The Young Ones: United starlets set to shine under Van Gaal
Louis van Gaal’s Midas touch with youth players, and enthusiasm to scour his own squad for potential before buying big, is what may potentially make his union with Manchester United a match made in heaven.
United, 11/2 to win the Premier League, have a proud tradition of developing young talent, with more Red Devils academy players plying their trade in Europe’s top five leagues than any other English club. However, with Ryan Giggs hanging up his boots, and thus closing the final chapter on the famous Class of ’92, there now looks to be a decline of home-grown options in the squad.
Having recently parted ways with highly-rated academy products such as Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison, the Red Devils, odds-on at 8/13 to secure a top four finish, will be keen not to lose any more promising prospects.
With a brilliant record of blooding young players, new boss Van Gaal may be just the man to revitalise United’s youth policy, having given debuts to the likes of Victor Valdes, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Thomas Muller.
Never afraid to ruffle feathers and bench big stars, Red Devils’ first teamers may have to start looking over their shoulders on the training ground, instead of reading the newspapers, to see who may be replacing them.
Here is a peak at which bright young things may benefit from working with the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss next season:
After impressing on loan for Doncaster Rovers this term, the 21-year-old stopper, who ably replaced the injured Ross Turnbull, could find himself as an understudy to David de Gea. With rumours linking second choice goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard with an Old Trafford exit, the position could be Johnstone’s for the taking.
Van Gaal loves defenders who are adept at instigating attacks from the back, and Keane, following in the footsteps of Jonny Evans, is refreshingly comfortable on the ball, and can also present a threat in the opposition box.
If the Red Devils fail to sign a new centre half to replace recently departed defensive club legends Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, the 21-year-old could find himself thrown in at the deep end. Even with a new addition or two, Keane may be used as a fringe player, having already enjoyed loan spells at Derby, Blackburn Rovers, and a particularly successful stint for Leicester City.
A Crewe Alexandra academy product, Powell signed for United in 2012, but, despite scoring a stunning strike against Wigan on his debut, spent most of his first season at the club injured. A loan move to the Lactics saw the youngster net seven times in the Championship, starting most games up front or in behind the striker, which sparked debate about his best position.
Powell will return to Old Trafford with further Continental experience under his belt following Wigan’s Europa League exploits. The 20-year-old made history by scoring the club’s first ever European goal against NK Maribor. Still raw, but with an eye for a goal and a pass, midfield could be Powell’s easiest route into the first team, considering United’s lack of star quality in that area.
The tenacious midfielder has much more to his game than a fiery temperament and the ability to time a tackle. A neat passer, Pearson can also impose himself further forward, but has moved back to accommodate other less well-rounded players in United’s under-21’s squad.
Pearson is another who could benefit from Van Gaal’s rebuilding, and will hopefully be given a chance to impress on the pre-season tour.
A versatile player who can be used out wide or in behind a striker, Lingard has been a stand-out young star in United’s last two pre-season tours. However, the slight 21-year-old has still not yet made his first team debut for the Red Devils. Hopefully this will change, following the exciting attacker’s successful experiences on loan in the Championship.
Lingard made an instant impact at Birmigham, netting a fantastic four times on his debut but, despite hitting the headlines with his nose for goal, he impressed more in his second loan spell at Brighton and Hove Albion, with his overall game having improved significantly. With smart link-up play as one of his best attributes, Lingard could become a Van Gaal favourite, finding game time on the wings ahead of a disappointing Ashley Young.
Teenage starlet James Wilson has already shown he will not be overawed by the jump from youth football to the Premier League, after firing home twice on his Old Trafford debut. The pacy forward illustrated true poaching instinct by bagging himself a brace against Hull City, and in doing so became the first player in United’s illustrious history to score for the Under-18, U-19, U-21 and first team in one season.
With Javier Hernandez reportedly unsure about his future, and Danny Welbeck currently playing more of a wide role for the club, Wilson will be hoping to stake a claim for a spot as Robin van Persie’s back-up. An Adnan Januzaj-style ascent to the first team squad is certainly within the realms of possibility for the talented youngster, particularly with Van Gaal at the helm.