Jose Mourinho has to keep to his word regarding youth

Jose Mourinho has to keep to his word regarding youth

After a season of turmoil, the Manchester United U-18's are seemingly back on track and there is some top talent coming through.

Craig Millar

In Jose Mourinho's first press conference, he was rather prickly when quizzed about the perception that he does not give youth a chance. He hit back and produced some numbers that he felt refuted the question, and in short tried to convince people that he is one for blooding youngsters when the time is right.

Depending on how long he lasts at Old Trafford, he may well have a predicament in the not-too-distant future.

Academy had a shocking season

Last season was a difficult season for the club as a whole, with the first team missing out on Champions League football, and despite a trophy to lift the gloom the club sacked their second manager since Sir Alex Ferguson. At the lower end of the scale things were even worse, and United's famed youth academy was in turmoil.

Ed Woodward said he was conducting a "root and branch" investigation into the running of the academy as the youngsters were losing games left, right and centre. At one point they went on an 11 game losing streak in the league. They were ripped apart by Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup, a competition United are synonymous with and Paul McGuinness, the U-18 head coach, paid the price with his job.

McGuinness had a long association with the club, and enjoyed enormous success, not just with results but by bringing through talent like Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and latterly Marcus Rashford. No matter, he was gone. Nicky Butt took up the reigns but additionally was given the Acadamy Director title, a position that had been vacant since Brian McClair left the club the previous season.

Whatever trials and tribulations they had been suffering, they appear to be behind them. United managed to lure the highly rated Kieran McKenna from Tottenham Hotspur as the U-18 manager, but in addition, they have picked up some really talented kids and the results and performances are a huge contrast to what was served up last year.

The team is playing with a swagger and are free scoring, and are starting to blow teams away with some exquisite football. Without getting too far ahead, there are several players who look like they could emulate the likes of Rashford and Pogba. Barring injuries, United could have another 'Class of '92' on their hands.

One to watch - Tahith Chong

Tahith Chong was highly rated and much coveted when United snapped him up from Feyenoord in his native Holland. He stands out for a number of reasons, not least his huge afro that makes him a striking figure to look at. He is an athletic boy, but aside from his looks and physique he is a very clever footballer.

He plays predominantly wide right, but can play either side and as an out an out forward. He is a good dribbler, but he has an eye for a pass and a goal. He has quickly established himself as a key figure in the youth side, and he doesn't turn 17 until December. He came with a huge reputation, and he is living up to his potential having even captained the side this year.

One to watch - Callum Gribbin

During last years struggles, Callum Gribbin was one of the only shining lights for the youth side, behind Rashford. He is another hugely talented player who is best as a No.10 but can play in a deeper role. As the kids took off this season, he had to have a watching brief due to injury, but he has recently returned and scored five goals in three games, including a hat-trick against Liverpool.

He is a local lad, from Salford, and a precocious talent. He is a very graceful player, and the biggest question mark could be regarding his attitude, which has been questioned already in his fledgling career. Assuming he keeps his feet on the ground, there is every chance he could be another Pogba, rather than a Ravel Morrison. He has featured for the U-23's and will turn 18 in December.

One to watch - Indy Boonen

Boonen was signed from Genk in Belgium and was also part of the team last year, but he too was one of the success stories in a difficult time. He is a classy left winger, but he too can play off the front man. He has skill, pace, technique, scores goals and is a great all round player. He is a United player in every sense.

United have has some wonderful left wingers throughout their history, and Boonen will do well to follow in their footsteps, but he has the talent to succeed. He will be 18 in the New Year.

One to watch - Andre Gomes

He has a Portuguese father, a Portuguese name, but he was born in London. He is England U-17s captain and yet he only had his 16th birthday in the summer. He is arguably the best of a very talented bunch, this despite his diminutive size.

He is another classy dribbler, extremely creative and like so many can finish. His skill levels are amazing and he is reportedly being tracked by Barcelona. He can play in midfield or off the forwards, and he is a very exciting prospect. It will only be a matter of time before he moves up the age groups as he has done throughout his young life.

One to watch - DJ Buffonge

Another odd name for an Englishman, but he has formed a great partnership with his fellow Londoner, Gomes in the centre of midfield. He is more physically imposing than Gomes, but he is also a lovely player to watch. He is another creator and scorer of goals and has established himself in the the team.

He is in his second season, though last year was blighted by injury.  His physical attributes and technical ability mark him out as an outstanding prospect, and he and Gomes dovetail superbly and cause the opposing  teams all sorts of problems.

More than just a few individuals

United's talented ranks extend beyond these few. Nishan Burkart is a much coveted 16 year old Swiss striker, signed from FC Zurich, and he is progressing nicely in the team and chipping in with goals. Lee O'Connor is a tough, but ultra composed centre back, the Republic of Ireland youth captain and only 16. Only injury will stop him making it all the way.

Callum Whelan is the glue in midfield, not just a stopper, but a vital cog that allows the stars around him to shine. He is an 18 year old from Yorkshire, and is a little similar in style to ex-red Danny Drinkwater. It is hard to break into this team, but keep an eye out for 16 year old Aiden Barlow, who is being eased in with substitute appearances. Like Gribbin, a Salford lad, he has the skills to pay the bills.

The majority of the players are individuals talents, yet they combine beautifully together as a team. As well as the flair players, there are players that can put the brakes on, and whilst O'Connor is possibly the best prospect at the back, they all look like good players and the future is definitely exciting.

This doesn't even take into account the likes of Regan Poole and Ro-Shaun Williams, two 18-year olds that are starring for the U-23's. Add in Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, currently on loan with WolvesTimothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzabe, all of whom have been in and around the first team and there is a lot of talent that will have to go somewhere fairly soon.

If Mourinho is to convince people that he does give youth it's head, then he is in the right place at the right time to do so. Some of these players, in fact most of these players are outstanding. As a group, they are fantastic to watch. They make mistakes, but in general play the right way with a lot of off-the-cuff stuff. The hope has to be that these boys stay injury free and are able to fulfill their wonderful potential.