United are a Glutton for Youth Talent
With the 21/22 Premier League season upon us, it feels as if optimism is high in the United camp. Most of the United fans I have spoken with feel as if we are inching closer to tangible progress. A big part of the excitement I see is the youth movement in our team
In the first team, AWB, Dalot, Williams, McTominay, van de Beek, Rashford, James, Sancho, Greenwood, Tuanzebe and Martial are all 25 and younger. Greenwood and Sancho are the players with the highest expectations placed on them this season. However, all of these players have great abilities and seem to be on their way to fulfilling that potential under Ole.
Even younger so, Amad, Shoretire, Pellistri, Bernard, Mengi, Levitt, Hugill, Hannibal, Garner, Galbraith, Fish, Elanga, and Chong, are all youth prospects under the age of 21. Moreover, all of them have played with the first team during this preseason.
This begs the questions; who of this crop of youngsters might break through this season? Who of these youngsters has shown the potential to be a United first team player?
Youth Players Being Loaned Out
Tahith Chong, Axel Tuanzebe, Will Fish, DiShon Bernard, and Facundo Pellistri have already been loaned out for this season. Derby reportedly want Mengi on loan, and with Varane coming in, it was always likely he wouldn’t get many minutes.
Levitt has been promoted to the first team. Though, he is so far down the pecking order that like Mengi he needs more minutes on loan to develop. There are a host of teams that want to take him on loan. United simply need to pick the team most likely to give him playing time.
Southampton want Brandon Williams on loan. Factoring in United’s hunt for a new right back and Diogo Dalot returning from his loan spell in fine form, Williams was always likely to see his playing time dwindle. He also needs a loan to see if he can push to be a United starter in the future.
Galbraith, Bernard and Laird are all attracting interested from clubs who want to take them on loan. It is likely that all three, along with Mengi and Levitt need two or more seasons on loan to develop into first team players.
Galbraith is already a full international with Northern Ireland. He was perhaps the most likely to make the step up to United’s first team full time. However, with an already bloated side, he will have to impress on loan and hope that United can thin their squad before next season.
As I write this, it has broken that James Garner’s future is now up in the air. He had an excellent loan spell with Nottingham Forest in the second half of last season. He has continued this good form into Manchester United’s preseason games. Though he doesn’t score many goals, his leadership, vision and passing range have really shined in the last 6 months. He also fits the bill for the holding midfielder profile we have been looking for.
I expected him to make a push into the first team this season, maybe giving McTominay and Fred something to worry about. At the very least it was likely he would get regular minutes in the domestic cup competitions. But it seems that he has rejected a new deal with the Red Devils, leaving his situation a bit precarious. He will most likely be sold or loaned to a potential buyer, which is a shame for United.
The Best of the Best
Youth players that are still in the mix for contention this season are really only Amad, Shoretire, Elanga, and Hannibal.
That being said each of these players is at an interesting crossroad. Like Garner, they are all far too talented to be loaned or relegated to the U23 team. But none of them is currently developed enough to replace a current first team player.
For the moment, I am going to gloss over Amad. He has exceptional passing ability, pace and ball control, but he is still recovering from his exploits for the Ivory Coast at the Olympics. Rumor has it, he picked up a minor injury which will only delay his recovery. This means he is unlikely to feature for United until closer the holiday period. He needs to regain form and fitness before he becomes a genuine first team contender.
In the meantime, I am sure we can expect a few cameo rolls. His pace and trickery could help to breakdown sides that like to sit deep. Though, with Rashford, James, Sancho and Greenwood all ahead of him, he will have to produce the spectacular to be considered regularly.
Shoretire showed in the second half of last season that he can be a great debutant for United. In 21 appearances for United’s Premier League 2 team he scored 10 goals and 5 assists last season. Shola was also voted the Young Player of the Year for United last season. He is a tricky and pacy attacker that can play across the front four.
I would expect to see him play regularly in the FA and Carabau Cup games. Like Amad, he could be deployed as an occasional sub in the Premier League against teams that deploy a deep block. My guess is he will feature in about 20 games this season. He has a goal in him, but his biggest asset will be his speed, eye for a cross and ball control.
Sadly, for Shoretire, and again like Amad, United are bloated in attack and he needs games to develop. With Elanga having a strong preseason and Amad further along in his development, Shoretire is likely to be the player left out. We will see if Ole wants to send him out on loan to continue his development.
Elanga is the most likely player to make an immediate impact at United this season, in my opinion. Martial still isn’t fit enough for a full 90min. Cavani is still recovering and finding fitness after his exploits with his national team this summer. Rashford had surgery and is out until November. Sancho has only just started training with the team and will likely take time to bed himself in. Lingard picked up COVID. And as previously listed Amad is recovering from injury and the Olympics.
That leaves us with Greenwod, James, Elanga, Shoretire and Periera as our fittest forwards. With three goals in preseason, Elanga is by far the most inform and fit attacker we have left. He’s managed 22 goals and 13 assists in 61 games for the youth set up. Hopefully that is just a taste of what he can bring to the first team to justify his regular use all season.
I hope to seem him play a regular roll in the early stages of the domestic cups. If he can perform well, he may gazump Dan James to that third choice right sided attacker spot behind Sancho and Greenwood. I have a gut feeling that we will see some spectacular moments this season from Elanga. Even if he isn’t a regular feature in the starting eleven.
Hannibal is one that I am really hoping to see this season. He has featured regularly in Ole’s preseason lineups. He also has 22 goal involvements in 45 games for the U18’s and U23’s. Hannibal is a big lad with pace for days. Look at some of the highlights of his first touch, ball control and long-range shooting. They are sensational. He is very similar to a young Paul Pogba when he was making his way through the youth set up.
Unfortunately for United, Hannibal is now a full international for Tunisia and his development is stalling in the U23 team. He will most likely be loaned unless United offload Lingard and Periera, which for the moment seems unlikely. Though I won’t lie, I would rather see Hannibal and Garner given chances over Lingard and Periera.
What We are Likely to See From Our Youth This Season
I have high expectations for our youth prospects and loanees. This is the last chance for Tuanzebe and Chong to impress on loan. They are at risk of becoming perma-loanees and could be better sold to the highest bidder. It may also be the last chance for Brandon Williams to impress with a loan.
Levitt, Mengi, Galbraith, Bernard, and Laird all have time to bolster their reputations and consistency. They will certainly be given a few more seasons on loan before being given a genuine chance to fight for a place in the first team.
Garner could have been the break through player. United need an all action and physical holding midfielder that can also be a playmaker, he could have fit the bill. But his refusal to sign a new deal is implicative of him not sticking around at Old Trafford long enough for us to find out if he can be that player.
I would bet that Elanga and Shoretire will be given the most opportunities this season. Particularly in the first few months of the season while injuries and fitness remains a problem. If either can impress in this short period then they may see more minutes, especially as the season pushes on and gets busy in the post-holiday period.
I hope this is Hannibal’s breakout season with United. Unfortunately for him, our midfield is fully fit and overflowing with options. Moreover, his attributes are too similar to many of United’s existing midfielders. For that reason it is hard for me to believe he will see much game time. I just hope his potential is given the chance to develop this season. Expect a loan or a few cameo appearances in the domestic cup competitions.
The Reality is Meek
Its hard to see any of these players making a major impact outside of the domestic cups. However, every once in a while you get a player like Rashford, Greenwood, Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo or the whole fabled class of 92’. A player that even at a tender age is ready to step up to the big time. Many of the players discussed in this article have that potential, but history has shown that few make the step up to greatness.
So far, Elanga, Shoretire, Garner and Hannibal have shown they are most likely to make that leap. The problem that all of them face is the transfer teams inability to offload players like Periera and Phil Jones. No one wants the players we want to get rid of. It’s not to say that Jones, Periera and Lingard are bad players. They are just so overpaid, thanks to Eddie “Four Fingers” Woodward’s poor management of this club. No one wants to cover their wages and none of the players wants to take a substantial pay cut.
We are also left with the reality that players like Matic, Lee Grant and Mata are all well past their prime. They all play more of a coaching or mentoring roll for the younger players. This is great, I cant complain about that, except that they are all on astronomical wages as well. All three players make more then any of Ole’s coaching staff, is that really worth it? With so many overpaid players still lingering at United, its hard to give chances to up and coming youth.
I can only hope that United can sort out our over paid and inflated squad soon, otherwise a lot of our promising youngsters will certainly look for pastures greener.
Glory, Glory Man United.