It is a heartening sight for Manchester United fans that even in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson malaise at the club, the academy has continued to shine bright.
In fact, the latest resurgence under Erik ten Hag is being driven by the characters developed at Carrington in the form of Alejandro Garnacho, Scott McTominay, Kobbie Mainoo, and more.
Erik ten Hag warrants praise for his handling of the academy products and with a potential problem position popping up in the first-team soon, a new prospect could be waiting in the wings.
Casemiro, who was signed at the age of 30, was always going to be a short-term move and his form this season has proved as such.
A replacement will be needed and his minutes will need to be managed in a season or two at most.
Just in time for Jack Fletcher’s introduction to the first-team picture. The son of United fan-favourite Darren Fletcher, Jack joined United at the start of the season along with his brother, Tyler, from Manchester City.
The midfielder has immediately become a favourite among the youth ranks at Carrington with his complete profile as a midfielder.
In his first season with the U18s, aged just 16, Jack has played just 31% of all available minutes in five appearances, but still managed to contribute a goal and two assists.
So, how is Jack Fletcher the ideal Casemiro replacement in the long term? Here’s a look at the profile of Darren Fletcher’s son-
Jack Fletcher’s playing style and the Casemiro conundrum
First off, the thing that immediately pops up is that Jack Fletcher is also left-footed like Casemiro. For a midfielder who receives the ball from his centre-backs, having that passing angle is a quality valued highly by Erik ten Hag.
At the U18s level, Jack has played mainly as a central midfielder instead of a deeper role but has acted as an all-action dynamo.
He crashes the box for opportunistic finishes, has an affinity for a tackle in defence, and can play one-twos to pass his way out of trouble as well.
Just like Kobbie Mainoo was billed as a deeper midfielder when he made his debut, Jack’s game is also refined enough that he can be a threat further forward too.
That’s where an interesting case emerges. To start with the question of succeeding Casemiro, one needs to first understand- Would Ten Hag even want to replace Casemiro?
It is worth noting that the Brazilian was a panic buy after United had failed to land Frenkie de Jong.
The former Real Madrid man has done well at United, but he isn’t what Ten Hag wants from his deepest midfielder, something quite clear to see when he waxes lyrical about Mainoo’s buildup and ability to take the ball from his defenders to progress play.
In Mainoo and a couple of years down the line, Jack Fletcher, Ten Hag will have two midfielders whose skillsets are tailor-made for the kind of football he wants to ideally implement at the club.
Instead of having a “destroyer” in Casemiro along with a ball progressor, the Fletcher-Mainoo pivot in a 4-2-3-1 will instead have two midfielders who are complete in their profile.
Football has transitioned away from a game of specialists and Fletcher’s education in the academy has been holistic. He is comfortable on the ball, combative off it, and perhaps most importantly for Ten Hag, is press-resistant.
Unlike Casemiro, he can do much more than just disrupt the opposition attacks and then pass to a more capable on-ball player. He is potentially both those players rolled into one, like Mainoo looks to be.
His brother Tyler Fletcher is also a midfielder following his footsteps although he is a bit less established in the setup right now.
Ultimately, Jack’s USP lies in his ability to not just replace Casemiro, but improve the team dynamic while doing so. Of course, right now, there’s no comparing the level of a 16-year-old kid with someone who has won five Champions League titles.
But then again, that notion seemed ridiculous about Mainoo-Casemiro comparisons at the start of the season too. Football moves quickly and with the way Jack Fletcher is developing, Darren Fletcher could soon become “Jack Fletcher’s dad”.