MANCHESTER UNITED YOUTH ACADEMY PLAYERS
Manchester United have a strong history of producing academy players for not only their first-team, but the English football system. Here are reports on their up-and-coming academy players. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.
You can find more in-depth player reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional original features and exclusive interviews included.
What is United's academy philosophy?
Manchester United boast a remarkable record of having an academy player start a competitive senior fixture for the club for over 1,100 consecutive games – and counting.
They place great emphasis on local talent, see the Class of ’92 and the likes of Marcus Rashford, but supplement them with high-level prospects brought in from other areas of England and Europe.
What is United's academy pathway?
“If they’re good enough, they’re old enough” is an iconic line by a legendary Manchester United manager, Sir Matt Busby. That quote has set the precedent for United’s academy-to-senior pathway.
The club have relied on a number of academy graduates from early ages, including Ryan Giggs and Marcus Rashford, Gary Neville and Mason Greenwood.
Who are the best United academy products?
Manchester United academy players permeate every level of English football – they’re present in every division, from League Two to the Premier League.
Beyond the obvious, there’s Danny Drinkwater, Sam Johnstone, Angel Gomes, Dwight McNeil, and many more.
Which competitions does United's academy compete in?
Manchester United youth teams have a great history of success, but they now face unprecedented competition from domestic rivals like Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal.
Teden Mengi is Manchester United through and through. Born in the city, he’s spent almost all of his formative development years at the club, working his way up the levels at a steady pace.
He broke into United’s U-23 team during the 2019/20 season before spending the second-half of the 2020/21 season to Derby County in the Championship. Since returning to underage football at United, he’s made his senior debut in a Champions League tie.
STYLE OF PLAY
Mengi might be a little shorter than the archetypal centre-back – he’s 1.83 metres tall – but he’s a good size and shape regardless. He’s an impressive athlete for his age, rounded and matured beyond his age. He moves well in pretty much every aspect.
He is also a rounded defensive player. A generally calm presence at the back, typically on the right-side of United’s defence, Mengi defends just as well in one-v-one duels and as he did covering space or set in a defensive block. He’s measured in his interventions and looks like the most experienced player on the pitch at youth level, which he often is.
He is technically sound too – Mengi moves the ball with decent speed and fluency. He keeps the ball in circulation, be it finding a progressive pass down his side or switching play to the left-back. United must be looking to place him at a League One or Championship club this winter; a Guéhi-to-Swansea type loan makes sense for all parties.
Charlie Savage is the 2003-born son of renowned Premier League midfielder Robbie Savage. Like his father, who came through the United academy in the early 90s, Charlie has spent much of his formative development at the club.
He’s now rising through the levels at a steady pace, having transitioned from under-18 to under-23 football this season. He’s gone one step further than his father too, making his senior United debut in the Champions League tie against BSC Young Boys in December 2021.
STYLE OF PLAY
Charlie is a fundamentally different player to his father, who lead a decent career in top-flight football and for Wales. Robbie was a snarling competitor, better at winding up opponents than playing. Charlie is much more technical in style and skillset.
Playing from the base of midfield, he has an impressive range of passing at his disposal. He can pick a lot of passes, including line-breakers that inject tempo into possession play or a long switch out to an isolated winger. He has strong technique as a passer, consistently making clean contact. He’s a very tidy on-ball midfielder.
Where he needs to improve is in his off-ball work, an aspect of the midfield game in which is father specialised. His base physique is promising but he needs to fill out, that will come with time. At present, he’s pretty one-paced and lacks physicality in contact and intensity in challenges. His defensive awareness leaves quite a bit to be desired as well. A full season at U-23 level before an EFL loan should see him develop.
Shola Shoretire represents the red half of Manchester now, but that has not always been the case. He started his football career with his hometown club Newcastle United first, before joining Manchester City in 2014.
His time with City was short-lived though, with the club reportedly releasing him after hearing that Shoretire had undergone a trial with Barcelona. Their loss was United’s gain, as Shoretire has become one of the stars of their latest academy crop. He’s been a regular with the first-team squad too, making his senior debut against his boyhood club, Newcastle, in Feruary of 2021.
STYLE OF PLAY
Shoretire looks like a gifted attacking midfield playmaker. He always looks to raise his vision and is aided in doing so by the ease in which he can receive the ball on the turn. At his best, he receives between the lines, turns, and seeks to attack space as he searches for opportunities to play through a team-mate.
His passing is very tidy in the short-to-medium ranges, underlining a game which is very tidy and compact for the most part, excluding some minor inefficiencies he has when letting the ball run across his body and allowing defenders to nick in and steal it from him.
The next best descriptor of his skillset would be silky. He is not an extraordinarily explosive player; instead he glides about the pitch with neat close control and smooth movements as he weaves his way through traffic.
He is a thoroughly enjoyable player to watch as he thrives because of his intelligence and creativity in a throwback to the old mould of number tens, with a modern twist of speed and intensity.
Manchester United invested significantly in their youth teams between 2019 and 2021. With Brexit and its repurcussions looming, they engaged in a youth drive that recruited a number of expensive talents from European football. One of them was Álvaro Fernández, signed from Real Madrid.
STYLE OF PLAY
Fernández provides excellent verticality down the left-side of United’s youth teams, be it at under-23 level or in the UEFA Youth League. He’s tall and rangy, which makes him standout even more. Fernández has the long-strided speed to drive into open space, with and without the ball. He’s very direct in his running, flying up the pitch in transition or on the overlap, and is very keen to break forward in build-up sequences as well.
He maintains width well and is relatively aggressive in his starting positions, which enables United to make the most of his direct attack threat. Once Fernández hits higher spaces, he has the quality to execute good crosses and cut-backs into the box.
One aspect he could improve is how he receives the ball; his body shape is often fairly closed which inherently restricts his options. He could also be more decisive in his defensive actions, which should come with time.
Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, the Neville brothers, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Jesse Lingard, and countless others. United’s academy has produced a number of high-level players.
Teden Mengi is an impressive defender that’s ready to play senior football at a Championship level. Shola Shoretire is an exciting attacker, as are the likes of Charlie McNeil.