In February 2015, Manchester United completed the signing is then 16-year-old Indy Boonen on a three-year contract after a successful trial with the club. The Belgian, an attacking midfielder who can also play as a left-back spend three weeks at the club’s AON Training Complex before being offered a deal. This was at a time where United was running short of young potential in the club, with the Academy needing to be overhauled, perhaps not as big an overhaul as many journalists who have aligned themselves with Manchester City would have you believe. Former Manchester United midfielder Nicky Butt, one of the famous Class of ’92 was drafted in as the overall head of the Academy, doing a grand job in bringing in and overseeing training within the youth ranks, fortifying the club with the talent they needed, in order to nurture into possible first team players in the future.
Boonen fits that bill in that he comes highly rated by his former club, Genk. Both Adnan Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini played a part in bringing Boonen to the Old Trafford club, being that they are fellow countrymen. Boonen, along with the likes of Angel Gomes, Lee O’Connor, Luca Ercolani, DJ Buffonge, Joshua Bohui and Tahith Chong could all be the players who see United’s U18 side snap out of the rut they were in last season, dominating and turning their misfortune around. At the time he signed for United, Boonen spoke to Belgian newspaper HLN, saying:
“It’s like in a dream. The training sessions are hard but I don’t feel the tiredness when I realise I have signed for Manchester United.”
Last season, Boonen made 16 appearances for Manchester United in the Barclays U18 Premier League, 12 of them starts, four from the bench. The talented Belgian scored seven goals in those appearances, also assisting in a further four goals, which is a good debut season for the now 17-year-old. Boonen comes from a footballing family with his father, Jacky Boonen a professional footballer with Lierse, Lokeren, and Beveren, despite the fact he says his son is a more talented player in the family, with his brother Seppe Boonen a talented goalkeeper. Boonen, like many young players, took his time to settle at the Old Trafford club, but during his debut season, made an on-field connection with Angel Gomes, and then started scoring on a regular basis, including a hat-trick against Newcastle United. Only Marcus Rashford, 13 goals, and one assist, netted more than Boonen in the U18’s last season.
Boonen is described by Manchester United as a ‘neat finisher’ with ‘all-round ability’ and can be expected to be a ‘leading light’ at this level, especially after gaining more experience with the Belgium U17 side, which headed to the European U17 Championships in the summer, exiting at the quarter-final stage after being beaten 1-0 by Germany. Belgium beat Scotland 2-0, with Boonen coming on in the 67th minute of the match, drew 1-1 with Azerbaijan, with Boonen coming on in the 75th minute, drew 0-0 with Portugal, the eventual champions, with Boonen starting and being substituted in the final minutes of the match, with Boonen again starting against Germany, being substituted in the 52nd minute of the match.
Boonen will have gained more experience playing the likes of Scotland, Azerbaijan, Portugal and Germany, despite the loss against the finalists. This season, with Manchester United’s Academy looking to get much stronger, Boonen will be a better player for it. The opening match of the season away to Derby County in the Premier League U18 was not the start the player, or Manchester United for that matter, would have wanted. United fell to a 4-0 defeat with the young Rams scoring twice in each half. Thomas Sang was sent-off for United after the break, which was not the best start to the second half after seeing themselves 2-0 down. Boonen did not play 90 minutes, in fact he did not start. He replaced new teammate Joshua Bohui at the start of the second half, with United looking to limit the damage against them, but the substitution did not work out.
OI am sure Boonen will be one to watch for the future, a player should not be judged on a team performance, which is what many are doing. Boonen, like Chong, Bohui, Callum Gribbin, Tyrell Warren and many others are bright sparks in the Manchester United Academy and they will only get better. In order to be a winner, you do need to appreciate being defeated, as no team who has won continuously will become a good winner. Losing is something that happens in football, all teams suffer defeats whether they were deserved of not. Manchester United are stronger at the U18 level this season, there are still a few players waiting on international clearance who have already been signed, and United could still have the feelers out for new talent, which will only be for the better. Indy Boonen will be a name you will hear more often as the season goes on, possibly with him making the grade for the U23 side next season, if not before.