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Progress report on Indy Boonen, the U23’s newest goalscorer

Last season, Indy Boonen got Manchester United fans buzzing when this unbelievable [Johan] Cruyff turn led to a goal against the Everton U18 team. Almost a year later, he’s been promoted to the Reserves side on a permanent basis, scoring his first goal against Swansea U23 in a similar fashion. Both chances started with an excellent run from Boonen on the left side of the penalty box. Against Everton, he had his initial shot saved by goalkeeper Chris Renshaw but he kept the ball in play and used an incredible piece of skill to set-up Nishan Burkart for an easy tap-in. Against Swansea City, although his initial attempt to beat his defender failed, the defender’s poor clearance led to a blocked Joshua Bohui shot. Again, Boonen didn’t give up on the play and scored after a mini-scramble in the penalty area.

Boonen’s determination, both on and off the pitch, will serve him well as he aims to make his breakthrough to the Manchester United first team. Technically, he is a skillful dribbler and a decent finisher (13 goals in 40 appearances at U18 level). He isn’t an out-and-out forward, with his ability to find space and create chances for his teammates (11 assists at U18) allowing him to play anywhere on a front-three or as a number ten. The young Belgian is far from a finished product, but he has definitely made strides since joining from Genk in February 2015.

2015/16 Season

Boonen had to wait several months after signing his contract to be included in the Manchester United U18 matchday squad for the first time in September 2015, albeit as an unused substitute. He made his debut the following game as a substitute against Wolverhampton Wanderers U18. He would make his next appearance two months later, making his way into the starting XI against Derby County U18. That marked the beginning of a promising youth career at the Aon Training Complex as he started the next six league games, scoring two goals. In this stretch, he was played on both flanks and as a striker.

Boonen would rotate between different attacking positions throughout his Manchester United youth career, able to influence the game from various positions. He would end the season with a bang, scoring a goal against Southampton U18 from an Angel Gomes through-ball. It was a sign of more things to come from a budding partnership. He made a total of 16 appearances (four as a substitute) that season, chipping in seven goals and four assists. At international level, he would represent the Belgium U17 team in the U17 European Championships, finishing as quarter-finalists. 

2016/17 Season

Boonen would build on his momentum from the previous season and establish himself as a regular in Keiran McKenna’s side during his second season at U18s, totalling six goals and seven assists in 24 total appearances (four as a substitute). He would develop an excellent understanding with Gomes to the lead the U18 team to a second-place finish in the league. His performances at U18 level caught the eye of Reserves manager Nicky Butt, as he made his reserves debut against Leicester City U23’s. Unfortunately, his debut was cut short by injury. His performances during the season has been drawn in comparison to United legend Ryan Giggs, who terrorize defenders on the left-wing in his younger days. However, while both players are left-footed and are good dribblers, Boonen projects more as a player able to perform better in a free-role rather than an out-and-out winger.

2017/18 Season and Beyond

In the three games played so far, Boonen has started every game in the hole behind the striker. He’s put in good performances thus far, settling in comfortably in Premier League 2. With the freedom afforded to him in attack, he should target similar outputs (five goals, five assists) to his previous two seasons with the U18 team. It is highly unlikely he would get his first-team breakthrough this season given the myriad of options available to Jose Mourinho, but excellent performances at Premier League 2 level might provide an opportunity for the Belgian to impress his manager during the next pre-season.

While Boonen’s versatility can afford him opportunities early in his career, holding down a position would help him develop into a top-class player. In terms of how Boonen might fit in a Mourinho system, he can model his game in the mould of a Henrikh Mkhitaryan-Juan Mata hybrid to maximize his strengths as a roaming playmaker. Physically, he would need be stronger to prepare himself for the Premier League grind, either on loan next season or otherwise. He would also need to improve his work rate on defense, as that appears to be a basic requirement for any player under Mourinho. With Boonen actually playing a bit of left-back during his time at Genk, there is potential for him to perform in a wing-back role when needed.

Given the amount of young attacking talent Manchester United currently has in its first team and its Academy, Indy Boonen’s path to regular first team football will be a difficult one. However, given the determination and development he has shown in the past couple of years, he is a talent to look out for in the future. Is Indy Boonen the next Ryan Giggs? Probably not. But he definitely has the potential to endear himself to the Old Trafford faithful.

Written by Justin Collera

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