Manchester United have a great history of producing players from the academy and for more than 80 years, at least one of these graduates has been involved in a match day squad. From the days of the Busby Babes to the Fergie Fledglings to now, United have impressive youth players.
When things are not going too well with the club, after five managers post-Sir Alex Ferguson and almost a decade passing since their last Premier League title, it may be time to start blooding in more youth in the first team to provide a platform the the future.
With United on the verge of another management appointment in the summer, with many being linked to the role, especially Erik ten Hag, currently of Ajax in the Netherlands, plus the fact that no Champions League football could result in a lower transfer budget, United should promote now.
Here are five academy players that could provide United with a strong youth core in the not too distant future. I mean, some supporters of the club, including myself, would love to see some or all of these players promoted to the first team now.
Alvaro Fernandez – Left-Back, 18
The soon to be 19-year-old (23 March) is a youth international (U19 level) for his native Spain. He signed for United in the summer of 2020 with both Barcelona and Manchester City said to be interested in signing him as he left Real Madrid.
In his debut season, 2020/21, Fernandez made a total of 30 appearances, scoring three goals and six assists. During the current season, 2021/22, the left-back has so far made 26 appearances, scoring four goals and six assists at various youth levels.
He is a natural left-back but has also played in the left midfield position a few times, showing that he can be more of an attacking player at times of hardship for the club, when other players are injured for instance. That is a good thing for young players to have.
It is possible that Fernandez could take on both Luke Shaw, 26, and Alex Telles, 29, for the left-back position in the first team. Granted, he might not be of the right build for the Premier League and beyond, but allowing him the opportunity could be good for both the player and United.
Charlie Savage – Defensive Midfielder, 18
The 18-year-old midfielder, the son of former United academy player Robbie Savage, signed his first professional contract with the club at the age of 17. Since then, he has become a player that has a good future ahead of him and his family are very proud of that.
Savage made his debut at youth level in the 2019/20 season, making one appearance. The following season, 2020/21, he made 27 appearances, scoring three goals and assisting seven. During the current season, 2021/22, Savage has 24 appearances, one goal and two assists ti his name.
The 18-year-old predominantly plays as a defensive midfielder but can also fill the central midfield position. At this time, United have problems with the midfield with Paul Pogba out of contract at the end of the season and Nemanja Matic getting no younger.
United could be left with Fred, Scott McTominay, a role model of the youngster and Bruno Fernandes in the midfield. Whilst James Garner could be given his chance, packing the squad with options would be good for Savage and United moving forward.
Hannibal Mejbri – Attacking Midfielder, 19
Joined United in the summer of 2019 as a 17-year-old, the French-born Tunisian was always going to be a future name in the game. AS Monaco accepted almost £10 million for the teenager and it was money well spent for United, considering his career so far.
In his debut season, 2019/20, Hannibal made 19 appearances, scoring one goal and six assists. He always wanted to play for the first team, setting a two-year plan of action in place. In the 2020/21 season, he made 26 appearances, scoring five goals and 10 assists.
During he 2020/21 season, he made his Premier League debut under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. So far this season, 2021/22, Hannibal has so far made eight appearances, scoring one goal and three assists. He has been involved in first team training, also been involved in match day squads.
Whilst it is still early days for the Tunisian international, his recent experience playing for his country in the FIFA Arab Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations will have given him lots of experience. He is a player chomping at the bit and at some stage this season, he will get first team football.
Alejandro Garnacho – Left Winger, 17
Arriving from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2020, Garnacho has really produced some great performances for his age and is rightly so one of the prospects in the academy. Currently, despite being born in Madrid, Spain he has been called up to Argentina’s senior side this month.
During his debut season, 2020/21, Garnacho made 18 appearances, scoring seven goals and four assists. So far this season, 2021/22, he has made 25 appearances, scoring 10 goals and five assists. It is only right that he is a player that has many eyes on him for the future.
When he travels to Argentina, he will be training and perhaps playing with the likes of Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martinez for matches against Venezuela and Ecuador. He qualifies for the country through his mother. He has only played for Spain at youth level.
Whilst that could be a loss for Spain, is will be a gain for Argentina. Perhaps the experience at international level, whether he plays or not, could see him rise into the first team for United before the age of 18 (1 July). He has the talent but can he bring it to the bigger stage?
Charlie McNeill – Centre-Forward, 18
The Manchester City academy player signed for United in the summer of 2020 for a fee in the region of £750,000, crossing the city divide. It was even said that he had scored more than 600 goals at various youth levels for the club, which is some feat.
The 18-year-old centre-forward has been a great signing for United, who will no doubt need forwards to rise through to the first team in the not too distant future. Granted, not all youth players will make it at the club, as has been shown from the past – hopefully McNeill does though.
During his debut season at United, 2020/21, he made 25 appearances, scoring 25 goals and six assists. So far this season, 2021/21, he has made 24 appearances, scoring 11 goals and four assists. McNeill is a great prospect at United and working hard will get him where he wants to be.
In the not too distant future though, United will be enduring yet another change of direction with sixth new manager at the club and perhaps that will give the likes of McNeill and his youth teammates a chance to show what they can do at first team level.
Written by John Walker