Is James Garner ready to be a Manchester United regular?
Background photo: Karina Setiawan.
Manchester United's Academy has simply not lived up to its hype or expectation in the past decade. While there have been a few notable graduates like Paul Pogba, most of the Red Devils' raw talent has failed to make it on the big stage. Take Ravel Morrison, for example.
This knowledge makes United fans uncomfortable with the current youth coming through. James Garner is one such player.
Who is Garner?
The 18-year-old has progressed through Man United's ranks from the Under-8s to the senior squad. The central midfielder rose to prominence in 2017-18, wherein he led the U18s to the Premier League North title under then-manager Kieran McKenna, who is now involved in Solskjaer's backroom staff. He's since shone for both the U19s and U23s, in the UEFA and Premier youth leagues respectively.
Garner is a natural leader, having captained various age groups at both United and England. He leads by example, demonstrating his mettle by taking responsibility.
Garner's main role is in the first phase of build-up, receiving the ball from his centre-backs then moving it upfield. He is equally excellent on the half and full turn. He's press resistant and manipulates the angles well, qualities necessary for a deep-lying playmaker. His tidy close control enables him to both pick out teammates and dribble past opponents.
The Englishman has a powerful shot, too, as Perth Glory recently discovered. In the past two seasons, he's recorded six goals, five assists in the U18 Premier League and UEFA Youth League.
The next Carrick?
Garner has a knack of breaking the lines, both between and behind them. His game resembles Michael Carrick's in every aspect, which led to Solskjaer describing him as the teenage version of United's highly-decorated former player.
Garner's accustomed to playing in high-pressing units, meaning his style matches the one Solskjaer prefers. He has molded his game around that of Carrick. Like United's former number 16, he's neither the strongest nor quickest but doesn't get caught out on either due to his awareness.
Making interceptions in sheer volumes, Garner puts himself on the line for every sliding tackle, winning a majority. He plays for the team. As Carrick did.
It's a no brainer. Garner has to stay at Old Trafford next season rather than go out on loan. He'll add a lot to the first phase, an area in which the Red Devils struggle massively.
Garner will have the opportunity to work with the great Carrick, on a daily basis. Such experience is irreplaceable. He'll also be able to learn from a winner in Nemanja Matic, who has a newfound leadership role in United's dressing room.
Garner already has an excellent on-pitch understanding with academy pals such as Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong. Moreover, he plays behind an enigmatic French midfielder in Aliou Traore at youth level. That could help him to flourish alongside Pogba. His ability to thread passes will encourage runners like Marcus Rashford, Daniel James, Aaron-Wan Bissaka and Diogo Dalot.
Garner is one of United's best youth prospects. He's stepped up in European games as well as against rivals Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea. All high-pressure situations.
Solskjaer's men are in the Europa League next campaign. One of its few benefits is it offers a way to integrate youngsters into the first team. Something both Arsenal and Chelsea did this past season. Garner must play in the competition as well as gain sufficient minutes in both the FA and League Cups. Not only will this be invaluable for him, but it will also afford Matic a much-needed rest.
A Europa League stint will make sure Garner is ready to take a more prominent role, perhaps Matic's, the following season. Unlike a loan move, wherein he may play in a system which doesn't resemble United's and be asked to do things in a different way. Should that happen, he'd need time to settle in again once returning. That leaves room for more questions and negativity.
Remaining at Carrington, Mckenna knows him, Carrick grooms him and teammates are acquainted with him. Garner has been here since his childhood. He embodies the Manchester United DNA which Solskjaer so desperately desires. He's improving physically, his technique is on point and he has the right mentality.
Solskjaer's talked the talk regarding youth. Will he walk the walk?