Coming from a quadruple winning season things are not exactly exciting results wise at the moment, but who cares? The focus of the series is now more about producing players for the first team and creating future club legends, isn’t it? In this episode we’ll see if the U18s managed to replicate the quadruple success from last season and more importantly, if any of the players are turning into superstars! We’ll also look at how last season’s Academy graduates did in the first team. Any Man Utd icons in the making? Keep reading to find out!
The 2022/23 season
Well, things weren’t exactly exciting this season either. The U18 Premier Division Cup was pretty much a piece of cake.
It’s hard to call it anything else when you win the final 5-0.
The final of the U18 Premier League was even easier, even though the opposition was tougher, at least on paper! An astounding 10-1 victory demonstrated clearly the current balance of power in the English Academy system.
If you thought that it was lopsided in England, just look at the match stats from the Champions League final!
I guess it comes as no big surprise that the Man Utd team retained the Champions League title again. After an absolutely ridiculous 52 attempts to put the ball in the PSV net the game ended 8-1 to Man Utd. If people weren’t already talking about the bright future of Man Utd ahead of the game, they certainly were afterwards!
With a third title in the bag only one competition remained for the team to replicate last season’s quadruple! And it was the most important one of them all; the FA Youth Cup!
After the absolute thrashing of Arsenal in the U18 Premier League hopes were high for Man Utd to lift the FA Youth Cup trophy as well, when it became clear that the final was going to be against Arsenal again. However, this time things proved far tougher, at least results wise. After a one-sided first leg that somehow ended 2-2 the title was up for grabs going into the second leg at Old Trafford. This game was just as one-sided as the first leg, but the Man Utd side just couldn’t get the ball over the line.
The game ended 0-0 and the title was going to be decided through penalties. Here the young Man Utd players once again proved why they had been hand picked for the team. They showed no signs of nervousness and put every penalty behind the Arsenal keeper, while the young Gunners missed right and left.
Another trophy for this young team making it back-to-back quadruples! Of course an unprecedented feat, but what’s even more important, we get another batch of players eligible for the “Class of xx” challenge!
Players – Performances and Academy graduates
As you can see by all those green average ratings and probably already guessed based on the team’s great success, most players performed well. A few of them even performed in more or less spectacular fashion. It’s hard to describe an 8.51 average rating over 52 games with 30 goals and 27 assists as anything else that amazing. But then it was achieved by a player of equally amazing potential, the boy popularly called “The Portuguese Prince”.
With a combination of decision-making (17) and passing game (18) never seen in an 18-year-old before, there’s no wonder why the Man Utd fan forums have filled up with raving reviews of current performances and expectations of great things to come for Carlos Alves. He made no-one disappointed in his final Academy season, as you read above. Not being promoted to the first team squad last season, a decision solely based on the crazy competition in central midfield, seem to only have done him good. He is more than ready for first team football, and with more than a bit of development left in him hopes are high that he become a long-term servant and potential future icon for the club!
Carlos Alves is one of two Academy graduates that we’ll focus a little extra on in this episode. The second one is a young man with a difficult name.
Working slightly in the shadows of his Portuguese midfield partner, Belgian kid Florian Naessens-Mestdagh hasn’t recieved the same attention and therefore his more-than-decent season hasn’t led to the same kind of expectations. Mostly operating out on the right wing doesn’t make full use of his strengths, but the competition for the central midfield spots were simply to tough for him to play regularly there. Even though he displays some amazing skills, his Flair (17) and First Touch (16) stand out, there is a significant risk that he’ll fall victim to a similar situation in the first team squad, where competition is simply too fierce for him.
I won’t go through the rest of the six graduates in detail, as they’re not that exciting. You can look at their profiles above for yourself and I’ll go through the ones that make it into the first team squad (if any?) in more details in the next episode of Man Utd – Director’s Cut, my parallel series where Roy Keane guides Man Utd back to greatness!
Instead I want to focus a bit on the players that graduated the Academy last season. Since the U18s won the FA Youth Cup last season, this is the first batch of players eligible for the “Class of xx” challenge, where the aim is to turn a group of FA Youth Cup winning youngsters into future Man Utd icons, replicating the fairy tale of the “Class of 92”. So, how many of them have made their debuts for the first team? Has any of them improved enough to become regular starters or have they all been disappointing failures?
Last season’s graduates
Prediction last season: Chris Parry simply lacks additional skills and with limited development left in him he will probably be better suited for League Two! […] perhaps he’s better than what his attributes are suggesting!?
Performance in 2022/23: 14 starts (8 goals + 1 assist) with a 7.26 av rat.
So, 8 goals in 14 Premier League starts for a player predicted to not exceed League Two level…I honestly don’t know what to say. Roy Keane‘s “Sink or Swim” strategy certainly seems to have suited Chris Parry!
Going into the 2023/24 season the fact remains that he’s actually not that good, at least not on paper, and his room for development is limited. We’ll get back to this in the next Man Utd – Director’s Cut episode, but I doubt he’ll survive this season’s squad overhaul.
Prediction last season: 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!
Performance in 2022/23: 18 starts (1 goals + 0 assist) with a 7.19 av rat.
Pretty close to what was predicted when he graduated the Academy. A strict back-up role to Pellegrini, where Murphy neither impressed nor disappointed anyone. A 7.19 average rating is good for a debut season, but his offensive output (one goal and not a single assist) was slightly underwhelming.
Prediction last season: 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.
Performance in 2022/23: 16 starts (0 goals + 1 assist) with a 7.19 av rat.
A solid debut season from the man who can’t jump. His lack of Jumping Reach didn’t cause that much of a trouble, since he appears to compensate with his great Heading (16). I bet he’ll be sure to get more chances going forward!
Prediction last season: 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.
Performance in 2022/23: 14 starts (6 goals + 3 assist) with a 7.36 av rat.
Jez Foley played well enough to earn himself another 4 call-ups for the England U21s, making it seven U21 caps before the age of 19. He has impressed out on the right wing and will hopefully continue to improve.
Two of the six Academy graduates from last season didn’t make it into the first team squad, which means that we’ll say “bye bye” to Adam Allinson who leaves the club and “welcome back” to Joel, who spent the 2022/23 season away on loan at Spanish top division club Alaves.
Youngsters worth a mention
Other young players worth a mention are the following trio, two of them former Academy graduates while one of them is one of England’s most highly touted talents (both in FM20 and currently IRL):
With his 191cm and 91kg Max Normann Williamsen has been a very exciting Academy prospect that has made the transition to senior football in a rather seamless fashion. He played 20 Premier League games this season and has impressed both pundits and fans with his well-rounded style of play. Fast for his size with good Positioning and Bravery he has been captaining the Norwegian U21s lately. Rumours are that he is not too far away from his first senior cap! One big worry though is that he doesn’t appear to have that much development left in him. If he doesn’t improve at least a little more, he’ll never become anything else than a decent back-up option.
Our second Academy alumni, Hannibal Mejbri, has had an explosive development over the season. Going from IWL back-up to one of the team’s best players in a matter of months! It’s always something special when one of “our own” makes this sort of journey, but what’s even more exciting is the fact that he seems to keep improving! A Man Utd icon in the making!
Our third and final youngster is Jude Bellingham, premium talent who came in from Birmingham for £25M two seasons ago. Because of the fierce midfield competition he hasn’t seen much playing time so far, and is currently on loan at AC Milan for a bit of top flight experience. We still have high hopes for him as you can never have too many home grown players. When he returns from Italy he’ll get his fair share of games to learn how to swim properly!
With another FA Youth Cup trophy in the cabinet Man Utd cements it’s position on top of the Academy hierarchy. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, which has forced other clubs to take some unusual measures to try to close the gap.
Poaching The Poacher
Liverpool had the nerve to poach The Poacher Kristjaan Speakman himself, by stealing central Midfielder David Woodthorpe from the Man Utd U15 team. Well, we’re not to bothered by this. We’ll simply visit the Liverpool intake day in a season and if young David looks promising we’ll chuck him in the van with the rest of the signings!
The FA Youth Cup trophy also gives us several new players for the “Class of xx” challenge! Things are sure looking interesting with several Academy graduates starting to make a name for themselves and more on the way! I can hardly wait for the next episode! See you soon!