One thing Manchester United as a club prides itself upon is bringing youth through on a consistent basis and the club has played over 3,500 games since a match day squad didn’t include a home grown player, a statistic which shows how important the academy is at Old Trafford.
We’ve had the famous ‘Class of 92’ come through the ranks and go on to be world class players. More recently the likes of Jonny Evans, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck have graduated and gone on to be consistent first team starters. It’s this sort of success in grass-roots which makes the club so unique and it continues to give superstars of tomorrow the best possible chance of achieving greatness.
Around this time last year, I wrote an article on the then relatively unknown Adnan Januzaj. He’d signed for the club aged 16 and gone on to star for both the Under-18s and Under-21s. Then, as predicted, he made the break through to the senior squad and marked his call up with a match winning brace against Sunderland at the Stadium Of Light with two splendid goals.
So, after Adnan’s success, I’m going to put my neck on the line and predict another successful year for another one of United’s academy products – James Wilson.
Born in Biddulph on the outskirts of Stoke, playmaker and goal machine Wilson is slowly starting to create a reputation for himself at the club.
Wilson has been a major hit in every age group at the club after being scouted by United at the tender age of just seven. He well and truly announced himself as a future first team player after he scored five goals in an Under-18s game against Newcastle towards the end of last season.
To me, what makes Wilson stand out is the same thing which I first saw in Januzaj – he can do anything. He has mainly been played as a centre forward for the Under-18s/19s/21s as he is such a lethal goalscorer but he is also equally adept at playing on both wings or as a deep lying supporting striker. For someone so tall, he has phenomenal pace, agility and is technically gifted with the ball at his feet.
However, what I like about him the most is his work ethic and leadership. He sets the standard for his team-mates. It’s very rare that you will see a centre forward with the leadership skills that Wilson possesses. He hunts down the ball every time it’s in the final third and if he doesn’t get it that time, he’ll make sure he does the next – it is a characteristic that has helped make Danny Welbeck the player he is today.
The combination of pace, sheer aggression and eagerness to win the ball back makes him a nightmare for opposition defenders. As soon as he gets the ball at his feet, he’s near enough impossible to defend.
In a pre-season friendly this year against Trafford FC, I saw Wilson showcase exactly how good he was. Trafford play a very physical style of football and considering Trafford’s centre backs are both big lads, Wilson could easily have struggled.
But what I saw next confirmed to me that this 18-year-old is going to be some player. He put himself about, went into tackles hard, went up for headers hard and out muscled players who were a good six inches and five stone heavier than him. He just had that ‘wow’ factor.
Already, Wilson captains the Under-18s and Under-19s teams at United and represents England at Under-19 level. He has now played his way into the Under-21s side and has continued to shine at that level. He didn’t even look like he had to adapt – he looked like he’d played for the Under-21s since he was 16.
He reminds me so much of Januzaj in his phenomenally quick progress through the Under-18s into the Under-21s and if he continues his form, I don’t think he’ll need a loan move. Give him a few games in pre-season at senior level, take him on tour, let him experience the senior squad lifestyle and he’ll be a ready made replacement for when Van Persie decides to retire.
It is sometimes unwise to be this optimistic about any youngster but I’d certainly bet on James Wilson being a first regular at United within two years. I was spot on with Januzaj, lets hope the trend continues with Wilson.