After winning the double last season the aim was set a little higher going into the 2021/22 season. A treble would be amazing, at least if it included the FA Youth Cup, so that we can start the “Class of xx” challenge! With a squad that felt slightly stronger than last season hopes were high to catch that illusive FA Youth Cup trophy!
The 2021/22 season
Kristjaan Speakman had known all along. When he saw Duncan Charlton let in an Inter Milan header that looked far from uncatchable he turned to Nicky Butt sitting next to him and said “I’ve told you all along that our poor keepers would be our downfall”. Nicky Butt could do nothing but nod. Coming from a season virtually without keepers they needed to take what they could find going into this one. They found an almost decent one in Marc McGuinness, former backup in the Liverpool FC Academy, and behind him Duncan Charlton, former backup in the Southampton Academy. Or had he been their third choice? No-one really knew, but with McGuinness out injured for the U19 Champions Cup final they had all hoped that Duncan would put up the performance of a lifetime. That didn’t seem to be the case though, as centre-back Pasquale Merenda had to retrieve the ball from the back of the net to kick the game off at 1-1. The Man Utd U18s had dominated the game from the start, which made the Inter Milan equaliser both unfair and surprising. When 18-year old Samuele Maugeri, 4 times Italian U21 international, headed the ball towards the Man Utd goal it looked like Duncan Charlton was going to pick it down like a ripe apple, but somehow it found its way through his gloves and into the goal. The young Man Utd team kept attacking in wave after wave, just like they had for the entire game, but the final ended 1-1. With penalties to determine whether Man Utd would retain the title or not things looked grim. Especially when Carlos Alves missed the first penalty for Man Utd. Now all that was left was hope and Duncan Charlton. So basically hope and nothing. But like as if he had been born for this exact moment young Duncan dived in the right direction and saved the first penalty. And the second. And the third. And the fourth! Four straight penalty saves from the former Southampton third choice! What an amazing revenge! And the Man Utd U18s were European champions for the second time in a row!
This was neither the team’s first nor last trophy of the season though. A month before the Champions League final the team had lifted their first trophy of the season by winning the U18 Premier Division Cup and a couple of weeks after the Champions League final the team comfortably beat Arsenal in the final of the U18 Division 1, making it a treble. One trophy still remained though. The only really important one for this save. The FA Youth Cup. Against the worst rivals of them all, Man City, played over two legs. If this had been a Hollywood production Man City would have won the first leg with the Man Utd team turning it around in glorious fashion in leg 2. However, in this alternate reality it was all over after the first leg. 5-0 to Man Utd in the first away leg meant that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted in leg 2 and still win it. After 3-1 at home the quadruple was completed, a truly remarkable feat!
The start of an era
This means that this group may very well become known as “The Class of 2022” in the future! The aim of this series is to recreate the “Class of 1992”, by winning the FA Youth Cup with a group of players that go on to become Man Utd Legends. Maybe this is the group? At least they’ve managed part one of this nearly impossible challenge! Let’s take a look at the FA Cup winning squad.
Look at all that green! Every player except for the two goalkeepers reached above 7.0 average ratings over the season. One player even averaged above 8.0! Chris Parry managed an astounding and club high average rating of 8.12, with 58 goals and 14 assists in 45 starts. An excellent season from the player who surely must be the next Marcus Rashford!?
Well, actually not really. He’s nowhere near Rashford level, at least not right now. Let’s take a closer look at Chris Parry and the rest of the Academy graduates to find out if anyone’s good enough for first team football!
Chris Parry has developed quite a bit, but still has a long way to go before he’s ready for Premier League football. With a PA of 3 stars he’ll most likely never reach those kinds of heights, but may very well become a decent Football League striker. His combination of 15+ Finishing, Acceleration and Pace worked wonders in an U18 environment, but will more than likely not be enough in the Premier League. Chris Parry simply lacks additional skills and with limited development left in him he will probably be better suited for League Two! He’s managed to make a serious contribution for the Wales U21’s so far, with 7 goals in 14 caps, so perhaps he’s better than what his attributes are suggesting!?
Tyler Murphy came through the 2020 youth intake, with expectations of potentially becoming one of the best players of his generation! He has looked solid as a left wing-back, but he has quite a long way left until he can be considered a leading player for club or country. During his Academy time he has displayed some nice improvement all over the board and will most likely be given the chance to reach his potential in a first team environment. He might even get the chance for Man Utd straight away, considering the lack of back-up options behind Lorenzo Pellegrini!
During the year in the Academy Jez Foley has displayed some solid improvement, especially in his physical skills, where he now looks fairly well-equipped for first team football. He still lacks both the technical and mental skills for Premier League football, but he certainly has a good physical foundation to build on! He’s been capped three times for the England U21’s, and with a 5 star potential he’ll probably get the chance to at least try a little first team football next season.
Adam Allinson is beginning to look like a decent winger. He has improved steadily during his Academy years, especially regarding his physical ability. 3 point increases in Agility and Balance is good, but what really impresses is the 6 point increase in Strength. He has also added 10kg of muscles through the tough Academy training. Physically he is ready for first team training, but he has limited potential for improvement, which makes him less than likely to remain at the club.
Joel, who was brought in from Barcelona B with heaps of potential, has improved quite a bit just like the rest of them. His Strength, which was a serious weakness when he arrived, is now at least decent (10). His biggest improvements are in his mental attributes though. Anticipation has increased from 8 to 12, Composure, Concentration, Decisions, Positioning, Teamwork, Vision and Work Rate all improved by at least 2 points. He still needs to improve his technical abilities though, and will most likely do that away on loan next season.
Wow, Pasquale Merenda who came through our own intake two years ago certainly looks like a great centre-back! If it wasn’t for one thing that is. One major problem is that he still doesn’t know how to jump, despite two years of intensive training! He’s fairly good at Marking (13) and Tackling (13) and really good at Heading (16), but he can’t jump (5) to save his own life. Physically and mentally he is really looking well-equipped and ready for senior football, so we’ll just have to see how big of a problem his lack of Jumping Reach is. Pasquale will get at least a couple of chances in cup games next season.
That’s all I have to say about this truly amazing season. The U18s won the quadruple, which is an amazing feat, but an even bigger/more important achievement was the FA Youth Cup title, since it marks the beginning of our “Class of 2021” challenge, where we’ll try to guide as many as possible of the players from the title winning team to at least “Favoured personnel” status at Man Utd. More on this in the next episode. See you soon!