Manchester United’s latest signing Luke Shaw became the second youngest player to represent England at this summer’s World Cup. The 18-year-old will join his new United team-mates for pre-season along with members of the youth teams who will be looking to impress new manager, Louis van Gaal.
With many of the youth team players on the fringes of the first team, we’ve taken a look at eleven of United’s best Under-21s talents.
Joel Pereira (17) – Goalkeeper
Joel Pereira made just two appearances in his debut season for the Under-18’s as he adapted to life at Old Trafford following his move from Neuchatel Xamax. Last season saw him go from strength to strength as he featured in several UEFA Youth League matches as well as the 2013 Milk Cup final, and even donned the captain’s armband for the Under-18’s.
The youngster also managed to break into the Under-21 side but with David De Gea and others standing in his way, Pereira’s long-term future looks uncertain. To fulfill his potential, he may have to seek a move away from the club.
Saidy Janko (18) – Right-back
Saidy Janko’s signing went under the radar last season as it was completed on the same day Marouane Fellaini signed for the club.
Janko, a Swiss Under-21 international, signed for a fee worth £700,000 and could prove to be one of the best legacies of the Moyes era. Able to play all across the right-hand side, Janko impresses in whichever position he plays and may to battle it out for the right-back slot in years to come and was impressive in his debut campaign at United.
He was named the Reserve Player of the Year despite going up against James Wilson and fits Louis van Gaal‘s attacking full-back mould. Imagine a younger, more rounded Antonio Valencia and you’ve got Janko.
Michael Keane (21) – Centre-back
Although he has spent a lot of his career on loan at the lower league clubs, Michael Keane has been tipped to make the grade at United.
The young central defender, who can also play at right-back and in midfield, made his debut against Aldershot in the League Cup in 2011. More recently,he has been on loan at Leicester City, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers and made his debut for England Under-21’s in March 2013.
His style of play has seen comparisons made with United legend Rio Ferdinand, someone who has backed Keane to become a top player, but he has yet to get a consistent run at the highest level. This season, he will either need to go out on loan to another Premier League team or be given assurance that he will be given a chance at Old Trafford.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (17) – Centre-back
Borthwick-Jackson impressed with his performances and flexibility last season with the young defender able to play at centre-back or left-back.
The youngster has a trait which Van Gaal looks for in each of his defenders in that he is able to pass it out from the back with consummate ease. Coupled with his stature and his presence, he has risen through the ranks at youth level. He made his Under-21 debut in the Milk Cup aged 16. It seems as though he could become a mainstay within the senior defence in the coming years.
To add to his already impressive year, Borthwick-Jackson made his England Under-17 debut in October 2013.
Luke Shaw (18) – Left-back
Shaw, a full England international, has plenty of Premier League experience at just 18.
The youngster made 67 appearances for Southampton, looks set to be both United’s and England’s first choice left-back for the next decade or so if things go according to plan.
Last season, he won more aerial duels than Ashley Cole, Patrice Evra and Leighton Baines, and won more tackles than his new United team-mate, Patrice Evra, who he is looking forward to learning from next season.
The young defender is also dangerous going forward. He created an impressive 33 chances for his teammates last season which will continue to be an important aspect of United’s play under Louis van Gaal.
Charni Ekangamene (20) – Central midfielder
A signing from feeder club Royal Antwerp, Ekangamene has been at Old Trafford for four years. He went on loan to Carlisle in January 2014 and made four league appearances.
He looked solid for United last season and has been one of the most improved players in the reserve side. Able to operate in defence and midfield, Ekangamene is a good tackler and possesses great physical strength for a player of his age. Most importantly, he is able to keep possession, break up play and relay to his team-mates.
To enhance his chances of regular first team football, he may have to push for a loan to a club in a higher division.
Ben Pearson (19) – Central midfielder
Ben is a player very much in the mould of Paul Scholes in that he hardly goes a game without collecting a yellow card but the dynamic midfielder also shares plenty of Scholes’ favourable attributes.
No player on the pitch works as hard as Pearson and coupled with a tenacious attitude, he became an integral part of United’s midfield last year and having been named the Academy Player of the Year previously, there are high hopes that Pearson can work his way up to the senior side.
Joe Rothwell (19) – Central midfielder
Rothwell and Pearson are renowned for their excellent partnership in the heart of the Under-21’s midfield towards the end of last season.
Despite suffering some injuries in 2011/12 and 2012/13, Rothwell came back strong to be handed his first professional contract and has not looked back since.
It has been evident throughout his youth that the boy has talent but it is finally starting to shine through. His performances in the UEFA Youth League for the Under-19 side were enough to help him break through to the Under-21’s where he became a permanent fixture alongside Pearson. His form also earned him an England Under-19 call-up and debut.
Adnan Januzaj (19) – Winger
With no first team action under his belt at the beginning of the season, Adnan Januzaj is now in Brazil representing his country. Having proven himself on the biggest club stage at Old Trafford last season, Januzaj was a shining light in an otherwise dismal season for the first team.
With Louis van Gaal in charge next season, Januzaj will be expected to go from strength-to-strength under the more attack-minded manager, exciting crowds up and down the country.
Tom Lawrence (20) – Forward
From a loan in League One to his Premier League debut, it is fair to say that Tom Lawrence prospered in 2013/14.
The Welsh winger has been compared with United legend Ryan Giggs but time will tell if that comparison is merely due to shared nationality.
Lawrence has bags of talent and really started to show it towards the tail end of last season for United, so there are high hopes he can continue in that same vein next year.
James Wilson (18) – Forward
Few would have predicted the impact that James Wilson made last season. The youngster scored 24 goals in 30 matches across all levels and netted twice on his senior debut against Hull at Old Trafford.
With Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck reportedly unsettled at Old Trafford, Wilson may have the opportunity to make the third choice striker slot his own if his progressions continues at the same rate.