How can Manchester United utilise its academy products?
Background photo: North West Air Ambulance, CC BY 2.0
Opportunities come quickly at Manchester United. The Red Devils reputation for promoting academy products into the team goes back decades. It was taught by Sir Matt Busby, nurtured by Sir Alex Ferguson and continues under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.
Nine United players feature for other clubs on loan. Additionally, Solskjaer fast-tracked Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood and James Garner from the youth setup into the first team since taking charge in December. The group holds tremendous potential. It's safe to say tradition is in good hands at Old Trafford.
The question is whether the current class can replicate those who came before. Can Greenwood be Marcus Rashford 2.0? Can the rest find a permanent home in the first team? It is very difficult to say.
Solskjaer understands the United DNA. Players receive chances but if they are not the absolute cream of the crop, like Rashford and Jesse Lingard, their future may lie elsewhere. United's squad is too strong for it to be otherwise. At the very least, they'll leave Carrington with all the tools to forge a successful career. Ask Darron Gibson, Michael Keane and Tom Heaton.
If Solskjaer becomes permanent manager in the summer, more final decisions face him and Academy director Nicky Butt than this group's future. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe return from loan. Is there a place for them? Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay play supporting roles in the senior squad now. Can they handle more? It is unreasonable to ask Ole to place their development above competing for a Premier League title and Champions League place. At the same time, talented young players don't want to waste away on the bench.
A few will go out on loan. Others will stay. Lingard benefitted from loan spells with Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby County. Romelu Lukaku spent time at West Brom and Everton while on Chelsea's books. United are more patient than most with the process. Lingard's four loans would have led to a personal transfer at many clubs. It still may if his progress falters. Tom Cleverley spent three seasons in the first team from 2012-15 before another loan to Aston Villa led to his sale to Everton.
Predicting who will stick and who will run from their Old Trafford opportunities is a guessing game but let's guess away.