In the last episode we looked at a new, slightly immoral, take on Academy recruitment. In this episode we’ll look at the players this new strategy brought in and how the U18s performed during the 2020/21 season (things went pretty well, as the title suggests). Finally we’ll look at the players graduating the Academy at the end of the season and the plan for those players.
The youth intake(s)
A lot of players came through the youth intake this season. With the new aggressive recruitment strategy the Man Utd staff were not subject to just the Man Utd intake, that brought in one single player. No, visiting each and every try-out day throughout the entire country resulted in another nine players brought in. With focus on personality and mental attributes, not all of them looked like potential world-class players, but at least all of them seemed willing to put in the work to reach their own potential!
Tyler Murphy was the only player from the own intake good enough to make it into the U18 squad. He looked fairly decent for a wing-back with good Tackling (14) and Crossing (12). He was also brave (15), hard working (Work Rate 14) and fast (Pace 15). Like most young players he needed to start working on his Strength, before improving his technical skills.
Meh. Antone Weekes had impressed the scouts at the Chelsea try-out day, but didn’t look all that good once he arrived at Carrington. He displayed a decent Technique (12) and good decision-making (13), but that was pretty much it. His physical status was in such a poor state that he probably needs to spend his entire time in the Academy working on these skills.
Florian Naessens-Mestdagh had done pretty much whatever he wanted with the other players at the Wolves try-out, impressing with an excellent Flair (17) coupled with good First Touch (14) and Passing (13). The Wolves Academy staff were devastated when they realised that “The Poacher” had stolen their 5 star talent Florian from right under their noses.
Well, you take what you can get. When you have no keepers, you can’t be too picky. McGuinness didn’t look all that good, but at least he was able to stop a ball or two and more importantly he displayed the Determination (18) to work hard and improve.
Richard French was another one of those players who displayed a high Determination (20) but not much else. Hopefully he’ll improve a lot over the next two years, but the feeling was that that still wouldn’t be enough.
Jez Foley. A young man with both name and looks to star in a boyband instead of playing football. His speed (Pace 15) together with good offensive skills what was caught the eyes of the scouts. Lacking aerial ability he will probably be used best out on the right wing rather than as a striker.
It was the same story here as with the other keeper. Duncan Charlton didn’t look great between the posts, but at least he was a keeper and with a Perfectionist personality!
Scott Elliott looked like a decent central defender with a good Heading ability (16), despite his 177 cm. He looked fairly well-rounded mentally and pretty strong (10) for his age. His first order of business was to improve his Stamina.
Scott Brown was the most expensive player coming through the youth intakes with a £1.3M compensation fee. Upon arrival at Carrington the immediate feeling was that Man Utd had overpaid for him. He did look like a good passer (13) and tackler (14), both important skills for a central midfielder. He looked weak and slow though, areas that needed immediate improvement if he was going to survive the tough Academy training regime.
David Baxter was a more offensively minded midfielder with a bit of speed (Pace 13) and a decent passing game (11). He also displayed a Professional personality, making him an exciting player to work with.
Overall, Florian Naessens-Mestdagh was the player that looked like the biggest talent and had gotten the biggest attention from the scouts. With desirable personalities all over the board they all looked like an interesting group of players though.
Except for the players coming through the intake days a few other players were brought in to strengthen the U18s.
The talk of the town. After 54 games and 14 assists for Birmingham in the Championship, Jude Bellingham was the most exciting young midfielder in England. Very well-rounded he looked like the perfect base to build into a football player. Perhaps the £20M price tag was a bit hefty, but if you want English talent you certainly have to pay for it.
Fairly solid for a 16-year-old, Danish centre-back Nicolai Hansen was primarily brought in as a back-up for Pasquale Merenda and Max Normann Williamsen. The first order of business was to improve his Jumping Reach and Strength by adding “Strength” as an additional training focus.
Kids with a Professional personality don’t come cheap. Especially if they also display the physical status of a grown man. The club really splashed the cash on this deal which raised expectations from the get-go. Young Franz De Groote certainly carried the speed to run up and down the left flank, but he lacked a bit of Stamina. Therefore he was put on the “Endurance” training focus before moving on to more technical training.
A bit of a different character compared to the two above. His strengths was in his technical skills, with an amazing Passing ability. Carlos Alves fell short both mentally and physically though. He started working on improving his Strength before later moving on to Passing and Attacking Movement training.
So those were all the players brought in for the 20/21 season, making the squad quite a strong one. Let’s move on to looking at the results! Was this the season where the team would fight for the FA Youth Cup trophy, starting the legacy of a “Class of 21”? Do read on and find out!
The 20/21 season
Let’s start by looking at the league. Last season Man City won it ahead of Man Utd, but for this season the tables turned. After a fairly exciting season Man Utd managed to beat Man City and Liverpool to the title with a margin of two and three points respectively. Not much, but certainly enough.
The FA Youth Cup though, ended in a disappointing 5th round loss to Liverpool. West Ham quite surprisingly won the whole thing. This means that this won’t be the start for the “Class of 21” challenge.
In Europe however, the players showed their brilliance. The first game that actually proved difficult was the final against wonderkid factory Benfica. Like a replay of last years final this one ended with Man Utd winning the whole thing after penalties, again! The Academy is certainly on the right track, winning the U19 Champions League two years in a row!
So the U18s as a team were certainly performing, which is gratifying of course, but what really matters is whether the Academy produces any players for the first team squad or not!
Max Normann Williamsen came in as an exciting 16-year-old prospect and has improved nicely during his time in the Academy. With good enough mental abilities his early training focus was to improve his physical weaknesses. His Strength has improved from 9 to 12 and he has put on 7kg of muscles (hopefully) to show for it. The second order of business was to strengthen his Agility and Balance and both have seen pleasing improvements. It’s also nice to see him improve Acceleration and Pace a bit. They weren’t really considered weaknesses, but playing with a high defensive line makes quickness important to avoid falling prey to long balls.
Upon turning 18 he will be promoted into the first team squad to gain valuable match experience. If we look at the development plan his next training focus will be to strengthen position-specific weaknesses. Before he can start doing that we have to decide which position he is best suited for to identify these weaknesses. In this case this isn’t rocket science though. He is a centre-back, no more, no less. This is also reflected by his 68% positional rating as a centre-back.
After a year in the Academy Julen Gabilondo has displayed some very nice improvements all over the board. His Strength could use a little improvement as well as his Teamwork if he is going to be able to suit the “Triple triangle philosophy”. His best positional rating is 68% as AF.
Dimo Krastev came in at 16, with the first impression of him looking like a well-rounded youngster. The following was said about him back then:
“Dimo Krastev offers a great foundation to build a good player on. … This even distribution of attribute values may be both his strength and his biggest weakness. If everything goes according to plan he could be nurtured into a versatile midfield machine, but if he doesn’t progress like the club hopes there is a risk that he’ll end up a player that isn’t really good at anything.”
Now at 18, the verdict is exactly the same. He still looks like a very well-rounded player but doesn’t stand out in any area. He has improved every aspect of his game and has also undergone a Personality change from Fairly Determined to Resolute. However, it doesn’t cut it to be decent at everything and not excel in any area. He will be kept at the club, but is not good enough to earn a spot in the first team squad. He’ll spend a season away on loan before a new decision about his future is made.
Marco Kana is another one of these really interesting young players who is just not good enough for the first team. He hasn’t managed to improve near the same rate as Dimo Krastev and therefore probably finds himself further from the first team squad than he did a year ago when he was signed. He’ll spend a season away on loan to hopefully kick-start his development again.
Young Hannibal was probably the brightest shining star in the Academy when Roy Keane joined the club two years ago. He has developed nicely, but hasn’t exactly turned into a world class player yet. Hopes are that he’ll keep improving though, if his sky high potential is any indicator that is. He’ll be promoted to the first team for a chance to make an impression!
So, all in all three players will be promoted into the first team squad and two players will be kept but sent away on loan. More than a handful players where deemed not good enough though, but we won’t go through them since they’re already out the door! Let’s focus on the remaining players instead!
The 2020/21 season was the season when the U18s showed their dominance both domestically and in Europe by winning the double. Sadly, they missed out on winning the FA Cup, which means that we’ll have to wait another year for the saga of the “Class of xx” to begin, where we’ll try to turn a group of Man Utd youngsters into Man Utd greats. Because surely the next season must be the one where they win it? Especially with all those exciting talents they have stol…I mean signed on intake day!