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Manchester United U23 to play seven behind closed doors pre-season friendlies

Manchester United have announced that Neil Wood’s U23 side will play seven behind closed door pre-season friendlies ahead of the new Premier League 2 season which will see United promoted to Division 1 of the league – spending the last two seasons in Division 2 and find out that on a points per game ratio, promotion happened despite the 2019/20 being suspended then cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. United will be looking to get back into full fitness ahead of the new season.

The club has announced that because of the recent lockdown measures in Greater Manchester, no spectators will be allowed into the training ground, presumable where all the matches will be played. It was also stated that the clubs television channel, MUTV will broadcast highlights of some of the matches at a later date. The U23s will be tested in their pre-season matches, playing a mixture of senior teams and U23 teams, which will be good for their fitness and progress at this level.

United will start on Wednesday against Salford City then face Swindon Town on the 18 August, followed by Morecambe on the 22 August. Neil Wood’s side then face Stoke City U23s on the 25 August, followed by Macclesfield Town on the 28 August. On the 1 September, Doncaster Rovers will be the opposition finishing up with Everton U23s on the 5 September. It is set to be a good pre-season runs of matches for the players, who will be seeking to start the 2020/21 season brightly.

It will be good to see this group of young and talented players get stuck into the game again. Whilst it is expected that some of Wood’s players will head out on loan this summer, there will be many players stepping up from the U18 squad from last season, continuing that conveyor belt of talent at the club, testing them each and every season. Hannibal Mejbri, Charlie Wellens, and Mark Helm are likely to be tested this season. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Wood said:

“It’s going to be a hard pre-season. Last year, we had the experience of the EFL Trophy and it looks likely that we could be part of that again.

“I wanted the lads to experience some first-team friendlies this year before we even made that tournament because they are challenging in themselves. We’ve got games lined up against the likes of Salford, Doncaster, Macclesfield and Swindon.

“So there are going to be some tough games, considering we’re of such a young age. It’s going to be hard for them but there is some talent there and that can really start to shine through.

“We played Swindon last year and we know how they want to play football. We know they’re not going to turn up and try to boot us off the pitch and injure some of the younger lads, especially as we have a very young squad.

“We want to have that first-team opposition but also would like to have opposition who try to play football and not try to outpower us or be a battle because we’re not going to win them at this stage.”

It would seem that the academy levels of the club are in good hands, giving players the development they need before sorting out their future, whether they are good enough to go straight into the first team, like Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, or whether they need a loan spell away from the club so they can find their feet in a first team environment. Nicky Butt, the head of first team development understands what is needed and will be keeping’s eye out for players who are ready for the next level.

Written by John Walker

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.

Manchester United midfielder to spend season on loan to help break into the first team – reports

Manchester United will reportedly allow James Garner to leave the Old Trafford club for the 2020/21 season on loan which could give him the experience to break into the first team the season after. The Birkenhead-born midfielder has been part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team this season, making six appearances for the club.

The 19-year-old will have seen the likes of Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood break into the first team this season, so will be seeking a way to do this himself. He plays in either a central midfield or defensive midfield position, the latter being a position that United will need to think about improving with Nemanja Matic not getting any younger.

Garner could follow in the footsteps of many a player at United who had a period away from the club on loan, such as David Beckham who was loaned to Preston North End before making his debut at United, and look how well that went for the lad. He is not the only player, but a good example and Garner could do a lot, learning a lot at the same time.

United first team coach, Michael Carrick is a big fan of Garner and he will be hoping to see the player succeed his rise from academy level football into the first team but with the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Fred and Matic ahead of him, it could take time for him to achieve his dream.

The loan spell would no doubt add some quality to the player, allowing him to find his feet in a first team environment and show the world what he can do on the football pitch. During his time in the academy, making his debut at U18 level during the 2016/17 season until the current season he has made 73 appearances, scoring 14 goals and nine assists.

Garner has played seven times for the first team, making his first team debut during the 2018/19 season from the bench. He has started three times this season, coming off the bench three times too. He is a talented footballer but at this moment in time, he’s not going to get much first team football, which is something he needs in order to develop fully.

Garner captained the England U17 side which reached the semi-finals of the 2018 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. He has leadership qualities, as can be seen when he played at U23 level. He has scored nine goals for the U23s this season, which has now been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, some of them bangers.

The 19-year-old is a player that I rate and one I hope makes it through the academy into first team football. He has something to give United, having been at the club for over a decade. If Carrick sees good things from the player, a player who has been compared to him at times, then there must be something good about him.

If he is loaned from the club, it could be great for him. Look at Dean Henderson. He has spent every season away from the club on loan, rising from the National League with Stockport County to League Two with Grimsby Town, to League One with Shrewsbury Town then onto the Championship and the Premier League with Sheffield United.

Manchester United midfielder Charlie Wellens signs first professional contract – reports

Manchester United midfielder Charlie Wellens has signed his first professional contract at the club. The player turned 17 back in December and was eligible to sign a professional contract at the club, which did not happen right away and was presumably held up by the coronavirus pandemic which suspended world football mid-March.

The teenager has signed the two-year contract after a season in the U18s not even a year after signing a scholarship contract last summer. Wellens has done well in the U18s this season, playing 21 times, scoring five goals and a further three assists helping the club achieve a sixth-placed finish in the U18 Premier League after the season was cancelled last month.

Wellens is the son of Swindon Town manager, Ritche Wellens who also came through United’s academy, making his debut in 1999. The player’s father announced the news on his Twitter account, stating that his son ‘had signed for the biggest club in the world’, seemingly feeling pretty proud of his son. His tweet said:

“Twenty-three years ago I signed my first professional contract at the biggest club in the world.

“To say I’m proud to see Charlie sign his is an understatement. Well done mate it’s only the start but you deserve it.”

Wellens was training with United’s first team ahead of the trip to Kazakhstan to face Astana back in September 2019 and made his U23 debut this season, coming off the bench one, which would have been an eye opener for him, giving him a taste of the level he will need to be at to play more often. First team manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has his eye on the youth.

At the time the player was training with the first team, Nick Cox who is the head of the academy, taking over from Nicky Butt last summer after he changes roles at the club, stated that young players being involved with the first team was a regular every day occurrence at the club, which will show the players how they need to develop, learning off the first team players at the same time. He said:

“I think sometimes we get carried away, by the way. Kids training with our first-team is a day-to-day occurrence, it’s just part of the process here, it’s just what happens. At other clubs it might be the exception to the rule. Here it’s the norm.

“It’s easy to get carried away, it doesn’t mean anything. It means that a kid’s got a different learning opportunity, a different environment to train in and an experience that will hopefully help them in their journey, but we don’t get carried away.

“It’s just a thing that happens. I quite often see it pop up all over social media and it shouldn’t be something that people get too carried away with.”

Solskjaer will be keeping tabs on Wellens during the 2020/21 season, although it is not yet known when it will take place and if there will be a delay considering the your players had their seasons cancelled last month with safety the main concern. Wellens is a talented midfielder with an eye for both scoring and creating a goal.

This is the type of player that Solskjaer will be hoping makes it to the first team regularly in the future, although the player should enjoy playing U18 football whilst he can, having a taste of U23 football from time to time, which may earn him a chance in the first team in a domestic cup competition, if United are drawn against lower league opposition.

I am sure that Wellens will have seen the likes of Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood earn their stripes in the first team and force themselves into Solskjaer’s plans during the past season based on their performances, attitude and desire to achieve things in this game. If Wellens has that same mindset, he could achieve a lot at this club.

Manchester United have a new striker at U23 level…

Manchester United have a new striker. Not Romelu Lukaku. I am talking about at U23 level, a team which did not have a recognised striker last season. His name is Zak Dearnley. The 18-year-old is ready to prove himself within the clubs U23 squad, otherwise known as the reserves proving that his attacking nature will show him as the out-and-out striker the club have been looking for. United obviously had the chance to buy a striker last summer, having players on trial who did well, but nothing was decided and the U23 persevered last season filling in the void with different players. The coming season, Dearnley will rise through the ranks hoping to fill the void and impress new manager Ricky Sbragia.

Dearnley will be joined by teammate Josh Bohui, another striker who is already gaining experience with Nicky Butt adding him to the U23 squad towards the end of last season. Forwards may have been something United were lacking in this particular age group, but both Dearnley and Bohui will be out to prove themselves ensuring the U23 play that more attacking and more exciting football in the Premier League 2, hopefully in a bid to wrestle the title from Everton, the champions at this level last season. No, it was not Manchester City, the club with *apparently* the best Academy, who do not actually create first team players, not for City anyway. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Dearnley said:

“I’d say I’m a striker now. Yeah, striker, definitely. I am all about goals now. Kieran McKenna has come in and really helped a lot with my position. He doesn’t really see me as a winger; now I’m more of a striker. 

“[Under-18s assistant-coach] Colin Little tells me about how Marcus [Rashford] changed and he has helped me too as he was a striker with Crewe Alexandra and Altrincham and other clubs. He is always helping me and they have made me into more of a striker nowadays, with a different mindset.

“You’ve got to be hungry for goals. Before, I was just happy getting the ball, taking people on and passing it and whatever. Now Kieran has got me in the mindset of goals, goals, goals. So I am always in the box now. I used to be more of a winger than striker.”

There are many reasons to be optimistic ahead of the new Premier League 2 season with both Dearnley and Bohui in the squad. Dearnley scored six goals for the U18’s last season, which he will be hoping to advance on at the higher level, which will be more competitive and hopefully show the player at his full potential. There are some exciting players in the U18 ranks, some of which may move up the ranks too with ten new players being added to the Academy level this summer. Angel Gomes could be a player given the chance at a higher level on occasion, which will be good for him after his first team debut at the end of last season. Concluding, Dearnley spoke about Joshua Bohui, saying:

“Josh [Bohui] has done well. We’ve been struggling for another striker so maybe if I could have stayed clear of injury, I could have pushed on a bit more, but that’s how it is.

“Obviously, playing against older players you need to change your game up. They are sometimes going to be as fast as you and as strong as you so you’ve got to change your game but keep the same mindset. That doesn’t change. Once you’ve got that, that’s the groundwork sorted. If you keep that mindset throughout your career, you will do well.”

Manchester United will need to kick on in the U23 ranks next season, a big youth boost will be coming through the ranks next season and beyond which will show the club on a new level with Nicky Butt and his colleagues working for the last year or so to change the fortunes of United’s Academy, who were in need of the assistance. United have the youth blooding in their history and that is something that will continue. Bohui and Dearnley will just be a small part of that and hopefully a successful part.

Manchester United appoint Ricky Sbragia as new U23 manager

Manchester United have announced the appointment of Ricky Sbragia as the club’s new U23 manager. The club have been managerless with Nicky Butt taking control of the reigns for matches last season and Tommy Martin coaching the players during the week ever since the departure of Warren Joyce who then became the manager of Wigan Athletic, then being sacked and now managing a club associated with Manchester City in Australia.

The 61-year-old managed the club’s reserves from 2002-05, guiding the club to the Manchester Senior Cup, the Premier Reserve League North and the Premier Reserve League National Championship. Sbragia left United and coached the likes of Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and a position with the Scottish FA. Sbragia comes at a time whereby his new side will need guidance ahead of a new period after a tough season where the club, at this level, did not have a recognised striker.

Some talented players from the U18 squad will move up a level next season and they will be expected Sbragia and his experience to help create the new generation for Manchester United. Academy Director Nicky Butt, who made the appointment, speaking of Sbragia’s wealth of experience, great track record and the fact he will help continue the club’s key tradition of blooding in youth, said:

“Ricky brings a wealth of experience at all levels of football coaching. He has a great track record of developing young talent and is, of course, no stranger to Manchester United.

“Ricky’s knowledge and experience will help continue our important and key tradition of blooding young players into the first team. I am delighted Ricky has returned to the club in this important role as we look to continue our development of the Academy.”

Sbragia, speaking of his happiness to be back at Manchester United and also talking about the new structure for the club’s Academy, said:

“I couldn’t be happier to be back at Manchester United. It’s an exciting time for the club, with a new structure for the Academy and a relatively new set of coaches and management team.

“I am really excited by the challenge of this role, the club has always been at the forefront when it comes to Academy football and I am delighted that the club continues to strive to be the best with its forward-thinking ideas for the future of youth football.”

The U23’s were pictured training at the AON Training Complex for the first time this summer under the guidance of Tommy Martin ahead of their pre-season training camp in Austria. The likes of Callum Gribbin, Ethan Hamilton, Devonte Redmond, Dean Henderson, Regan Poole (now loaned to Northampton Town for the entire 2017/18 season), Jake Kenyon, Demetri Mitchell, Ro-Shaun Williams, Callum Whelan, coach Tommy Martin and Chris Hulse. It will be a big season for the U23’s, but with the stability of a new manager, things will be heading in the right direction in no time.

Rise To Fame: Josh Harrop; a telephone call away from success…

If the name Josh Harrop was mentioned a few years ago, many Manchester United supporters would be able to tell you that he was a talented player with the Academy, one who was tipped for big things but also had a long way to go. If you mentioned his name now, you would be told about a sublime solo goal at Old Trafford on his Premier League debut which was set up by United’s world record signing Paul Pogba with Harrop running up the flank, working his way into the box with a slalom-like run and firing into the far corner of the net from a slight angle. His telephone celebration was a joke between him and U23’s goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara, Speaking of the celebration, Harrop said:

“It’s a bit of a joke with one of the lads, Kieran O’Hara, so I did it for him. I did it in the last game as well, so it’s just something I do.”

Playing for Manchester United will be a dream come true for Harrop, a Stockport-born midfielder from a United supporting family. He joined United back in the summer of 2012 and his ambition is to make the grade at United like many have done before. Harrop is an exciting player and during the past season, with the U23’s not having a striker in their ranks, the player has done his best to be the bearer of the goals, along with other players, doing well with 10 goals throughout the season at U23 level; eight being scored in the Premier League 2 and two in the Premier League International Cup, United first time in the competition.

Harrop scored a hat-trick in front of first team manager Jose Mourinho on the Monday 15th May 2017 as United took on Tottenham Hotspur with the player taking the lead for United in the 37th minute, Spurs equalising two minutes into the second half, taking the lead four minutes later. Harrop then scored twice in the last eleven minutes, impressing the Portuguese manager. Harrop would then be back in training read for the weekend where he would make his Premier League debut at Old Trafford against Crystal Palace, which would have been something he had dreamed about in the past. He had played at Old Trafford the Monday evening, but this would be so much different. On making his Manchester United debut, the player (after the match) said:

“I’ve dreamed about it so many times so, for it to come true today, I’m delighted. Over the moon! All my family were here, my friends – I’m delighted they could share the moment with me. I’ve trained since I was eight for this moment so, for it to come true today in front of everyone, I’m over the moon, speechless.”

Harrop was named as a started against Palace also making their full debuts were Joel Pereira, Demetri Mitchell, and Scott McTominay; both Pereira and McTominay had played in the first team already during the 2016/17 season, more like cameo appearances through. Mourinho does not trust youth, they said – as he handed out five debuts to youth players so far that season and Matty Willock and Angel Gomes were also on the bench; Gomes would replace Wayne Rooney in the 88th minute of the match, being the sixth player to be handed a debut by the Portuguese manager during the season. Not bad for a manager who literally does not trust youth, which is not true, of course.

Harrop’s goal put United ahead in the 15th minute with Pogba, the player who assisted him doubling the Old Trafford club’s lead in the 19th minute, completing the scoring in the 2-0 victory. The 21-year-old, who will turn 22 in December is officially out of contract at the end of the month, meaning he could be leaving the Old Trafford club. A new contract has been offered with was signalled in the Premier League released and retained list this summer, but nothing has been suggested as to whether the player will remain at the club. Being from a United supporting family and this being a big dream, the player would not be in the right frame of mind to walk away from the club. First team football is not something that will be granted straight away, even though he did impress the manager it will need to be something he and others work for.

Harrop started his rise through the club’s ranks whilst playing for the U18 during the 2013/14 season, one which will be remembered as the first failure after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, for the first team at least, David Moyes, that! That season Harrop made 24 starts, scoring six goals and assisting a further eight goals. He also played for the U19’s when they took part in the UEFA Youth League that season, starting three times and coming on as a substitute a further three times, he also appeared as a substitute six times for the U21’s that season, making a total of 36 appearances that season. During the 2014/15 season, Harrop was promoted to the then U21’s (now the U23’s) where he made a total of 17 appearances, scoring four goals. The following season he made 16 appearances, scoring no goals but assisting twice. Injury was a big factor for him at the time, something he seems to have overcome.

The Sun reported earlier in the week that United had not offered Harrop a new contract, which is a bad bit of research for the newspaper, but that will not surprise anyone. They suggest that Harrop has been offered to Ligue 1 clubs Rennes and Bordeaux by his representatives, a report which came from GFFN. I would be surprised if this was anything more than a loan deal, with the possibility that a United contract will have already been accepted, of it could well be the plan to accept before the end of the month, unless a buyback clause will be inserted into and contract, which I am sure would need to mean that the player was already in contract with United before signing it.

This is probably nothing, but if it was something of a loan nature, it could be a good league for the play to gain more confidence to return to United in a year’s time ready to be handed a much bigger challenge. I do hope he stays at United, his heart might tell him to do that with his head suggesting something else. I am sure we shall see what happens over the next week or so. One thing is for sure though, Josh Harrop is not a player we have heard the last of.

copyright: JW