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Six academy players who will become valuable squad players at Manchester United

Manchester United have a history of developing players through their academy, whether the players end up reaching the first team of the club or end up playing their football somewhere else. This is part of the clubs DNA and is something that is seen by many as special. When United faced Villarreal in the UEFA Europa League final in Gdañsk on the 26 May 2021, it was the 4,097th match in a row that had at least one academy player in the squad which has been running since October 1937 and United are very proud of that fact. Not every academy player will make it at United but they do tend to carve careers in the game elsewhere. Some supports do not understand the role of the academy at the club and assume that English players with no skill are a waste of time – if only they understood the rules and regulations of the English game.

This article talks about six academy players who will become valuable squad players in the not too distant future, although some of them may head out of the club on loan this summer in a bid to gain experience in firs team football ahead of coming back to the club to find their feet and push themselves into the first team with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keen to find the road to glory in a similar fashion as Sir Alex Ferguson. United have so many talented youngsters at the club, some of whom have not yet represented the first team. Not all the players mentioned have played for the first team yet but have been involved in matches, albeit on the bench, which will have given them the understanding of the process. All have played first team football though, with the player being loaned out to give them experience to succeed.

Will Fish – Central Defender

The 18-year-old can play in either of the central defensive positions and seems to be highly rated by United, at least in the academy sense. His contract runs until the summer of 2022, so the 2021/22 season will be a big one for him. I would expect United to offer him a new contract this summer though, so they are not in a position whereby he could leave the club on a free next summer. He made his first team debut in the final Premier League match of the season with United beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-1 on the final day of the season. He replaced Daniel James in the final minute of the match. Fish made a total of 31 appearances throughout the 2020/21 season, 30 of those at academy level, scoring one goal and two assists. At just over six foot, Fish could give something to this United squad in the future, especially with the problems in the defence currently.

Depending on what happens at United this summer, regarding a new central defender and the likes of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, who have been linked with exits, despite Bailly’s contract renewal, it could leave some space in the first team for a central defender. Obviously, Fish would play predominantly in the U23 side during the course of the season but could be given chances in the first team in the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. It would seem unlikely that he may get UEFA Champions League experience, but it all depends on the teams that will face United in the group. There is also a chance for him to be loaned out to a Football League club, which might be good for him and help him find his feet for the future. He is a player that should remain at United, as long as he continues to develop in the right way.

Teden Mengi – Central Defender

The 19-year-old is also considered as a highly rated player at the club and was loaned out to Wayne Rooney’s Derby Country for the second half of last season, which will have been a good experience for the player. His current contract at United ends in the summer of 2024, which gives United a lot more time to find a plan for him as it seems certain that he is being developed to play for United’s first team at some stage in the not too distant future. It is possible that he leaves on loan again during the 2021/22 season with Derby an option but there may be a better plan for the player to be loaned out to a Premier League club, which will bring him up to speed with the pace in the league, which would be much better for United from the 2022/23 season. Mengi can play in either of the two central defensive positions, also fitting in as a makeshift right-back.

Standing at six feet, Mengi has the frame to offer something in the centre of defence for United and he has a physical build, which will only become better as he ages, which is also a good sign. Mengi made seven appearances in the Premier League 2 and and three appearances in the Papa John’s Trophy for United last season. He also appeared on the bench for the first team in the Carabao Cup. He was loaned to Derby during the January transfer window and made nine appearances in the Championship for the club. He did not score or assist any goals for either team but had a pretty positive season. He was often praised by Rooney and his Derby teammates and Solskjaer seems keen on helping hims develop so he can regularly feature for the first team in the not too distant future. His season was ended with a hamstring injury back in April.

Dylan Levitt – Central Midfield

The 20-year-old is a talent that most United supporters will have knowledge of as he has been present in the U23 and the first team for quote a few seasons now, making his only first team appearance in the UEFA Europa League against FC Astana in the 2019/20 season. His contract at United ends in the summer of 2022, so this summer should see United offer him a new contract, beneficial for his progress at the club and whilst out on loan. This will be a big summer for his as he was selected in Wales’ Euro 2020 squad, with the competition delayed from last summer because of the coronavirus pandemic. Levitt started the 2020/21 season on loan at League One club Charlton Athletic but ended the season at Croatian club, NK Istra 1961. It was a mainly positive season for the Welsh midfielder with a lot more to come from him.

Levitt started the season with two appearances in the Premier League 2 with United, then finding himself on loan at Charlton, where he made a total of five appearances in League One, the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. It was not good enough that he was seldom used so United recalled him from his loan spell and sought to loan him out to another club, which turned out to be NK Istra. He made a total of seven appearances in the 1.HNL and two appearances in the Hrvatski Nogometni Kup. Levitt has since confirmed that he made the move to Croatia to give him a better chance of being selected by Wales for the Euro’s this summer, which he though gave him a better chance than playing U23 football. The 2021/22 season could see him loaned out again, maybe to a Championship or a Premier League club, which will help him develop even more.

Hannibal Mejbri – Attacking Midfield

The 18-year-old is perhaps the most rated player in this article and the majority of United supporters will hold some interest in the player. When he signed from AS Monaco in the summer of 2019, he stated that he wanted to play for the United first team within two years, which he achieved on the final day of the Premier League season when United beat Wolves 2-1. Hannibal replaced Juan Mata in the 82nd minute of the match, doing well on his debut. His contract at United does not expire until the summer of 2026, so United have loads of time to get him up to the speed desired for him to become a first team regular at the club, he did renew his contract earlier this year. Hannibal made a total of 26 appearances for United this season, 25 of those at youth level. He did not end his season too highly at U23 level, finding himself send off to retaliating to a series of bad tackles.

During the course of the season, Hannibal had seen himself on the receiving end of many bad tackles by the opposition, many of which went unpunished with the player seething. In total, over the course of the season, Hannibal scored five goals and ten assists playing in the Premier League 2 and the Papa John’s Trophy. The coaches at the club will have seen a lot of ability from the youngster, who recently made his debut for Tunisia at international level, previously representing France at both U16 and U17 level. It seems clear that U23 football is a low level for Hannibal and it is too soon for him break into the first team consistently so a loan spell away from the club during the 2021/22 season would be the best option for him, as long as guarantees are made for the player regarding game time and the fact that he is still wanted at United and this is just for experience.

Shola Shoretire – Winger/Attacking Midfielder

The 17-year-old has seemingly found his feet at United and was rewarded towards the end of the 2020/21 season with some first team appearances after his good form at U23 level during the course of the season. He signed his first professional contract at United back in February. He will probably be offered a new contract soon after his 18th birthday. The player has been at the Old Trafford club since he was nine, so will be seeking to get as far as he can at the club, coming so far already. It is expected that he will be considered a first team player ahead of the 2021/22 season with with Euro 2020 playing out this summer, after being postponed last summer, the pre-season campaign will probably consist of many youth players and fringe players being part of the squad with a bit to regaining fitness ahead of the 2021/22 season.

During the course of the season, Shoretire made a total of 27 appearances, two of which came in the Premier League and one in the UEFA Europa League – the rest were made at youth level, playing in the Premier League 2, the Papa John’s Trophy and the FA Youth Cup. He scored 10 goals and five assists throughout the season, which is a great achievement for the player, which is one of the reasons why he was assed to the first team towards the end of the season at a time where Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani were injured and Marcus Rashford was carrying an injury, resulting in Solskjaer strengthening his attacking line. Shoretire could well be involved in an around the first team during the 2021/22 season or he could be loaned out in search of first team experience, which would also be good for him in the long run.

Anthony Elanga – Winger/Centre Forward

The 19-year-old is perhaps the player that has made the biggest impact recently for United. He signed a new long-term contract at United back in March, at the same time as Hannibal, although the length of the contract is not yet publicised. He was added to the first team for the UEFA Europa League pursuit this season with Martial out of action and Cavani struggling at times with injury, which will have been an achievement for him. He was recently called up for Sweden’s U21 squad, playing two matches and scoring in each of them over the past week or so, which will give him immense pride and give him the burning fires of passion to achieve at United. He made his Premier League debut this season too, starting against Leicester City and Wolves, scoring against the latter.

During the course of the 2020/21 season, Elanga made a total of 22 appearances, scoring 12 goals and four assists. Two appearances and one of the goals were for the first team and despite not actually playing in the Europa League this season, he gave United and Solskjaer further options in attack. It is early days for the player this summer but the general consensus is that he will compliment the attacking ranks at the club next season, unless purchases this summer will limit that. He won’t be happy playing U23 football, so if his first team appearances will be limited, a spell away from the club on loan might be an option. He can play on both wings and as a centre forward, so he has a lot more to offer, especially in the fact that United have Cavani, Martial Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood as strikers, with two of those often playing wide positions.

Written by John Walker

Eight talented academy players that Solskjaer could promote in the future

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a whole host of talent in his squad at the Old Trafford club but to continue putting his mark on the team he will be seeking to do something similar to what Sir Alex Ferguson did at the club – continuing to trust the clubs talented youth players and giving them opportunities to succeed in the first team, which is the way the club has been run for over a century. This is the DNA of United, the main thing that keeps supporters supporting the club.

When you talk about United, two things seem synonymous – the Busby Babes and the Class of 1992. Both incarnations involved talent youth players making up a lot of the squad and guiding the club to glory, which is what both levels did, albeit one of them, the Busby Babes were ended after that fateful plane crash in Munich on the 6 February 1958. Ten years later though, Sir Matt Busby honoured their deaths with a European Cup victory, beating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley Stadium.

For Solskjaer to create his own style at United, which like Ferguson’s was moulded on the style of Busby – fast-paced attacking football with United pushing themselves on the opposition, in their half, for the majority of the match, which is what Solskjaer has started to implement and has been sown for much of 2020 so far, especially after the Premier League restart because of the coronavirus pandemic which suspended world football for about three months in mid-March.

Solskjaer will be looking to bring in a few new faces this summer, to continue United’s rise, also seeking to end a few careers at the club, making way for new faces – some of which will be from the clubs successful academy, which helped the Busby Babes, the Class of 1992 and other players from other periods to attain their places in the game, many of whom ended up leave the club for pastures new, forming a career for themselves, albeit at a lower or different level to that of United.

Which players from the clubs academy could Solskjaer look to bring through to the first team in the not too distant future and beyond?

There are eight players at this moment in time who are excelling in their abilities at youth level and need to find a way to break into first team football, whether it is under Solskjaer in United’s first team or at another club in the form of a loan spell during the 2020/21 season. Loan spells away from United have been important in the growth of young players. Look what being loaned out has done for United goalkeeper Dean Henderson at Sheffield United. He’s turned into a decent player.

Players such as David Beckham were loaned out before making United’s first team. Not all players will make it though, that is down to football, the opportunity each player has and how they take their chances. This is not a detriment to the abilities of players who did not make the grade at United, their schooling at the club gave them something, many of them forming careers in the game. The eight players that Solskjaer should keep an eye on are detailed below;

Ethan Laird, 18

The right-back is a player who can also play at left-back and in the central areas of the back four, so will be a player that offers a lot to Solskjaer. He has been promoted to first team training already and could make an appearance soon, having already made his debut in the UEFA Europa League against FC Astana in Kazakhstan in November. At youth level, Laird has played 54 times, scoring four goals and 16 assists. He could well be the player that takes on Aaron Wan-Bissaka for the right-back role.

Teden Mengi, 18

The central defender is the player that has been tipped to be the next youth player to make it into the first team. He has been training with Solskjaer’s squad for a while – he has been around the first team but has not yet played. In three seasons at youth level, he has played 50 times, scoring twice and assisting five times. With a lack of depth in defence at this stage of the season, Mengi could be crucial in the remaining matches of the season, albeit on the bench but could get a run out sooner rather than later.

Di’Shon Bernard, 19

Another central defender that could offer more will keep Solskjaer happy. He seems to be inundated with quality defenders coming through the youth ranks. Like Laird, Bernard made his debut in the UEFA Europa League back in November against FC Astana. At youth level, finishing his third season at United, the defender has made 55 appearances, scoring five goals and one assist – showing his class from the back, which is something that might get him noticed by Solskjaer in the future.

James Garner, 19

Perhaps one of the more experienced players on this list and possibly one who has the talent to play in the first team now, although I feel a season on loan for him would do him the world of good during his career, which is likely to be at United, unless something goes dreadfully wrong. In four seasons at the club, he has made seven first team appearances, assisting one goal. At youth level, he has made 63 appearances, scoring 14 goals and nine assists. A talented midfielder just waiting for that chance. Hopefully Solskjaer will have some plans for him.

Ethan Galbraith, 19

The Northern Ireland midfielder operates in a withdrawn, defensive area, which is a position that Solskjaer will need to make arrangements for in the future, with Nemanja Matic not getting any younger, but options are there for him to be implemented, if he passes the tests Solskjaer will likely put in place with Nicky Butt now in charge of first team progression from academy level. Came off the bench for the first team already this season and will be seeking progress there. At academy level, he’s played 60 times, scoring eight goals and six assists.

Dylan Levitt, 19

The Welsh midfielder is a bit like Garner, has experience at youth level and has made his debut in the first team although eh has not played as much as his young teammate. Levitt is a midfielder who can get on the ball, dictate play and get into important goalscoring positions. During his time in the academy, where he has finished his third season, Levitt has made a total of 74 appearances, scoring 14 goals and 16 assists – showing his quality on the ball and a player who could excite Solskjaer and the Old Trafford faithful for years to come. Like Garner, a loan spell away from United could be beneficial, unless Solskjaer has plans.

Hannibal Mejbri, 17

The 17-year-old French midfielder is a player that has a lot of backing at United and Nicky Butt, a former academy graduate and part of the famous Class of 92 was part of the team that brought Mejbri from AS Monaco last summer. It was a high-profile transfer considering the age of the player, who was 16 at the time, with many clubs seemingly interested in him with United pulling it off. Mejbri has played 20 times at academy level, scoring one goal and five assists. He’s going to be a quality player.

D’Mani Bughail-Mellor, 19

The 19-year-old is an exciting player who can play a variety of positions in the wide areas, through the middle of the midfield, behind the striker and playing as a centre-forward, which is the position he has played regularly this season at youth level. He’s been at United all his playing career and will be seeking to force himself into Solskjaer’s plans in the short-term future. He’s already made his debut, albeit off the bench, so has a little experience. At youth level, he’s made 60 appearances, scoring 15 goals and nine assists, which bodes well for the future, if he can keep creation and goalscoring coming.

There will no doubt be more names to add to this list in the future but these eight players could have the ingredients for Solskjaer to keep a close eye on their progress in the academy, seeking that spark which could get them in the first team regularly. Some players will benefit from being loaned out next season, others will benefit from being given chances in the first team sparingly, giving them a taste of the action and what will be required to achieve a position at that level more often. The future certainly looks exciting for United and these eight payers.

Written by John Walker

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer plans to promote ‘one or two’ Manchester United youth players next season after Ethan Laird and Teden Mengi impress him

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer believes that ‘one or two’ young players could be promoted to the first team from the clubs academy ahead of next season. Solskjaer has been impressed with the liked of Teden Mengi and Ethan Laird, who have both been promoted to first team training this season.

This season has already seen the likes of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams make the transition from the youth levels to become first team regulars, which will keep the dreams of many youth players in the academy of the club alive, following their dream to one day represent United on the pitch at first team level.

Greenwood has become a revelation for United this season with the gals that he has scored for the club, seemingly making it look each to adapt from U18, U19 and U23 level football and onward into the first team. United’s academy has many talented young players seeking to take the same route as the 18-year-old has this season.

Solskjaer feels that his current squad in nearing completion, needing a few more additions during the summer transfer window to strengthen in weaker areas. However, to add an injection of youth into the team, which Sir Alex Ferguson did on many occasions, the Norwegian will look to the youth levels and see what he has, having a few good names to choose from. Solskjaer said:

“We just have to focus. I don’t think one second if any other team is worried about us, we have to worry about ourselves.

“If we keep on improving and building an environment in the training ground and keep building on the culture, add one or two youngsters, maybe add players who can challenge those who we have got here.

“Of course it’s exciting, but we can’t think that far. You don’t really have the time or focus.

“You can’t think three months ahead now with players who are in and around the first-team.

“Of course, there are youngsters who you know are going to go out on loan, that need exposure, game time.

“But those who are in and around the first-team now, they only have one focus, and that’s Southampton, then it’s onto the next one. We need to finish the season strong.”

Along with Greenwood, Williams, Tahith Chong and James Garner, the likes of Di’Shon Bernard, Dylan Levitt, Ethan Galbraith and D’Mani Bughail-Mellor all featured in the UEFA Europa League against FC Astana earlier this season, showing the progression of the youth level at the club, which under Solskjaer, aims to be just as good as it was under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Both Laird and Mengi have been tipped to make the step up from youth level football. Mengi, 18, is the captain of the U18 squad, playing in central defence – an area that United will need to strengthen this summer, if Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and/or Marcos Rojo all leave the Old Trafford club. Mengi has impressed in training with glow appraisals.

Laird, 18, is also a defender, able to play across the back four in fullback (right and left) and in both central defensive positions. Laird has been promoted to first team training because of injuries to Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones, which could see him get on the pitch in the next few weeks, which will be another exciting prospect for the teenager.

Laird is contracted at United until the summer of 2023, with the option of a further year to be added, which gives him a fair chance to get himself into the first team in some capacity over the next year or so. Mengi signed his first professional contract at the club at the start of the season, which will expire in the summer of 2022 giving him the opportunity to shine.

Teden Mengi will be the next youth player to make the first team, says Neil Wood

Manchester United’s teenage defender, Teden Mengi could be the next academy start to find himself in the first team, according to U23 coach Neil Wood. It has been said that Mengi could replicate the same rise to the first team ad Brandon Williams did earlier this season, taking the chance he was given, earning the plaudits.

Williams, 19, enjoyed a breakthrough season in the first team, making 26 appearances so far this season, scoring one goal and assisting two. The fullback rivalled Luke Shaw for the left-back position at the club, which brought out the best of both players, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer happily looking on at the level of competition for that position.

Mengi celebrated his 18th birthday at the end of last month and signed his first professional contract of his career back in September 2019. The player has had a great 2019/20 season before the coronavirus pandemic suspended all football, which cancelled youth football. He has captained the U18s to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals, also played for the U23s.

Mengi made his debut for the U18s during the 2017/18 season making three appearances. The following season (2018/19) saw him make 21 appearances, assisting four goals that season. During the current season, at U18 level, he’s made eight starts, assisting two goals. At U23 level, made 18 appearances, assisting one goal.

Mengi even travelled with United’s first team for the UEFA Europa League clash with Astana in Kazakhstan back in November, not actually getting off the bench though. Wood feels that Mengi’s first team debut is not that far away. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, the U23 coach talked about the player, saying:

“Teden [Mengi] has been fantastic. He came up to us quite early on in the season and, a bit like Brandon [Williams] in a sense, he came from the U18s and took his chance.

“He played really well and he kept his place in the team. And when he dropped back down at the end of the season to lead the Youth Cup team, he put in some excellent performances there.

“We’ll be looking to work with him next season and he’s one [player] we want to ‘do a Brandon’ with, push him on and the goal is to try and get him pushed up into that first team if we can.”

During the current season, Williams, Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong have all made an impact at first team level with the latter needing to do a bit more to make himself a regular in the team. A loan spell out of the club this season could be good for Chong, especially if Solskjaer brings in a player like Jadon Sancho, who will play most matches.

Solskjaer seems to be keen to give homegrown prospects a chance at first team level, doing this with Williams, and Greenwood, plus Chong, who would not be considered as a homegrown player. Mengi though, is homegrown, born in Manchester and United through and through. Solskjaer, if Mengi gets his attention, would give him a chance.

It would be good to see a player like Mengi make it into the first team, especially at his age. There is a chance that he could be given a chance during the remainder of the season, especially if the FA Youth Cup is still going to be played this season as he will need to be match fit. I will look forward to the day we see Mengi reach the first team and beyond.

copyright: JW