ARTICLES Opinion

Three United academy players to watch out for next season

Manchester United’s academy has produced many incredible talents throughout the years and have an unbelievable reputation with bringing through these players. The club have had an academy graduate represent the side in the matchday squad for every single match they’ve played since 1937, this run stretches over 4,000 games for The Red Devils.

This record is not only highly impressive, but it incapsulates what The Reds are about. This made it incredibly difficult to see the decline in the academy in recent years, regarding both facilities and talent – with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea having more successful youth teams than United.

However, in the last few years there have been major improvements within the Manchester United youth set-up, and we are beginning to see more and more talented youngsters playing in the youth sides. Here are three Manchester United academy players that everybody needs to watch out for next season.

Charlie McNeill

Charlie McNeill ditching Manchester City for his boyhood club at the beginning of last season was sweet for The Red Devils, but what made the transfer even sweeter was how good the striker really was.

McNeill had scored over 600 goals across his youth career, including 110 across 72 matches when in City’s Under-15s side. He spent six years with The Citizens before leaving to return to United, who he had been at before his stint in blue and white.

The striker is incredible in and around the penalty area, with a clinical nature when the ball comes his way. His first year back in red saw him join Neil Ryan’s Under 18s side, and McNeill was the star man throughout the course of the season. The 17-year-old scored 24 goals in just 21 appearances in the U18 Premier League and had six assists to go alongside the goals.

The teenager joined Mason Greenwood as only the second Manchester United academy player to score 20 league goals in a single campaign since the start of academy football in 1998.

When up against his former side, McNeill took no prisoners; scoring all four goals for United in a 4-2 victory against their neighbours, kissing the United badge after scoring his first.

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While Manchester City U18s took the title home on the last day of the season, McNeill will be looking to move onto Under-23 football in this following season.

McNeill grabbed two appearances for Neil Wood’s Under-23s side and it is possible that he has more involvement for them next season with the likes of Anthony Elanga and Hannibal Mejbri looking likely to either be involved in the first-team or to move on loan.

While his instincts and quality in and around the box are second-to-none, McNeill has steadily improved his all-round play across the course of last season, and it is likely that he will take the step up to PL2 football at some point next season, if not at the beginning.

Isak Hansen-Aaroen

Isak Hansen-Aaroen is just 16-years-old, but he has been one of the most exciting talents in the youth sides across the last year. The Norwegian left his home country and his club, Tromsø IL, to join The Reds at the start of last season.

With 16 appearances in the U18 Premier League for Neil Ryan’s side, Hansen-Aaroen was able to register three goals and three assists from the midfield, where he would often played in the pivot or as the number ten. That is testament to his ability to play in deeper areas or ahead of the ball, where he is able to take the ball on the half-turn and either link the play or look to go on one of his mazy runs.

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The 16-year-old often plays the game at his own tempo, as many great midfielders do and while he is still at a tender age, Hansen Aaroen has had seven appearances in first-team football during the 2020 campaign with Tromsø IL, making his debut as a 15-year-old, playing the last minute in a 2-0 win against Kongsvinger IL.

There is no shortage of praise for the midfielder, who was named the best football talent of the year among Under-15 players in Norway by TV 2 with NFF and Equinor Tomorrow’s Heroes in 2019 and it is likely that he will step into Under-23 football next campaign.

Speaking to Manchester Evening News last month, Under-23s manager Neil Wood spoke about struggles of managing a squad in the PL2 and what players he expects to pushed up into the side from the Under-18s. He said: “We’ve played something like 42 players this season, who’ve been involved in this 23s team. We’ve tried to stretch people, we’ve really pushed young people up the age groups and sometimes it takes a bit of time.

“Next season is going to be challenging from the start, a small core group of about 10 to 12 guys. They’ll be stretched. The likes of [Charlie] McNeill, Isak [Hansen-Aaroen], they can be stretched and pushed up.”

With the likelihood of Ethan Galbraith going on loan being higher this season, with the 19-year-old expected to join the first-team in pre-season before a decision is made on where he plays his football next year, Neil Wood’s side will need another silky midfielder who can control the match and while the Norwegian isn’t exactly the same type of player as the Northern Irish international, he should bring some excitement and class to the centre of midfield.

Shola Shoretire

It might be a bit of a surprise to see this name here, as Shola Shoretire cemented his place in club history last season, becoming the youngest ever appearance maker in European competition for The Reds when he made a 14 minute cameo against Real Sociedad.

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Yet, it is likely the Shoretire will remain at the club next season rather than move to another club on loan. While his talent and skill is incredible, he only turned 17 years of age in February and this should be considered for next season.

He can play across the entire frontline and also operates as the number ten often; in his first season of Under-23s football he was able to register 10 goals and five assists in the PL2 and with the possibility of players like Elanga moving on loan, Shoretire could be the main-man for Neil Wood’s side next season.

He could do this alongside training with Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side, where he will continue to develop and grow. The odd cameo at Old Trafford could also be a possibility for the teenager. Yet, the majority of his game-time next season could be as the primary attacker in the Under-23s team.

Speaking on BT Sport ahead of United’s second leg Europa League tie against Real Sociedad last season, Paul Scholes praised the youngster, saying: “He looks a really big prospect. I think he’s a player that can play on either side, cutting in, not really a wide player, but capable of scoring goals.”

Throughout the course of the 2020/21 campaign, we saw major developments in Shoretire’s game, as he became one of the most important names on the team sheet for Neil Wood. He is a great dribbler with an impressive passing ability too – This Twitter thread below goes into more detail on his game.

Although he’s become very known among United supporters last season, Shoretire’s development will likely continue in the PL2, where he should look to improve on his 15 goal contributions last campaign. I’m sure Solskjær will keep a very keen eye on the talent and so should the fans.

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