Everyone knows the amazing story of United’s 1992 FA Youth Cup winning team. The team which consisted of six players that became full internationals for their respective countries. The more important figure, in my opinion, is that ten of the starting XI of that team went on to represent United in the first team. Not all of them made it in the first team, but they all got their shot (bar one). Roll on nineteen years and the United Academy stand on the brink of another FA Youth Cup final, this time against a tough Sheffield United side. On the way to the final, United have taken down two of the toughest teams in the country in Liverpool and Chelsea, last years champions. Comparisons to the infamous team of ’92 started almost as soon as Liverpool had been dispatched from the competition. So are we really on the brink of another golden generation?
Well Gary Neville certainly thinks so. Whilst commentating on the second leg of the Chelsea tie for MUTV, G-Nev stated that this was the best youth team he has seen during his time at Old Trafford. Not bad from someone who has always coveted youth football during his days as a player. Personally I believe that with a little bit of luck, this group of players could produce three or four players who have long-term careers at Old Trafford. I also believe that the majority of the them will go on to have long-term careers in football, maybe not at Old Trafford, but certainly elsewhere.
The player that stands out most for me is Paul Pogba. The lad looks like a man amongst boys in the majority of games I have seen him play in this season. He is solid on the ball and never looks like he is going to lose it, even when teams double up on him. He has natural ability and has drawn many comparisons to Patrick Veira back in his homeland. Barring major injury, major personal problems or a desire to move back to France, Pogba should make the first team in the very near future. The other standout for me is Ravel Morrison. Much has already been said about this insanely talented teenager and our very own CartelMike said it best in his piece about Pogba and Morrison. If the lad can control his private life and realise that his gift should be utilised rather than squandered, he will surely be a major player in years to come. The final player I believe could make it is Ryan Tunnicliffe. This combative midfielder is the perfect foil to Pogba’s calm, natural game. Tunnicliffe reminds me of a cross between Bryan Robson and Roy Keane, he can tackle, he can pass, he can shoot and he has the engine of a pedigree race horse. If he continues to develop then I see no reason why the United midfield pairing in four or five years won’t read Pogba and Tunnicliffe.
There are other players who I believe could make it with the help of lady luck. There is flying Dutch winger, Gyliano Van Velzen, who like most Ajax academy youngsters, has incredible technique; Strikers Will Keane and John Cofie, who have both proven they have an eye for goal; Captain and centre back Tom Thorpe, who has shown composure and leadership skills all season; Keeper Sam Johnstone, who at 18 years old and 6ft 4in, is an imposing and talented goalie; and finally fullback and twin brother of Will, Michael Keane, a decent defender and good crosser of the ball. If they get the right loan moves, continue to develop and get the sprinkling of luck that every talented youth needs, I don’t see why they can’t make it either.
Of course, no one can be certain if the talent of youth can progress into what is needed to be a professional footballer at a club like Manchester United. This is of course partly down to the player taking the right opportunities, partly down to luck with injuries and partly down to the manager having the faith to give them a chance. With Fergie, we know if the talent is there they will get their shot. Will our next manager think in the same way or will they focus more on buying established players? Hopefully they will know enough about the history of the club and give the youth at the club the same chances they have gotten throughout history. The one thing you can predict though is that this is certainly our best chance at producing a team for the future we have seen since that fabled class of 1992.