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Ethan Galbraith: One to Watch – the future for Manchester United’s midfield?

Manchester United have a grand tradition of promoting youth, with the club having an unrivalled academy record of having at least one youth graduate in the first team squad since 1937, which is well over 4000 games. 

This rich tradition means that there is constant talk amongst fans of the club about who is going to be the next player to graduate from the Academy into the first team, more recently these players have been Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams, and Dean Henderson. 

However, there are players some fans overlook when discussing prospects for the future, and one of those is midfielder Ethan Galbraith. 

Galbraith was signed after representing Linfield in Northern Ireland and impressing in a trial at United in 2017, as reported by the club. The then 16 year old  impressed immediately in the under 18’s team, helping the side win the U18 Premier League North title, with it being his goal against Manchester City that sealed the title for the young team.

After proving his talent with the U23’s in 2019, Galbraith received his first international call up for Northern Ireland, going on to make his debut at the age of 18 against Luxemburg, before making an appearance for United’s senior team. 

Representing his country at such a young age shows the talent the midfielder possess, with Manager Michael O’Neill naming Galbraith ‘A lovely player, so easy on the eye’ when speaking to press after the youngsters debut.

Like many United youngsters, Galbraith was handed his senior debut in a Europa League game against Astana in 2019, the midfielder only received two minutes on his debut. In the 2020/21 season, Galbraith did not make any senior appearances but did impress at Under 23 level once more, scoring three goals and getting one assist within 17 appearances from the defensive midfield position. It appeared Galbraith was ready for the next step. 

That next step in his career arrived in the form of a loan move to League One side Doncaster Rovers, when the loan move was announced, Doncaster Rovers reported that manager Richie Wellens was delighted, with the manager stating ‘we’ve secured a top footballer’

It seems as though the manager does rate Galbraith highly as since his arrival in August the youngster has made 16 appearances in all competitions, this is particularly rare as he plays in defensive midfield, a notoriously hard position to play for inexperienced players, especially in a league as tough as league one where practically every game is a battle. 

Galbraith has made himself popular amongst Doncaster fans, with the defensive midfielder beginning to chip in with goals and assists, currently with one goal and two assists to his name in all competitions for Doncaster.

He’s also been named Man of the Match multiple times during his time at the club, proving that his ability is starting to shine through in a league in which many young Academy players become overwhelmed, this shows that Galbraith also has great resilience.  

It appears Galbraith’s loan to Doncaster has allowed the midfielder to reach a new level in both ability and game management, the experience he will receive from a season playing regular football in League One is practically irreplaceable and may stand him in good stead to make his way into the first team squad next season. 

Still only 20 years old, Galbraith has time, especially after he signed a new contract at Manchester United in 2020 that will keep him at the club until June 2023, as reported by the club

One thing is for certain, every Manchester United fan should have Ethan Galbraith on their radar as one to watch from the academy, he is a player who not only seems incredibly gifted, but who seems built for competitive games. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Weekly Roundup: Solskjaer under pressure? Bad week for Manchester United with two high scoring defeats; U18’s and U19’s both win

The past week has been very mixed for Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team were beaten 5-0 by Liverpool at Old Trafford, which is a sickening defeat, especially in the way that the ‘team’ played. It may not look good for Solskjaer at this time with speculation linking him to being sacked and talk of Zinedine Zidane and Antonio Conte being linked to the job in the media, not to mention the so-called fans who have dreamed about United losing like this for weeks, still claiming that they care about the club, which is not going to be the case. They care about their agenda and want to be right – nothing more.

During the past week, United have been in action in the U18 Premier League Cup, a match that was cancelled from last week and played over the weekend. United were also in action in the UEFA Youth League, fielding an U19 side, which like the U18’s, won the game by the same 4-2 scoreline. It was the U23’s and the first team that let United down though as they both suffered devastating defeats with the U23’s losing 6-0 away to West Ham United and the first team losing to their bitter rivals, Liverpool. United did beat Atalanta 3-2 in the Champions League days before they faced Liverpool.

The women’s team were not in action this week because of the international break – they will be back in action in just under a fortnight.

Manchester United 4-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers

U18 Premier League Cup

Carrington, Manchester

This was a match that should have been played last week, but traffic saw it postponed and moved to Saturday, when United were scheduled to face Wolverhampton Wanderers in the U18 Premier League. Travis Binnion picked a strong side which included a young bench with two 15-year-olds and two 14-year-olds, one of the former being none other than Zack Giggs, the son of United legend Ryan Giggs, making his debut at U18 level in added time. Rhys Bennett assisted by Daniel Gore opened the scoring in the 21st minute of the match with Isak Hansen-Aaroen, assisted by Alejandro Garnacho doubling the lead in the 33rd minute of the match.

In the second half, Wolves scored a penalty in the 54th minute, equalising in the 86th minute, which gave United more to do to win the match in the cup competition. Charlie McNeill, assisted by Bennett put United 3-2 in the lead in the 89th minute, seemingly certain of winning the match, but then came Maxi Oyedele, who put United two goals clear in the fifth minute of added time. United are scheduled to face West Bromwich Albion in the cup on the 27 November. United have never won this cup, Chelsea won it in the inaugural season with Manchester City winning it the next two seasons – it was not contested last season due to Covid.

Manchester United 4-2 Atalanta

UEFA Youth League

Leigh Sports Village, Manchester

United’s U19’s were back in action following their 4-1 defeat to Villarreal in the last match, seeking to change their form in the competition this season. As United’s first team were set to face Atalanta at Old Trafford in the evening, the U19’s faced the Italian club at Leigh Sports Village in the afternoon. United started in great stead but Simeone Panada opened the scoring two minutes before Zidane Iqbal equalised, assisted by Isak Hansen-Aaroen in the 22nd minute of the match. Just two minutes later,  Joe Hugill, assisted by Alejandro Garnacho doubled United’s lead. In the 30th minute of the match, Garnacho got himself on the scoresheet.

In the second half, United continued their good performance and scored their fourth and final goal in the 63rd minute, scored by Omari Forson and assisted by Alvaro Fernandez. Atalanta got a late consolation in added time, scored by Tommaso De Nipoti. United sit second in the group after three matches and will face Atalanta in the competition next week as they look to continue their good form and have a chance of getting out of the group this season. Neil Wood’s side may be affected by injury but they have some quality players at this level and they will keep performing for United.

West Ham United 6-0 Manchester United

Premier League 2

Rush Green, London

United have not had a good season at this level. It has been a mixed start with just four wins, two draws and two defeat in the eight matches played before this one and this United side were missing many players with injuries at U23 and U18 level which needed to be managed, meaning eligible players moving down a level. This was a devastating defeat for United – and not the first big defeat this season. United had already lost 4-2 to Manchester City and 3-1 to Arsenal – but this one would hurt, especially added to the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool the first team suffered. United were 3-0 down at the end of the first half with Teden Mengi scoring an own goal.

In the second half, United conceded three more goals, also seeing Alvaro Fernandez sent off, meaning he will be missing for the clash with Spurs on Saturday, which will be a big blow for Neil Wood’s side. United sit in sixth place in the Premier League 2 Division One at this stage of the season, earning 14 points in nine matches, similar to the first team in the Premier League. The U23’s have scored just 15 goals, conceding 17 so far, having a goal difference of -2 at this stage, needing a lot of improvement ahead of the remainder of the season. United are just six points off the summit though, so there is still a lot to play for this season.

Manchester United 3-2 Atalanta

UEFA Champions League

Old Trafford, Manchester

After beating Villarreal in the second group stage match of the Champions League this season, losing to Young Boys in the first, United were back in the hunt to get out of the group stages this season, having failed last season – falling into the Europa League, only to fail to beat Villarreal in the final. United needed all three points against this Atalanta side, who had injury problems and would suffer more during the match. That did not help Solskjaer’s side who found themselves 2-0 down at half time following a poor first half performance. This looked like a disaster for United and Solskjaer did not look too happy heading to the dressing room.

A different United side came out in the second half, with Marcus Rashford (53′) and Harry Maguire (75′) getting United level in a sublime second half performance, only for Cristiano Ronaldo to win the game for United in the 81st minute of the match. It had been a turbulent time for United over the past month with defeats to West Ham United (Carabao Cup), Aston Villa, a 1-1 draw with Everton and a 4-2 defeat to Leicester City (all in the Premier League). This saw United rise again but it would be a turbulent time as the upcoming matches were going to be tough for United with Liverpool, Spurs, Atalanta and Manchester City all on the horizon.

Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool

Premier League

Old Trafford, Manchester

This was the match that everyone was waiting for. The North West derby against United’s bitter rivals – Liverpool. United failed to beat Jurgen Klopp’s side in the Premier League last season and this season was going to be tough based on the form of the visiting side and the lack of confidence in this United side. Solskjaer was determined to prove his doubters wrong but that did not happen. United were 3-0 down at the end of the first half after Naby Keita, Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah all scored. Solskjaer brought Paul Pogba on as the only change during the half time break but that was nothing but a hinderance for United.

Salah completed a hat-trick, scoring twice in the second half and 11 minutes after completing their 5-0 rout, Pogba was sent off for a bad foul on Keita, who was stretchered off the pitch. United were dire. A combination of defensive errors, a lack of commitment, determination, ability and more importantly, respect for this great club was the cause of this defeat. United had chances in the match, scoring in the second half through Ronaldo, but he was ruled offside. United were not good enough and with no match this week until Spurs on Saturday, the external pressure would be intense for Solskjaer, his coaches and the players.

What lies ahead for Manchester United this week?

England’s Lionesses face Latvia in a World Cup qualifier at 18:30 BST on Tuesday evening and the likes of Ella Toone, Mary Earps, Katie Zelem, Alessia Russo and Lucy Staniforth will be hoping to have some involvement in the match. Norway face Belgium at 18:30 BST and Vilde Boe Risa and Maria Thorisdottir will be hoping to be involved. Jackie Groenen’s Netherlands face Belarus at 17:30 BST, Ona Batlle’s Spain take on Ukraine at 15:00 BST with Hayley Ladd’s Wales facing Estonia at 19:15 BST. United’s Women’s players will all be seeking to help earn places in the World Cup in 2023.

Facundo Pellistri’s Deportivo Alaves will take on Elche at 18:00 BST on Tuesday and he will be hoping to have some involvement in that match, having played 56 minutes in the 2-0 victory over Cadiz on Saturday – but he has only played a total of 328 minutes of first team football for the club so far this season, not scoring or assisting any goals thus far.

Wednesday will mark the 89th birthday of the late Harry Gregg – the hero of the Munich air disaster and supporters old and young will be remembering the former goalkeeper who gave a lot more to this club than anyone could possible imagine.

On Thursday, United will be stepping up their preparations for their Premier League encounter with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday evening – which could add more gloom and doom to the club, or see this United side hold their heads high and fight for their futures, as this poor run of domestic matches has not just been caused by the manager and the coaches – the players have their part to play in this also. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, if he survives the week, will face the media on Friday for a pre-match press conference.

Also on Friday, former United goalkeeper Edwin van de Sar will celebrate his 51st birthday. The Premier League and UEFA Champions League double winner in the 2007/08 season is currently the chief executive for Ajax, who seem to be continuing the clubs good history in the Netherlands, handing out big defeats to Borussia Dortmund (4-0) in the Champions League and PSV Eindhoven (5-0) in the Eredivisie in the past week.

On Saturday, the U18’s will face Derby County away in the U18 Premier League, kicking off at 12:00 BST. The U23’s will also be in action, seeking to make a come back from their 6-0 defeat to the Hammers, this time facing Spurs at 12:00 BST – the U18’s will be broadcast live on MUTV with U23 highlights at some point over the weekend. Solskjaer’s first team will also face Spurs, kicking off at 17:30 BST with United expected to kick back from their 5-0 defeat to Liverpool.

Saturday will also make a year since World Cup (1966) and European Cup winner (1968) Nobby Stiles died with many paying their respects to the legendary Manchester United midfielder. He was one of the clubs greats who helped United to achieve the massive feat of winning the European Cup in 1968, a decade after Munich, which was, at the time, seen as the end for United. The phoenix will always rise from the flames.

On Sunday, United legend Denis Irwin celebrates his 56th birthday. The treble winner is a highly respected former player and ambassador for the club. I am sure many supporters of the club will wish him well. Marcus Rashford will also celebrate his 24th birthday on Sunday, and hopefully United will get a good result against Spurs to help him celebrate on style.

The past week may have been a bad one for Manchester United, but it will get better, but it may get worse before that happens. If the club stick by the manager, as they have done in the not too distant past, the manager and the player’s will need to stick together. Granted, changes are needed but under Solskjaer, United have a good plan and the Norwegian has bettered United since Jose Mourinho was sacked. That cannot be disagreed, no matter who you are talking too. Even the fans with an agenda will realise that soon.

Written by John Walker

Alvaro Fernandez: A Future Star for Manchester United?

It’s been a busy few months at Manchester United with a fresh set of arrivals in the summer transfer window and a new season kicking off. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finds himself with the most competitive squad since the start of his reign, strengthened by world class arrivals such as Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

However, it’s not just the first team that has looked stronger as of late, with 18-year-old Alvaro Fernandez impressing in United’s U23 squad. The young Spanish defender has arguably been the standout player in the youth setup in the last few months.

Fernandez who was signed from Real Madrid in 2020, has already scored two goals this season and has caught the eye of Solskjaer. Fernandez was recently seen training with the First Team in one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s first training sessions with United since returning. The youngster took to social media to express his excitement to be learning off the best, the pair sharing a connection in the sense they both spent time at Madrid.

However, it was Fernandez’s lack of assurance over opportunities and a desire to prove himself in the Premier League that led him to Manchester, and it seems the gamble is paying off for him. 

The Spaniard spent a small portion of time in the U18s before graduating to the U23s, and the recent callup to First Team training is indicative of the club’s appreciation of the player. It’s another testament to the club’s ability to guide and integrate youth players with potential, with Fernandez being able to adapt to the English game relatively quickly.

The progress of the left-back has been described as dizzying, and this is in spite of a coronavirus setback over Christmas. The full-back is a very technical player with a massive attacking threat, which is partly why he can secure several goals and assists from left-back.

Fernandez is the kind of player that would get the Old Trafford faithful off their seats with bombing runs forwards, not too dissimilar to Luke Shaw. 

Now it looks like Fernandez is back up to full fitness and progressing even further, although it’s unlikely that the promotion to First Team training is on a permanent basis for the time being. Fernandez will likely have ambitions to feature for the First Team within the next few seasons though, his ambition justified by his performances.

While it would be very difficult to break in and feature as a starter consistently, it’s not beyond possibility that there could be an opportunity as a backup left-back.

Obviously, Luke Shaw is the established starter at left-back, after an incredible last 18 months that was capped by a goal in the Euro 2020 final. On the contrast, the backup slot for this position isn’t as nailed on, as Alex Telles has failed to properly establish himself as a United player for a myriad of reasons. 

The Brazilian is currently out injured, and with Brandon Williams now on loan to Norwich for the season, United could end up being short in the fullback position if Telles can’t stay fit consistently. This could then open a pathway for a senior callup for young Fernandez, an opportunity to impress Solskjaer even further on a bigger stage. 

Even if Fernandez is not required for the First Team this season, there could be a better opportunity next year with some more experience under his belt. Additionally, it is unclear whether Telles will stay at the club beyond this season as the Brazilian may seek to find a move that offers more regular game time.

This could then lead to a battle between Williams and Fernandez to take up the vacant slot, although there is also the chance of United going into the transfer market for a more experienced option.

Whatever happens over the next year or so it’s clear that Fernandez has a bright future in the world of football. A callup to the U19s Spanish national team is on the cards, and recognition at United means that the future is looking brighter and brighter for the 18-year-old.

It’s only fitting that if the youngster continues to impress with his performances that he is afforded more opportunities to train with the First Team, learning from the likes of Shaw and Ronaldo, and at the end of the day, there isn’t many better to learn from.

Written by Sam Wilson

Rise to Fame: Joe Hugill – from Sunderland to rising star at Manchester United

Joe Hugill signed for Manchester United from Sunderland in the summer of 2020 for a fee in the region of £300,000. Instantly Hugill was a hit for United, starting in the U18 Premier League against Blackburn Rovers, with United winning 2-1 and Hugill scoring both of the goals. At U18 level, he scored six goals and one assist in six appearances, playing in the league and the FA Youth Cup. Hugill was then tested at U23 level, where he made the mark, scoring 10 goals and two assists in 18 Premier League 2 appearances, also featuring in the Papa John’s Trophy in three of the four matches played.

The best performance of the season for Hugill came in 6-3 victory over Liverpool in the Premier League 2 with the 17-year-old scoring four goals, which showed how much skill he has as a player. Amad Diallo also scored twice in that match. In terms of ability, Hugill has it and as long as he stays grounded and keeps improving, the world will be his oyster. The player had been prevalent in front of goal for Sunderland during his time at the North East club and that is where United first saw him, making him a member of the clubs academy as soon as they were able to.

What lies ahead for Joe Hugill?

Turning 18 in October 2021, Hugill will be featuring for the U23s during the 2021/22 season and could even play a role in the first team, in latter UEFA Champions League fixtures, the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. He will also feature in the Papa John’s Trophy with Premier League teams entering squads under the age of 21 in the tournament. This will all aid his progress in the game and help him achieve what he wants to achieve. Hugill featured in the pre-season friendly against Derby County at Pride Park on Sunday, coming on for Mason Greenwood at the start of the second half, then being himself replaced by Hannibal Mejbri with 11 minutes left.

This shows that despite finding it hard to get into the game, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will trued the teenager to find his feet playing against senior teams, which once again will aid his development. He seems to be getting to grips with everything at United in only his first season where he scored a total of 16 goals and three assists in a total of 27 appearances at both U18 and U23 level. The 2021/22 season will see him playing a majority of matches at U23 level, which will test him and help him become the player that he wants to become. With some first team training added into the mix and some minutes on the pitch, he will be helped massively.

Will Joe Hugill make the Manchester United first team?

It is early days right now but Solskjaer will be working towards bringing youth through the academy into the first team so he will be hopeful that many of the talented players within the academy can do just that. However, there are no guarantees. Football has changed since the Class of 1992 came through the ranks with Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Phil Neville all found themselves in the first team. Sir Alex Ferguson took a massive risk at the time with four of the six and it paid off. Giggs made his debut in 1991 with the others following any years later.

There are many top talents in the academy at this time and not all of them will achieve the route to first team football with United but at this time, many of the players in the group look like they have accepted the challenge. Of late, Shola Shoretire, Anthony Elanga and Hannibal Mejbri have all made their debuts and look to be in the plans of Solskjaer. During the clubs pre-season campaign ahead of the start of the new season, the likes of Hugill can take their chances in front of Solskjaer to show him what they can do and in turn, more development will be offered in a first team scenario, which would start with first team training.

What does Joe Hugill need to do in order to get noticed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

It seems obvious that Solskjaer has already noticed Hugill after his 16 goal haul during the 2020/21 season. To keep being noticed by the manager he will need to keep performing. United will have spaces in the squad for strikers in the coming years and providing Hugill keeps developing and putting in the performances, he will have a great chance of succeeding in the first team. This may be a few years ahead though, unless he starts making the same waves that both Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have made coming through the academy – if that happens, there will be a chance for him in no time.

The best thing for Hugill to do though is keep his head. There have been many youth players in the past who has represented the United first team during pre-season, which seems to have gone to their heads, contributing in them failing to live up to the pressure at United, ending up playing for a lower league club – not that it is a bad thing, but no player will get through with an ego, even if it can be backed up. Hugill does not seem to be that type of player, so that is a good thing. This season will be crucial for him to follow up from las season, then the chances he is given from there will be in his control.

Written by John Walker

The Future at the Theatre of Dreams

Developing and breeding the youth at a football club is often a desirable aspect of a team but at Manchester United it’s a priority. For decades the club has been built off the succession of talent oozing through the academy, and in 2021 its no different.

Over seven decades have passed since the notorious Busby Babes defining ‘The United way,’ using the youth to create success and building the club up for Sir Alex Ferguson to take over in November 1986 continuing Busby’s dynasty playing fast attractive football and then promoting the youth through the iconic ‘Class of 92’. There has been a consistent use of youth in the first team going back over 4000 games in 1937.

As per, youth is in the DNA of this football club and United will take any opportunity possible to breed the next generation of youth, now in 2021 with a specific focus on bringing in some potential young talent with the likes of Hannibal Mejbri, Amad Diallo, Shola Shoretire and Mason Greenwood. Some have interpreted this as senior officials at United finding a way to avoid spending big in the transfer market, whereas others have seen this as a potential preparation for a youth generation in the coming years.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping these players can be the spark to take United to new levels in the next decade and bring back the trophy winning tradition to Old Trafford after a four year wait. The path to the first team is never easy but with United’s willingness to bring through the youth can some of these players become United greats?

Amad Diallo in particular could be one of great interest in the coming years. He’s an 18-year-old winger from the Ivory Coast formerly of Atalanta. Despite having only played around 25 mins of first team football for Atalanta before signing for United, Amad was highly rated in Italy and Atalanta wanted to keep hold of him for another six months but United rejected this. He has an impeccable first touch as seen with Luke Shaw’s comments on him “His first touch is brilliant.”

He has a silky flair to him which makes him look at times like he’s gliding across the pitch with ease. His close control and footwork make him difficult to tackle mixed with his quick speed to get away from defenders. These attributes could help push him onto becoming a world class player in the future. The early glimpses we’ve seen of Amad have been promising, with four goals and three assists in three games for the U23’s in Premier League 2 and then one assist in his three senior Premier League games, and a memorable header against AC Milan in the Europa league round of 16. Therefore, if Amad can reach his high potential he could become a big player for Manchester United in the future.

Another player that has caught the eye is Hannibal Mejbri. The 18-year-old French midfielder, who represents Tunisia, was signed from Monaco for £9 million back in August 2019. He can play across the forward three in a 4-2-3-1, with good output on either foot. He has excellent vision and good finishing helping him rack up four goals and eight assists in Premier League 2 last season. Like Amad, he has a distinct flair to him, with a special ability to ride tackles and win many fouls for his team.

Something heavily attributed to highly rated English winger Jack Grealish. He hasn’t featured much for the first team, just making an eight-minute cameo in the final game of the season in United’s 2-1 victory away to Wolverhampton Wonderers. In the future, his special vision and great passing could help him secure a spot as the number 10 in Solskjaer’s favoured 4-2-3-1, but his versatility could also see him drift to the left wing as well.

As well as Mejbri’s great versatility enabling him to play on the left and through the centre, another promising youngster who can do similar is Shola Shoretire. He is an English/Nigerian winger who is just 17 years of age. Over the course of the season, he’s played 19 games as a left winger scoring five and assisting three; but he’s also played as a left winger for 13 games scoring five goals and assisting four.

Furthermore, Shoretire has also managed to play three games as an attacking midfielder for the U23’s and one as a centre forward. He is a dynamic winger with good skills and an eye for goal. Shoretire and Hannibal could make for a deadly duo as both can interchange with each other causing nightmares for the oppositional defences. Solskjaer will be looking to see who he feels plays best where, and try mould each player to fit the United system going forward. 

Finally, the more established figure Mason Greenwood. He is a 19-year-old English forward with the ability to play upfront but also on the right. Since his debut against Paris Saint-Germain on that famous night in Paris, Greenwood has got better and better, solidifying himself as a first teamer and he even got an England call up in the Autumn of 2020. After an electric debut season, scoring 10 goals in 31 Premier League games, Greenwood looked to continue his fine form.

In the early stages of the 2020/21 season, Greenwood struggled, with plenty going on behind the scenes and potential injuries. As the season developed his talent shined through and he managed to score seven goals and get two assists in 31 premier league games. Greenwood has incredible ability with both feet and has brilliant finishing ability. Many see him as one of the most natural finishers in the whole Premier League.

In the 2019/20 season some criticised him for his overall play, so despite not scoring as many in the 2020/21 season, Greenwood has considerably improved his overall game, now holding up the ball better, laying it off well, even putting in some lovely crosses for Cavani’s bullet headers. Due to Anthony Martial’s injury Edinson Cavani has emerged as a pivotal figure at striker for United, which has ensured Greenwood mainly played as a right winger.

He’s played 37 games off the right scoring 10 goals and managing four assists and he’s played 15 games as a centre-forward only managing two goals and two assists. Statistically this would imply Greenwood is better of the right, and that is currently probably the case, as he’s still raw and has much to learn. So, with the signing of Cavani from PSG on a free in 2020, this provides priceless experience for him to learn off and grow from.

Many see Greenwood as a future number nine, but for now he predominantly plays as a right winger, but with the names previously mentioned like Amad, Shoretire and Mejbri all playing along the three in the attacking midfield, Greenwood could develop as a centre-forward and  Manchester United could have an emphatic front four in the making. Hopefully, now they have all received debuts, in the 2021/22 season we can see more of these promising youngsters and watch them hopefully develop into United greats. 

Overall, I feel the talent at United is highly promising, and the batch coming through could become a frightening four, tearing up the Premier League in the near future. The versatility from almost all of them could create a great fluidity and interchangeability in attack for Manchester United, which would create many problems for oncoming defenders up against them.

Obviously, they are young and careers can be so easily wasted and ruined as seen with Ravel Morrison, so Solskjaer must keep an eye on them and protect them from the crucifying English media. These players have that flair, agility and speed to play ‘The United Way’ which could be how Solskjaer continues the United tradition creating his own dynasty with these players at the head of it. Ultimately, only time will tell if these players live up-to their own hype but they certainly have the qualities to be United players and carry forward the great traditions of this historic football club.

Written by Ethan Bents

Rise to Fame: Ethan Laird a future right-back at Manchester United?

Ethan Laird was born in Basingstoke but was raised in Manchester and joined Manchester United at the age of 10. Since making his debut at U18 level during the 2017/18 season, Laird has made 54 appearances at academy level, scoring four goals and assisting a further 16. Earlier this season, in the UEFA Europa League against Astana in Kazakhstan, which is something that will leave him thirsty for more in the future.

During his time in the academy, Laird has built a reputation for himself which shows him as a very tough tackler, he can attack from either side, playing at fullback and is known to be very quick when running short distances, which is something United will be looking to add to the first team, especially as a rotation option for Aaron Wan-Bissaka – leaving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a decision to make in that area.

During the 2019/20 season, Laird found himself in the U23 squad and has played 13 times at that level, scoring one goal, which was United’s first in the Leasing.com EFL Trophy against Rotherham United back in August 2019, also adding three assists to his tally. Laird was included in the Europa League squad this season and travelled to Belgrade for United’s match against Partizan, however, he did not make the final cut.

On the 25 February 2020, it was announced by the official Manchester United website that Laird had signed a new contract at the club, keeping at the Theatre of Dreams until June 2023, with an option to add a further year to that contract. Between now and that, Laird will be seeking to impress coached Neil Wood and aim to keep his development on track, then comes the hard part, breaking into Solskjaer’s team.

Laird has been impressive throughout his journey and could be a great option for United’s right-back in the years to come. At 18 though, he has a long way to go to become first team standard. He will be given chances along the way to show the level he needs to get to in order to be a mainstay in the first team and there is nothing that should stop him from aiming to reach that level. Wan-Bissaka is the player to beat though.

The 18-year-old has plenty of pace, which is something that will benefit him throughout his career and it is something that United seem to be utilising at this moment in time with no out and out wingers in the team, leaving some attacking plays to be made from the fullback positions. Perfecting this ability during the remainder of the season, when it plays out, and beyond, should be his aim.

Since Solskjaer took over the reins at United, after the sacking of Jose Mourinho, it was clear the Norwegian had been doing his homework. He clearly had an idea of the players that the club had, including those that were in the academy at the time. Solskjaer mentioned Laird in some old comments, which showed that he had seen just what he is capable of. The United manager said:

“We have quite a few talents in that youth team that you’d like to see and you probably will see at some point before next season. 

“Because that’s what it’s about now, for me to put the club and put the team in a good position when at the end of the season, how do we look like, what will we look like next season.

“Mason [Greenwood], Jimmy Garner, Ethan [Laird], there’s quite a few in that reserve team that are doing well, it’s just about the right time. 

“What Manchester United are going to look like next season with or without me, it doesn’t really matter because I’m here now as part of that to prepare the team for next season. That of course means doing well now.”

Laird was asked about Solskjaer’s comments in an interview with with official Manchester United website, to which he stated:

“It was very nice of him and a privilege, to be honest, that he knows my name. I’ve just got to prove to him I’m good enough to be in his team.

“I’ve seen it with Mason [Greenwood], James [Garner], Angel [Gomes] and Tahith [Chong], some of the starlets of the group, getting their chance and it’s promising. Very promising.”

During the 2019/20 season, Laird finished the season with 15 appearances, scoring one goal and three assists – two of the appearances were in the UEFA Europa League. He was not ready to challenge Wan-Bissaka this season and was loaned out to MK Dons in January after having played four times for United at the start of the season – getting one assist to his name. So far at the League One club, the 19-year-old has made a total of 21 appearances, with three assists to his name – so far making it 25 appearances and four assists across the season for both clubs.

Laird could be a regular first team player in a year or two, perhaps before if he does something to put himself into serious contention, perhaps not as the regular right-back, but as a rotation option. Diogo Dalot could perhaps be ahead of him in the pecking order but he himself has been loaned out to AC Milan for the season and his future is up in the air at this time. Also, Solskjaer had used his further forward at times, which could leave Wan-Bissaka’s understudy role free for Laird to make his own, maybe?

The future seems good for Laird, whether at United or not. Perhaps he could benefit by moving up to the Championship on loan next season, then maybe playing for a lower Premier League team, unless the coaches feel he could make the step up, which might not be the case. Laird has found some consistency, playing in all League One matches since he signed for the Dons and also playing in the Emirates FA Cup, which was a 5-4 penalty defeat to Premier League club Burnley. I am sure Solskjaer is watching him and keeping his fingers crossed that he keeps developing and first team football will help him achieve just that.

Written by John Walker

Ones to Watch: Dillon Hoogewerf – young, hungry and destined to score the goals for United and a dream to reach the big time

Dillon Hoogewerf arrived at Manchester United’s academy in the summer of 2019, leaving the academy of Ajax as a 16-year-old. United had signed many Dutch players in the past with Tahith Chong, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Millen Baars some of those in the past eight years or so. Hoogewerf was considered as one of the star performers from the Ajax academy, a club that United have a good relationship with, most recently signing Donny van de Beek from the club in the summer of 2020. Hoogewerf was born on the 27 February 2003 and will turn 18 next month.

The Dutch forward would prefer to play as the centre-forward but can also feature on the left and right wing, meaning he shows a lot of promise in any attacking role. He has played for his country, the Netherlands at U15, U16 and U17 level, making a total of 19 appearances, scoring ten goals. During his first season at United, Hoogewerf made a total of 19 appearances, scoring seven goals and one assist, playing at U18 and U23 level, featuring for the club in the FA Youth Cup, also on the bench in the Papa John’s Trophy. Hoogewerf made his debut against Sunderland at U18 level, scoring his first goal against Blackburn Rovers at that level.

At U23 level, Hoogewerf made his debut against Aston Villa, a 4-1 defeat, scoring his first goal against Reading, a 4-1 victory. The young Dutchman made a total of 16 appearances at U18 level, playing in the U18 Premier League 13 times and the FA Youth Cup three times, scoring six goals, three in the U18 Premier League and three in the FA Youth Cup, assisting one goal, in the U18 Premier League. At U23 level, Hoogewerf made three appearances in the Premier League 2, scoring one goal. He is a talented player and will be seeking to get the best from his career at United, being tested between the U18 and U23 levels of the game.

United already had a plan devised for Hoogewerf before his transfer from Ajax, which suggests that the club had done their homework on the player and had focussed on all his attributes and devised the plan. United would like to get the player into the first team as soon a possible, which is always the intention with the club. However, it would be on the specific player to make that grade and the now 17-year-old has a good chance of doing that in the future. Speaking to Ajax Show Time and reported by the Manchester Evening News in March 2020, Hoogewerf spoke about signing for United and their intentions, saying:

“I want to [make my] debut as quickly as possible. That is why I went there. Manchester United came up with a good plan and the intention to make me debut at an early age.

“In England it is more conditional and more physical.

“Defending is not my strength. If I can fight there and do what I did in the Netherlands, then I think I can handle any competition.

“Especially the matches are really tough. It’s different than in the Netherlands.

“If you play against a club from the second league there, you can still expect a lot. If you play against NAC Breda here, it is likely that you will win.”

During the current season, Hoogewerf has focussed on U18 football, not featuring for the club in the Papa John’s Trophy, their second season in the competition, and seldom featuring at U23 level. The 17-year-old has made eight appearances at U18 level, playing a total of 452 minutes of football, scoring four goals and three assists. At U23 level, playing in the Premier League 2, the Dutchman has made just one appearance, playing 19 minutes against Southampton in a 3-1 victory for the club. He has not scored or assisted any goals at the higher level.

Hoogewerf scored his first hat-trick for United in the 4-1 victory over Newcastle United in the U18 Premier League on the 28 November 2020 at the clubs Aon training complex in Carrington. He scored his first goal of the new season against Stoke City, scoring the only goal of the game the weekend before. He has also assisted three goals for the U18 side this season, assisting his first in the opening match of the season, a 2-1 victory over Blackburn Rovers, then assisting twice in the 5-1 victory over Burnley a week later. United have done well at U18 level this season and currently top the league by three points.

United do not feature in the U18 Premier League until the 16 January when they face Liverpool, the team they have a game in hand over, and an important three point lead at the top of the table. A victory there will see United sit six points clear over their North West rivals, which will be a fitting start to the New Year. United will play in the FA Youth Cup three days earlier facing Salford City. If they win that match, they will face either Liverpool or Sutton United in the fourth round. Hoogewerf will be wanting to win a trophy this season, if he can which would be a fitting start to the rest of his career, which will be at U23 level and beyond.

Hoogewerf will rival with Joe Hugill, who signed for the club from Sunderland in the summer with the forward playing more matches at U23 level than at U18 level, playing 12 times, scoring four goals and one assist at the higher level, playing four times and scoring six goals and one assist at the U18 level. Hoogewerf will have the time to show his ability at both levels, moving up to the U23 level at some point, with him turning 18 in February. This will give him the chance to see if he has what it takes to reach the first team, which is a level that he talent could propel him to at some point in his career.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United sign ‘unique footballing talent’ with player joining academy

Manchester United look set to complete the signing of Norwegian teenager Isak Hansen-Aarøen. The player is due to turn 16 on Saturday (22 August 2020). The teenager became the youngest ever player for Tromsø when he made his debut at 15 years 319 days earlier this season and featured seven times in the clubs first team, coming from the bench and assisting in his final appearance for the club in a 5-0 victory over Sandnes Ulf. The teenager has also scored three goals in three appearances for Norway U16s.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had Scandanavia scouted during his time as United manager, seeking to find the best young talent in the region and the club reportedly feel that they have signed a great talent in Hansen-Aarøen. Tromsø wished the teenager well in a post on their Instagram account Friday, confirming that the player has now left the club. The post , according to The Mirror, stated:

“A wonderful person. A unique football talent. Who just loves to play football now.

“From Fløya to TIL as a junior, into the academy as a 10-year-old, learns at the TIL school and debut for the first team as a 15-year-old. Assist in his last match for Tromsø IL.

“Thank you so much for the last ten years and good luck in Manchester United and on in your career. We hope you have a great time, see you soon.”

United have seemingly been scouring the glob to bring in the best talent to the clubs academy, making waves last summer, especially with the arrival of Hannibal Mejbri. This summer, the arrival of Hansen-Aarøen will be seen as a good acquisition with the player being highly-rated at Tromsø. United have already confirmed the signings of Joe Hugill, Logan Pye and Radek Vitek. The club has also been linked with Manchester City academy player Charlie McNeill, Barcelona fullback Marc Jurado and Real Madrid left-back Alvaro Fernandez Carreras.

As United look set to complete their summer spending at academy level, it is yet to be seen what moves United make when it comes to the first team, which needs some work this summer, in more than one position. The academy seems to be in the right hands though. Neil Ryan, the manager of the U18 team seems to be getting the player in that he feels will add something to his team and more importantly, add something to the club as they work to impress the manager at various age groups.

As Hansen-Aarøen has already had a sniff of first team action, he will be seeking to get a taste at United but he will probably have to wait a year or two for that, unless he plays in a pre-season friendly for the first tea, this summer, which might be doubtful. The player will be seeking to impress his coaches and earn a place in the U18 squad next season. It is possible that he could play at a younger level, but based on reports of the player’s ability, the U18 squad is the level he will probably start at, being tested at U19 level in the UEFA Youth League and possibly at U23 level.

Written by John Walker

Dylan Levitt to be loaned out by Manchester United; Championship clubs interested

Manchester United are set to allow Dylan Levitt leave the club on a season-long loan spell this summer. The promising 19-year-old seems to have been left out of the club UEFA Europa League squad for the remainder of the season with some suggesting that he could have played against LASK last week. However, it would seem that the player was left out so he could be loaned out before the new season starts. The Manchester Evening News has suggested that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants the player to boost his development and playing first team football will do just that.

Levitt will not break into the current United midfield with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Fred, Scott McTominay and Andreas Pereira in the ranks. He would also have academy teammate James Garner to get through, who has played more first team football than him, therefore, in this instance, ahead of him in terms of progress. A season-long loan spell in the Championship, providing that he will play regular football, would be just great for him right now.

At 19, Levitt will be seeking to push on which his career finishing his second season playing for the U23s after the coronavirus pandemic suspended world football which brought the premature end to the academy season. Levitt started playing for the U18s during the 2017/18 season and to date has made a total of 74 appearances, scoring 14 goals and 16 assists – 30 goal contributions, in the three seasons at youth level at the club.

Levitt has been a regular for Ryan Giggs’ Wales squad recently and was one of the stand out performers for United’s U23s before the cancellation of the season in April. Back in November, the midfielder made his United debut in a 2-1 defeat in the UEFA Europa League group stages to Kazakhstan side FC Astana. It was expected that he could play against LASK in the same competition last week – with United winning the first leg 5-0 back in March but Solskjaer never named the player in his squad.

Whilst it was unfortunate for the player not to be named in the squad, it seems to have been done to give the club time to find the right club for the player to spend the season on loan with at Championship level, which would aid his development. Of course, United will need to keep the player’s best interests at hand and issue a contract that should see the player start or play in a minimum number of matches, possibly even stipulating a number of minutes that he should be playing, that way, the loan spell would not be a failure like some have been in the past for other players not making any or few appearances.

If a player is not playing regularly, the only thing they are going to benefit is what it looks like to become a frustrated figure in the background which will end up thwarting development, rather than aiding it. United should think about the level of club Levitt goes too. Whilst he would like to go to a club that would win regular matches, that same club could limit his appearances, which would not aid him as much as playing for a middle of the table club. Whilst winning will not matter in terms of development, players like Levitt will be looking to score goals or at least assist them, so for smaller clubs, he could be valuable for them.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United confirm new arrivals in academy; exciting future

Manchester United have confirmed some new additions into the academy ahead of the 2020/21 season. Back in May, the Old Trafford club were linked with 16-year-old Sunderland striker Joe Hugill with reports by the Daily Mail then suggesting a £250,000 deal between the clubs. Although the fee has not been confirmed, the teenager is now a United player, along with teammate Logan Pye, also 16. United have also brought in 16-year-old Czech goalkeeper Radek Vitek from Sigma Olomouc.

During the 2019/20 season, Hugill played for Sunderland at U18 and U23 level, with Transfermarkt stating he made seven appearances in total, scoring three goals. Pye, also playing for Sunderland, made nine appearances at U18 level, scoring no goals but making one assist. Vitek played for Sigma Olomouc U19, making 10 appearances, conceding 17 goals and keeping two clean sheets. Obviously, the trio will mainly be playing at U18 level and be added to the current squad at that level.

Current United player Shola Shoretire, 16 will be added to the U18 squad permanently after performing well during the current season, which was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year. Shoretire made a total of 20 appearances for the club this season, scoring three goals and three assists. He is also the youngest player to play in the UEFA Youth League, appearing in the competition last season at the age of 14. United could have a good prospect in the teenager.

Omari Forson, 15 will also remain at United after being linked to Arsenal, which will be important for United considering the talent of the player. During the 2019/20 season, he made 14 appearances, coming off the bench 11 times, scoring one goal and one assist. He only arrived at the club from Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 2019, so it was good that United ended up keeping the player instead of his returning to London a year later. He could well be one of the shining lights in the academy.

United have also confirmed that defensive duo Rhys Bennett, 16 and Oliver Kilner, 16 will take up places in the U18 squad ahead of the new season with Polish goalkeeper Daniel Polakowski, 16 also rising up to the squad which is coached by Neil Ryan. Bennett has been at United since U9 level with Polakowski being at the club since he was nine. Kilner is a local boy, coming from Stockport. It will certainly be an interesting season ahead with some U18 players likely to make the move to the U23 squad.

This will allow the players to progress through the ranks, forming a continual conveyor belt at the club, with some players eventually making it into the first team and other players earning careers for themselves away from United. This is what happens in youth football – not every player makes it at United but they can learn a lot from being part of the coaching and education scheme of the club. United have always been known for their academy and that looks likely to continue.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW