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