Throughout history, youth development at Manchester United has been a fundamental aspect of the club. The inspirational class of 92 is a testament to this. The class of 92 came five years after Sir Alex Ferguson’s arrival at United, establishing themselves as the spine of Ferguson’s team for much of his fruitful reign. United have continued to focus their efforts on the development of their youth, but the class of 92 remains a class above. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Phil Neville were promoted to the first team that season, starting a period of dominance proving numerous critics wrong. Since then, academy members have failed to make an impact in the same way.
Danny Welbeck, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Wes Brown, Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and John O’shea arguably have been the only United success stories since the infamous class of 92. Cleverley, McNair, Danny Drinkwater, Michael Keane and Welbeck departed before they should have, mostly due to lack of acknowledgment from their managers. But with Manchester United stressing increased efforts towards the youth academy, another potentially world-class cluster of youth could soon be gracing the pitch at Old Trafford.
Who are the ones to watch; potentially breaking into the first team over the next few years?
Tahith Chong: Tahith Chong, 17, recently joined in the Summer. United scouts were seriously impressed by the Dutch winger during a youth tournament in the Netherlands. The ex-Feyenoord youth member won the player of the tournament award scoring and assisting on numerous occasions. With a stand out appearance, blistering pace and wicked flair, Chong has all the ingredients to make it to the first team. Before suffering a devastating injury, which has kept him for most of the season, he showcased enough talent in the few games he played for reds to see his potential. Direct, fast and confident, the Dutch wonder kid is reminiscent of a young Giggs.
Ro-Shaun Williams: Ro-Shaun Williams, 18, is an exceptionally athletic defender. Still at school during the 2014/15 season, The youngster racked up 27 appearances in the U18 side, earning himself captaincy when Axel Tuanzebe was promoted to the U23’s. A few months later, however, Williams became Tuanzebe’s defensive partner in the u21s, capping off a remarkable climb. The Mancunian’s pace is well noted throughout the city, with Williams breaking a 25-year 100m sprint record at his sports school. Behind Tuanzebe in the pecking order, Williams is likely to be the next defender promoted into the first team. The prospect of his athleticism alongside Eric Bailly is frightening.
Indy Boonen: Indy Boonen, 18, joined United in Summer, 2015. The Belgian attacking player has hugely impressed since joining, scoring 13 goals and registering 10 assists in his last 30 games. His all-round ability, football intelligence, and natural finishing ability is what makes the Belgian standout. His coach last season said; “Maybe one of the best finishers in the group. He’s a wide player, not a traditional winger really, but someone who likes to get in the box. He’s really good off both feet and not bad in the air; a really instinctive finisher. He’s a bubbly character as well and one who, I think, has got a fair bit of physical development to come. If he keeps his head down, he can go in the right direction in the next couple of years.” Enjoying playing at United and developing great relationships with teammates, Indy Boonen can continue to fulfill his potential.
DJ Buffonge: DJ Buffonge, 18, is a versatile attacking player. He signed for United after completing a successful trial in 2015. Last season, the versatile winger scored once and assisted seven times in just 13 games, making an instant impact for the U18’s. This season, Buffonge scored seven goals and registered six assists in 17 games for the U18’s, before getting promoted to the U21’s where he has only played a few games. After playing in a number of roles for the u18s, including the center of midfield, his coach McKenna commented: “He’s a talented boy – a versatile attacker or midfielder with really quick feet. He can beat people in one-v-one situations and is certainly a talent. We’re constantly pushing him as hard as we can to find some consistency and keep matching up his ability with his work-rate. When he has that application, he has shown he is a big, big talent who can really affect games so it’s something we’ll keep pushing him with.” The London-born youngster is a huge prospect for the reds, who desperately want to see him fulfill his potential.
Angel Gomes: Angel Gomes, 16, has been the most talked about member of United’s academy ever since he arrived at Carrington in 2013. During last season’s Youth Cup, Gomes won the most valuable player award, despite the team getting knocked out midway through the competition. He’s featured for the U18’s ever since he was a schoolboy, making his debut at a ripe age of just 14. The attacking player can play anywhere across the front line, however, Nicky Butt and many other have recently started to extract all his potential in the no.10 role. Since the start of last season, Gomes has scored 15 goals and registered 13 assists in 27 starts, dominating at his age level. Despite being massively praised, he sets the bar high for himself, saying in an interview: “In five years’ time, I would like to be playing professionally for Manchester United. Winning titles is huge for me. I want to play international football, play in World Cups and European Championships. I want to be the best player at my age level. I set myself high standards and try to push myself to play at the highest level.” Cousin of Nani, idoliser of Cristiano Ronaldo, Angel Gomes is a Manchester United fan and a talent that fans are bursting to get a glimpse of.
Written by Faaris Johal