Despite spending around £250m over the summer, Manchester United have struggled to find consistency in a topsy-turvy season so far. Dips in form have plagued the side, but they have done well to stick to their principles by blooding a new generation of players.
Four academy graduates have appeared for the Red Devils so far in this campaign – Jesse Lingard, James Wilson, Andreas Pereira and Paddy McNair.
What’s encouraging for United fans is that Louis van Gaal’s speciality is in nurturing youth, and the Dutchman has a strong contingent of youth players who will be looking to break into the first team over the next five years...
1. Callum Gribbin (16, midfielder)
The 16-year-old Gribbin has propelled himself into the limelight after he was called up to the first-team squad over the summer, and United have sung the praises of the talented midfielder on their official website: “Elegant and possessing fine vision, his performance against Aston Villa in March was one of the best individual displays of the entire academy season.”
Rather than crumbling under the pressure that comes with high praise, though, the young Red has been kept grounded and is continuing to produce the best football of his career. His aim will be to cement a place in the under-18 squad as the first step towards rising through into the first team. With the club seemingly convinced of his potential, Gribbin is one to watch.
Chances of success: 3/5
2. Axel Tuanzebe (18, defender)
At the end of the 2014/15 campaign, Tuanzebe was named Young Player of the Year at Old Trafford. The gong named after Jimmy Murphy, Sir Matt Busby's long-time assistant, has had some prestigious recipients in the past – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Danny Welbeck to name a few.
Admittedly not all winners – Federico Macheda being a case in point – go on to become United heroes. However, there is a strong sense around the club that Tuanzebe will continue his development to a high standard.
The 18-year-old, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but brought up in Rochdale, led the under-18s to Milk Cup victory in 2014 as captain. With McNair and Tyler Blackett yet to convince and a shortage of depth in the backline, Tuanzebe could be propelled into the first team quickly.
He has something of the Rio Ferdinand about him as a strong, ball-playing centre-back – a trait Van Gaal adores. Tuanzebe also has the intelligence to read the game well. These characteristics will provide him with the foundations to go on and establish himself as a top defender in years to come, providing he keeps on working hard.
Chances of success: 4/5
3. Timothy Fosu-Mensah (17, midfielder)
A natural ball-playing midfielder, Dutchman Fosu-Mensah has been tipped as a graduate likely to break into the first team within the next couple of seasons.
In recent years we've seen Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Adnan Januzaj rise to fame through the youth system. And like those now-established players did at the time, Fosu-Mensah stands out in the under-18s.
The talented midfielder dominates his area of the pitch, in a way reminiscent of Pogba. He controls the space around him, is strong in stature and can read the game well, but possibly his biggest strength is the fact that he can bring other players into the game with his excellent array of passing.
There have been continual comparisons between Fosu-Mensah and Pogba, but a fundamental difference is that the current academy student is more defensive than his Juventus counterpart. Fosu-Mensah can also adequately fill in at centre-back and this versatility will be a bonus in Van Gaal’s eyes.
Chances of success: 3/5
4. Sean Goss (19, midfielder)
Former Exeter player Goss has already been dubbed the new Michael Carrick. A midfielder who plays beyond his years with composure and calmness, you might think he’s played the game for much longer than his tender years suggest.
The Germany-born starlet is yet to feature for the first team, but as reward for a stellar 2014/15 season, Van Gaal included the 19-year-old in the pre-season tour of the USA. Goss said in September: “I really look up to him [Carrick] as a player, he’s top class and to come on for him made my debut [in pre-season] even more special. His passing is incredible, he rarely gives the ball away and he acts as an anchorman, so he is a big part of the team.”
Since leaving Exeter in 2012 for United, having been with the Grecians since he was eight, Goss has become a key player in the academy setup. He currently plays for the U21s, where he is a pivotal component in making the team tick.
With Carrick ageing, Goss could well be the player who takes his place in the first team. It’s only a matter of time before he's introduced at Old Trafford.
Chances of success: 4/5
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