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Manchester United: Who Are The Stars Of The Future?

Tom Cleverley

By Jason Mathias.

Manchester United Reserves were crowned champions of the Northern section last night after Liverpool lost to arch rivals Everton. The win continues Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s successful start to his management career, having won 2 cups in his first season, with a chance to defend the Manchester Senior Cup looming on Thursday. But who are the players looking to break through to the first team in the coming years? It’s time to dust off my crystal ball…

Since John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher made the breakthrough, the latter in 2004, the famed Manchester United academy wasn’t really producing players of enough quality to sustain careers at Old Trafford. While the likes of Chris Eagles, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Kieran Richardson, David Jones, Phil Bardsley, Fraizer Campbell, Paul McShane, Ryan Shawcross and Jonathan Spector have made themselves careers at Premier League level, they didn’t quite make it. But in the last two seasons, Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson and Kiko Macheda have established themselves as first team squad members. The current kids of United will have seen their progress and hopefully increased their belief that they too can reach the required level.

The best place to start would be the nominees for the Reserve Player of the Year award, who are Oliver Gill, Ritchie De Laet and Magnus Eikrem. While these three are by no means the three best players in the team, they have all had impressive seasons. De Laet has made several first team appearances, Gill has emerged from mediocrity in the academy to consistency in the reserves and Eikrem has overcome problems with his growth to show some real ability in passing and set-pieces. If Eikrem in particular can keep up his work, then he has a good chance at making some appearances for the first team.

Undoubtedly the most impressive player from the United reserves this year hasn’t even been playing for them. Tom Cleverley has spent the season on loan at Championship side Watford, and was this week named the club’s player of the season. They may well be currently battling relegation, but many fans will say that if they do stay up, Cleverley would be the main reason. A midfielder who can play centrally or on the wings, the 20 year-old has seemingly already been placed in the first team squad for next season on the back of his performances for the Hornets. On being linked with a loan move for Cleverley next season, Preston manager Darren Ferguson suggested that having spoken to Daddy, Tom would not be available for loan. Unfortunately for Cleverley, he suffered a knee injury 2 weeks ago and may not return in time for pre-season. But look for him to share time off the bench next season with Gibson, probably as an option on the wings.

One of the reasons Cleverley was allowed on loan this season is the depth of quality there in the club’s youth ranks. In addition to Eikrem, there are the likes of Matty James, Oliver Norwood, Rodrigo Possebon, Corry Evans and Davide Petrucci. James has spent the last few months of the season on loan at Preston and has impressed in the Championship at the tender age of 18. He is renowned for his long-range passing and has a hell of a shot on him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes out on loan again next season. Norwood is a Northern Ireland Under 21 international with a reputation for Beckham-like free-kicks and playmaking from deep. Again I would expect a loan deal for him next season as he gets some experience of first team football.

Rodrigo Possebon has had a strange old season. Having impressed so much in his few first team appearances, he was given a season-long loan move to Portuguese side Braga. However, the experience could easily be said to have been a disaster, as it was cut short in January and he returned to United having made just one appearance. Why? One theory is that after suffering a broken leg at the hands (or feet) of Middlesbrough’s Emanuel Pogatetz, Possebon struggled to mentally recover and once again adapt to competitive football. Either way, he has gradually made more appearances for the reserves since his return and recently has looked more like his old self. If he regains his confidence and form of last season, Possebon certainly has a chance to break through.

Corry Evans is a full Northern Ireland international known for his versatility. Jonny’s younger brother, he is capable at centre-back, full-back and centre-midfield. It is this trait that could well help him if United need someone able to fill in on the bench (and John O’Shea is unavailable, of course). I would expect a loan move for him next season, maybe even to a lower Premier League team. Not forgetting Danny Welbeck, who has scored goals in the first team and has as strong a chance as Macheda of breaking through. If anything, I see it as a battle between the two of them for the mantle of 5th choice striker, while the other one will likely head out on loan.

One of the reasons I foresee so many loans for a lot of the current reserves is the talent in the Under 18s. Looking a little further ahead (which is always dangerous when discussing players of this age), the kids in the academy have a chance to far surpass the current reserves. Josh King is a Norwegian striker who made his United debut this season in the Carling Cup against Wolves at the age of just 17. He’s had his fair share of injuries this season which have halted his progress, but prior to that he absolutely dominated the Under 18s league and had moved up to the reserves with ease. Along with Macheda and Welbeck, there is a strong chance that United may find a worthy striker from their own academy for the first time since Mark Hughes in the 80s.

Beyond that there have been great seasons personally for William Keane, a 17 year-old striker with a touch of the Sheringham’s about him who has already progressed into the reserves, determined winger Robbie Brady, box-to-box powerhouse Ryan Tunnicliffe and enforcer Paul Pogba, who will almost certainly make the step up into the reserves next season despite only recently turning 17. The player talked about most in the academy though is trickster Ravel Morrison, who has been touted as something special from the age of 15. This season he hasn’t featured prominently though, as question-marks over his attitude have been raised. But when he wants to, this kid can turn it on and run rings around defences with sumptuous dribbling and technique. There is also Davide Petrucci, signed from Roma, where he was regarded as the new Francesco Totti. Again, injuries have played their part this season, but his playmaking skills have shone through in his appearances for the Under 18s.

With all the talent floating around the reserves and Under 18s at the moment, it is easy to say that some of these players could develop into Manchester United players. Of course, it is another thing altogether for them to do it. Part of what makes a United player is the desire to succeed, so if these lads make a first team appearance, we know they would have earned it. What’s more, the quality of the kids might just make the job a little easier for whoever fancies taking over the reins from Sir Alex Ferguson.

Have you seen any of these players in action? Can they make it at United? Leave your comments below.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. elvido

    April 22, 2010 at 9:35 am

    I have said on a lot of United blogs that the current set of youngsters, academy and reserves are high on potential. Most of the players you have mentioned have the skills to make it but as you say mental toughness is a big big [art of United.
    The player I would love the most to make the grade is Ravel Morrison, fantastic talent! It is comforting that the likes of Ole and SAF will be guiding these potential first teamers. I would love to see more of the youth set up featuring in our first team. Guess the next transfer window should give us a fair idea.

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