It’s difficult to pinpoint players who can break onto the first team scene at Manchester United. Although many youth team enthusiasts would have picked Adnan Januzaj out as someone who could come into the first team at some stage this season, I don’t think any predicted the impact that he has had already.
There are so many factors that can affect the progression of players up the ranks but here are some prospects who show signs of having what it takes to become future stars at United.
Watching Nick Powell play, you sometimes have to remind yourself that he’s still only 19. He scored a beautiful goal on his debut against Wigan, the club he’s on loan with this season, to typify that.
A series of injuries and off the field issues meant that his chances last season were limited but he has been heavily involved for Wigan this year. He has played mostly upfront for the Championship side but has also played as a central attacking midfielder, coming in from the right and in central midfield.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Dario Gradi both saw Powell’s future in central midfield but it remains to be seen whether David Moyes is of the same opinion. An already busy schedule for a team in the Championship was made even more jam-packed with the addition of Europa League football but all this will help Powell in the long-term given that United are usually involved in the latter stages of most competitions. He’s a game changer as was seen recently when he came on and turned Wigan’s FA Cup tie around from a losing position to a victory. He has an excellent physique coupled with good movement and strength.
James Wilson has only recently turned 18 but already has already made several Under-21s appearances. He has played at a number of age levels already this season and scored in all of them. Although predominantly played as a striker, he can also play on the left and is captain of the Under-18s side when he plays and was captain for the Under-19 Youth League campaign. Wilson is a natural leader on and off the pitch.
He was last season’s top scorer in the Under-18s with 14 goals in 13 games and was joint top scorer for the group stages in the Youth League. He’s scored 14 goals already this season at all levels.
He can score any type of goal, from the simple to the sublime and loves to go round the keeper in the process. It’s not just his ability to sniff out a goal as his work-rate is also incredible. He has a cool head and whether he scores or misses (rarely) a chance, he just puts his head down runs and goes again. There’s quite a bit of cautious excitement surrounding him, especially since it’s rare for a striker to break through to the United first team, but if he continues his rate of progress it won’t be too long before he gets his chance.
Tom Thorpe is probably the first name on the Under-21 team sheet. An elegant ball-playing centre back who can also play in central midfield or full back, he may not be the tallest defender but it doesn’t impact on his game as his consistency, calmness, positioning and leadership make him stand out.
His reading of the game is excellent and for a player who is so comfortable on the ball, he’s not afraid to get stuck in with fantastically timed tackles. He always looks to start an attack, picking out passes to get the ball forward and sometimes making the forward run himself. His performances generally don’t make the headlines but his consistent composed performances give the rest of the team the freedom to attack.
He captained the team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 and is currently captain of the reserves. He had an excellent season last year which saw him lead the side to become the inaugural Under-21 Premier League Champions. That season also saw him nominated for the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the year, where he narrowly lost out to Adnan Januzaj. With strong speculation surrounding the futures of veterans Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, there could be an opening for a young centre back.
With United’s long term and long discussed problems in midfield, it’s hard not to get excited about Ben Pearson. He has all the hallmarks of a top midfielder with a wide range of passing. He’s equally comfortable sitting protectively in front of the back four as he is playing a more attacking role. He landed the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year last season after consistent performances in the engine room of the Under-18s.
Unlike technnically gifted players, his physicality isn’t in question and he certainly isn’t afraid of a tackle. Don’t get the wrong impression though, he usually wins the ball and passes to a team mate to start a forward move. One thing that particularly impresses me is his positioning. When he’s not on the ball, he constantly makes adjustments based on where the ball is. His opportunities at Under-21 level have been limited this season with the sheer amount of players Warren Joyce is attempting to facilitate but when he gets his chance to shine, he’ll no doubt impress.
The Belgian right back has been one of the most consistent performers at Under-21 level over the last couple of seasons. With Rafael having picked up a couple of injuries, the lack of depth in that position has been exposed particularly given Moyes’ reluctance to give Fabio opportunities.
Vermijl can play in either full-back position, is superb defensively and is also no slouch going forward. He’s currently on loan at NEC Nijmegen where he has scored four goals in his last seven matches, a record a striker would be happy with. His performances last season saw him shortlisted alongside Thorpe and Januzaj for the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year which is a testament to how well he played. He made his debut for the first team last season in a League Cup victory over Newcastle United and signed a contract extension this summer which keeps him at the club until 2016. His loan spell won’t have done his future chances at United any harm.