Can the Recent Products of the Manchester United Academy Live up to the Legends?
The Manchester United Academy is the most successful youth setup in England and, along with a few stars now in their senior squad, has more graduates playing throughout the top two divisions of the English game than any other academy. Historically, the Red Devils’ early years programme has produced players of immense talent as well. World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton is a notable example, as are the class of '92 which included David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, and Phil Neville. The academy still remains strong but can the newcomers make as much of an impact on the game as these legends of old?
What Makes the Academy so Special?
United’s youth system is considered to be in the top ten in the world, with the other UK representative being the Southampton F.C Academy. Some of the other most notable academies in world football include Barcelona’s La Masia, which has produced Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Xavi, and Sporting Clube de Portugal’s Academia Sporting, which was once a home to Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.
The total cost of the Manchester United setup to date totals at around £60 million, and the building and complex are regarded as the most secretive in Europe. Along with the state of the art training facilities, in 2013, a medical centre and sports science department were added. This has helped the already well-established system to raise its game further, and it is likely that it will continue to churn out the best players in the world as it has done in the past.
One of the most eye-catching products of this youth system in recent years is Paul Pogba, who can already be considered among some of the top world-class talents. Promoted to the senior team under Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011, Pogba left the club for Juventus in 2012 in an effort to get more regular first-team action. The Frenchman flourished in Serie A and became a key component of the national squad as well. This led to Jose Mourinho re-signing the player for United for a record sum of £89.3 million in 2016. Some of the other players to leave the academy in recent years include Pogba’s United teammates Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Scott McTominay.
Can the likes of Rashford and Lingard Replicate the Greats?
There is no doubt that Rashford and Lingard are currently the two hottest prospects in English football from the United academy and, with the World Cup around the corner, both have a chance to take their games to the next level. The youngsters, who were brought up into the senior team by Mourinho’s predecessor Louis Van Gaal, were both selected by Gareth Southgate for Russia, and they will hope to make an impact on the world stage. As of the 23rd of May, the Three Lions are 16/1 with Betway to win the ultimate tournament, and newly-named captain Harry Kane believes they can go all the way and lift the trophy. The further Southgate’s side get, the more chances there will be for Rashford and Lingard to get worldwide recognition.
Rashford, in particular, looks like a shoo-in to don the sleek Nike England shirt in Southgate’s starting line-up, while Lingard may have to make do with substitute appearances. The 20-year-old has frequently stepped up when it has mattered and has proven to be capable of doing the job on the big stage, despite his age. In his debut for the Red Devils, Rashford scored two goals in the Europa League round of 32 in the 5-1 victory against Midtjylland. He also bagged a brace in his top-flight debut against Arsenal and notched in his first ever England match against Australia at the Stadium of Light. In doing so, he became the youngest Englishman to score on his international debut. There is no doubt that the young United academy product will be looking to break even more records this summer in Russia.
While some may think that the golden age of United academy products ended with the treble-winning players of the Ferguson era, there are more stars coming through who have the potential to go on to even greater success. The infrastructure at the club is astounding, and it is a system that other teams should look to replicate.