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Ones To Watch: Lee O’Connor, the new John O’Shea

Ireland U15’s Player of the Year, Lee O’Connor signed a three-year contract early this year and agreed to join the club this summer from Villa FC. Manchester United were interested on him since David Moyes was in charge and there were also attempts to sign him during Van Gaal’s first season but only after Nicky Butt became the head of the academy his signing was made possible.

When Butt was appointed head chief he stated that a lot of changes would be made in the academy that would include the signing of many players among academy ranks:

“We’re short on a few numbers in the different age groups and it’s something we need to address. Something we are addressing and something we will hopefully get over the line in the next few weeks, in time for next season. It’s the same as any other club. We all want to attract the best young players in Europe, at whatever age, and we’re exactly the same. We want to attract the best players we can from all over Europe and bring them into what we feel is already a great set-up.”

His signing came after United completed the signing of Matthew Olosunde and later signed Nishan Burkart and Tahith Chong, all reinforcements for the U18s that were in urgent need for new players. It has been a great season so fa for the U18s as they are title contenders sitting second in the league and their performances make them an interesting side to watch and the Irish youngster has been a key part in the team. He has made 11 starts this season, 1 substitute appearance scoring one goal and assisting twice.

Speaking about the decision of signing for United he wasn’t afraid to admit that he didn’t think it twice. Manchester United is a huge opportunity for any youngster of his age and when they knock on you door, you simply can’t say no:

“I suppose for me in the end it wasn’t a very difficult decision to make. From the moment I went over to Manchester United, I just knew that there was no point me thinking about signing for any other club and I always wanted to go there.” 

He is just 16 years old and is one of the youngest players in the side along with U18s teammate Angel Gomes and so far it has gone really well for him. He has clear targets on his mind and one of them is developing as a player:

“I want to develop as a football player and I want to become the best player that I can be by signing for one of the biggest clubs in world football. It was the best place for me to go. It’s the place with the best coaches and the best facilities so in that way, it was easy.”

He has been lucky to train with the likes of Marcus Rashford and just like him he is looking forward to train hard and play in the first team. Being clear in what he wants, O’Connor knows that a club like Manchester United is careful in the choices they make and the fact that he attracted this team means that he is really good and will take every single chance to show that he is worth it:

“When I went over to Manchester United I was lucky enough to train with the likes of Marcus Rashford and I’ve met many of the top players but the thing is I’ve signed for Manchester United in the hope of playing for the first-team. I’m going there because I want to play football. I want to play for the first-team of Manchester United and I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t be making this move unless I felt that I was good enough. I don’t think that Manchester United would want me to sign for them either if that’s what they didn’t want me to do.”  

When being compared to former red John O’Shea, the lad remains calm making it clear that it’s early to make these comparisons as he hasn’t done anything so far and needs to work really hard to achieve what he wants:

“When I hear people compare me to him, it’s unreal to hear that but I’ve achieved nothing yet. I haven’t done anything yet and while this move is one that I’m really looking forward too, it’s not something that has really phased me. The next three years of my life will dictate my future in the game of football but I’m willing to work so hard.”

He has also done well with his national in the U17’s level making six appearances in the UEFA U17 Championship qualifiers assisting his teammates in two of these games. His former coach is full of praise for him saying that he is an excellent player noting that he has a competitive spirit.

This season Lee O’Connor has been excellent, doing great, being one of the best players in the pitch, constantly switching sides when being asked in the full-back position. He really enjoys going forward, always being a threat for the opponent and most importantly covers well the opposing side in the final third, doing an amazing work and always working hard.

It can be said that he is really special. He goes unnoticed several times and it may be early to compare him with another Academy star Joe Riley, but the sparks are there and there are a lot of positive things coming on from the Irish youngster and all fans are looking forward for his chances.

With years still to play in the academy levels Lee O’Connor has a lot to offer. Having a manager like Kieran McKenna taking care of him, O’Connor is one of the possible candidates that will make the break in the first team. Joe Riley is currently injured and despite the choices Nicky Butt may have a good choice on Lee O’Connor and with the late campaign of promoting players from the U18s into the Reserves the Irish full-back may also feature next year in the remaining games of the season.

Written by Fabiola Cejku

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