Do you know what made the ‘Class of 92’ so special? It was that six lads from the same (sort of, Giggs was slightly ahead) intake of youth were able to move up through the ranks of one of the largest football clubs in the world and stamp their authority all over world football. The culmination of their efforts, 7 years from winning the FA Youth Cup we saw 4 of those players take to the field in the pinnacle of club football, the Champions League final. Unprecedented in the modern game. The incredible La Masia, Barcelona Academy is a machine at churning out brilliant footballers, but in all their recent glory, they never managed half a dozen players from the same class.
The FA Youth Cup is in Manchester United’s blood. The class of 92’s history is seeded in the competition. But United are also the most successful club in the competition’s history and have won a total of 10. We won the first 5 competitions at a canter. 53-57. You may have heard some of the names who lifted the cup in those years; Duncan Edwards, Eddie Coleman, Billy Whelan, David Pegg, winners in ’53, were key parts of United (and England) at their untimely death in Munich, 5 years later. In 54, Bobby Charlton took to the field, in 55 Shay Brennan. Players who would form part of our first European Cup success a little over a decade later along with 1964 Youth Cup winners George Best and man of the match at Wembley, vs Benfica, John Aston.
In 1995, Eric Harrison’s boys defeated Spurs with Phil Neville, Ronnie Wallwork, Michael Clegg and Terry Cooke being the more famous of our graduates. The 2003 only (really) yielded Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley for the first team. Our most recent success, in 2011 featured Pogba and Morrison as well as current first teamer Jesse Lingard. Success in the cup, doesn’t translate into success as an individual. I’m sure most clubs would rather bring through 10 lemons and one Ronaldo in favour of a successful cup run that doesn’t bring through a single first team player. But that isn’t the point.
I love watching the Youth Cup, last night’s victory over QPR was attended by around 1,450 at Leigh Sports village, but the finals will get 20-30k. The U18 & U21 league fixtures have a feeling of a friendly about them. But not the cup. It shows in team selection, too. United fielded a very young starting XI for our U18 game at the weekend, in anticipation of our 3rd round tie. We take it seriously and our current crop has got real potential.
We’ve got some excellent footballers at the club, despite the well documented (and sometimes inflated) issues that surround the academy. Here’s some names to look out for this season.
At the back, Axel Tuanzebe captained the team. A fine performer, seems like a good leader, technical yet physical defender, it’s no accident he’s been named on the bench for the first team this season.
Callum Gribbin has made headlines recently for turning down a mega-bucks move to city’s academy (you know the one that’s supposedly amazing, but can’t produce anything? Yeh that one), Callum oozes class and confidence and seems a big fan of the flashy. Mainly deployed as an attacking midfielder or number ten this is a big lad, with a big future in the game. Shades of Berbatov in his touch and his ability, coupled with that height.
Marcus Rashford was also named on the bench for the first team, against Watford. He possess terrifying speed. Which gives the impression Marcus is playing angry, all the time. But I love the intensity. There’s no such thing as a lost ball or 50/50 – if he wants it, he’s getting it. If he can take a breath before he takes a shot he’s going to be a nightmare. He already scores a lot, but his aggressive enthusiasm means some shots he should score, he doesn’t. Once he finds that composure, it’s game over.
Angel Gomes; if you follow my twitter you’ll know I have been excited by this young prospect for a good couple of years. He’s absolutely tiny. But he uses that attribute greatly. Low centre of gravity, great touch, lightning fast agility when it comes with a touch like he possesses and you’ve got the closest thing you’ll see to Messi in a United shirt. Recently captained England U16s to tournament success, he’s the youngest possible age he can be to play for the U18s this term and he doesn’t look like he’s catching up. There’s an air of expectancy when he gets on the ball, this kid can do whatever he wants in the game. I’ve said some mad shit in my time, but one I’ve no problem repeating is that Angel Gomes will win a Balon d’Or in his career. He’s fucking magic.
But. Right alongside him with the highest of expectation is a young lad who is a shade off first team. At least for the odd sub appearance, anyway. Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Often played at centre-half, he’s started to get regular action as a number 8, and it’s made for him. Last week saw him deployed at right back for the U21s where we saw his crossing ability. Last night we saw him in the engine room, box-to-box, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and driving this team forward. Man of the Match by a country mile. I struggle for who to compare him to. He’s aggressive. Physical. Not afraid to go to ground for a big tackle. Always screaming, either encouraging or demanding the ball, and it’s audible in the stands too. Under all that, though, he’s technically astute and has a great range of passing. Together with Gomes he’s nailed on to make it to the very highest level.
We have the biggest threat we could have got in the 4th round. Drawn at home to Chelsea. That’s a big test. But I think these lads are up for it. I think they can go all the way in the FA Youth Cup and I am tipping this 5 to emulate the boys from 1992. Will they graduate together and win a European Cup in 7 or 8 years time? I doubt it. If anyone can it’s these lot. But who knows? That’s why we love football, and United? Innit? It’s the hope that has us coming back each week. It’ll take a lot of luck and some stability in the first team, but that’s almost a decade off. For a glimpse at the future, get yourself down to the game against Chelsea, show these lads we’re there for them in numbers only United can muster and see what all the hype is about, while reminding yourself what this game is all about.