thinks] we’re going to have a good player on our hands.” Fletcher also likened him to Jesse Lingard in that we’d probably see the best of him in his early 20’s. This time appears to have come for Joe although time will whether or not he can crack into a side into a squad stockpiled with midfielders remains to be seen although the club clearly has some sort of plan for him. Like Tuanzebe, he was an unused substitute during the course of last season, against Watford and if the players ahead of him had secured a more comfortable score line he may have been afforded a run out but alas his wait continues. At the club since the age of six, he seems determined to make the grade and who’s to say Jose won’t give him a shot.
A name that a year ago, many that have watched him wouldn’t have expected to see on a list such as this, but such is his progress that he’s put himself in real contention should Mourinho look internally for a midfielder. Developing from gangly to rangy, Willock has honed his play style as well as his physique and now looks like a typical Mourinho midfielder that would impress the new boss should he cast his eye on the Under-21s.
Turning 20 near the beginning of the season, this will be a pivotal season for him and although a loan may well turn out to be on the cards, he will hoping that he can do enough before any potential move to show that he’s ready and stay in and around the first team picture. Released by Arsenal and the oldest of three brothers, whilst they try and make the grade back in London, Matty will be hoping that he can prove to be the one that got away for his former club by making his name at United.
A player with one of the highest ceilings out of the current young prospects, the skilful forward would be one of the favourites to make his debut next season if he can gain some needed fortune with injuries. Missing the majority of the last two seasons with injuries, local lad Mitchell will be hoping he can make up for lost time. Mainly playing on either wing but also adept up front, United’s official website has an apt description of Demetri’s capabilities as they call him “a potential game-changer [with] explosive pace [and] at his best in one-on-one situations.” He’s also got a penchant for the spectacular as well as being clinical when through on goal. A former Fletcher Moss Ranger, just like Borthwick-Jackson and Rashford, who he came up alongside, Mitchell has every right to feel that, bar injury, he would’ve been in the first team picture just like those two currently are but at 19 years old, time is still very much on his side.
A key member of the England Under-17 European Championship winning squad in 2014, he’s put in noteworthy performances for both club and country at youth level over the years, with a flair and drive that you can imagine the Old Trafford rising to their feet for. With a lack of quality on the wings a consistent problem over the last few years at United, he may well see an opening for himself although clarity will be provided in that situation once the summer transfer window has closed. However, now is the time for him to really make his mark, and if his performances at the tail-end of last season on his return to fitness are anything to go by, he’s ready to fulfil his potential and give Mourinho something to think about.
A player that is not necessarily expected to make his debut this coming season, but, given his rate of progression you wouldn’t put it past him to find himself fully in the first team picture after having a glimpse at it from the bench at home against West Ham and Liverpool in the FA Cup and Europa League respectively. He is another player that started out at Fletcher Moss, a club that also previously brought Danny Welbeck and Wes Brown to United’s attention.
No review of Williams is complete without mention of the 25-year-old 100m school record previously held by Olympian Darren Campbell that he smashed. This shows just how quick he is, a valuable asset for a centre back although not the first position you’d expect that pace to be utilised but his defensive skills and capability in bringing the ball mean that he’s best suited to his current position although there’s an argument to be had for a future at fullback, where he’s appeared a few times. Forming a formidable partnership with Axel Tuanzebe, he will be hoping that they can eventually play next to each other at senior level but more immediately, that he can make the step up himself next season.