Manchester United and its famed academy is a tale as old as time. From Busby Babes, to Fergie’s fledglings, better known as Class of ‘92, or the yet to be named batch led by Alejandro Garnacho, Manchester United’s youth has taken an identity of its own.
While some clubs would count themselves lucky to have a player or two come through their academy in a few years, the Red Devils’ production line has supplied a player to the first team for 85 years and counting.
Furthermore, it shows no signs of stopping. While Alejandro Garnacho is capturing the imagination of United fans around the world, and Kobbie Mainoo right behind, another crop of youngsters is already emerging, tasked with carrying on this barely believable legacy.
Here are 5 Manchester United academy prospects you’ll hear a lot more of in the next few years-
Diminutive playmaker with a wand of a left foot who is a wizard at set-pieces and can thread a pass through a crowded field. This description would immediately remind football fans of a certain magician from Argentina in Lionel Messi. Manchester United would be absolutely delighted if Shea Lacey became even half the player Messi is. Excitingly, Lacey has a bright future ahead of him.
Aged just 15-years-old, he is a regular member of the U18s side, not looking out of place among players 3 years his senior, and far more physically mature than him. What he lacks in physicality, he more than makes up for it with his flair, technique, dribbling skills and all-around mature style of play. Comfortable playing as the No 10, or on the wing, he is a prototypical creator who “gets the fans off their seats”, a trademark phrase for Manchester United academy youngsters.
Erik ten Hag has shown this season that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. For Shea Lacey, this season is too soon, but expect the Stretford End to go crazy when Lacey weaves his magic at Old Trafford pitch within the next 3 years.
Manchester United academy has had a long-standing love affair with Scotland. Scott McTominay proudly plies his trade for the club right now. The 17-year-old defender Louis Jackson is set to be the next Scottish prodigy to make the grade at United.
Jackson has been a highly rated prospect in United’s ranks for a long time. However, his moment came when he was called up to the team for the FA Youth Cup final against Nottingham Forest last season. In a marquee tournament which made stars of Mainoo and Garnacho in particular, Jackson’s calm and serene presence in the centre of defence in the final belied his young age.
Since that final, Jackson has firmly established himself in the U18s group, making 16 appearances this season as the U18s match the senior team this season, standing at 3rd in the league. Defence is generally the toughest area to break into for youngsters due to the margin of error being so small but if there was ever a player well-equipped to do so, it is Louis Jackson.
Rejecting Liverpool to sign for Man Utd? Ethan Ennis confirmed his cult status even before stepping on the field for United when he rejected Liverpool’s scholarship offer to join the Red Devils.
A highly-rated, and prolific attacker who is comfortable playing across the frontline, Ennis was a much wanted prospect as he banged in the goals for Liverpool’s youth side. He reportedly also visited Chelsea before deciding to join United. His progress this season has stalled due to a serious cruciate ligament injury, but his prospects shouldn’t diminish much due to it. He’s one of the most naturally gifted players in United’s ranks right now and his return to action is eagerly awaited.
Before Brexit was official and the signing of young players under 18 from abroad became impossible, Manchester United went on somewhat of a buying spree. Highly-rated talents from Spain and France, in particular, were snapped up. Those investments have aged like wine, with fans already excited by the potential of a couple from that batch. Alejandro Garnacho and Hannibal Mejbri were two of those players.
However, another Spanish player has the potential to join his more esteemed colleagues as of now. Marc Jurado is a Spanish RB who has broken through in a big way this season. While his fellow countryman Alvaro Fernandez, also a member of that same buying spree, earns plaudits at Preston, Jurado has ruled the roost at United.
3 goals and 4 assists for the U23 side at the age of 18 sounds remarkable. It goes from remarkable to unbelievable when it occurs that Jurado has managed this from the RB position. The stats and his playstyle point to a prototypical modern full-back who is an asset at both ends of the pitch. His recovery speed helps him track runners while defending and his stats speak for themselves when it comes to attack. Right-Back has anyways been an area of concern for United, with both Dalot and Wan-Bissaka showing flashes of greatness but failing to convince for a longer period. An in-house solution could be the trump card like Garnacho has been for the forward line this season.
Yet another prospect from that famed shopping spree. The French CB was a highly-rated prospect at FC Sochaux when United signed him in Oct 2020. Since then, his progress has been stuttering due to injuries and consequently, a loss of game time. However, his natural ability isn’t in question. At his best, Kambwala could be a defender in the mould of Raphael Varane. A player who is secure at the back due to his anticipation combined with recovery speed, and an asset in buildup phases due to his ability on the ball. United fans and coaches would be hoping 18-year-old Kambwala realises his vast potential, because that ceiling is rarely found in young defenders these days.