No - it's not Brandon Williams...

Man Utd’s next star has been given the Mainoo treatment – he’s ready to fill their final midfield void

Winning the FA Cup was the perfect way to paper over the cracks of an otherwise dismal season for Manchester United, but in the darkness of record lows, the Red Devils could once again be proud of their youth players shining through.

It was Alejandro Garnacho in Erik ten Hag’s first season, providing a beautiful concoction of technical excellence and an ever so slightly arrogant ‘f*ck it’ approach to beating defenders, giving United quality and edge in equal measures.

Then, despite the difficult stagnation in season two and an injury delaying his arrival, the swagger and nonchalance of Kobbie Mainoo has largely settled an otherwise rocky ship that has threatened to tip overboard on more than one occasion – and absolutely would’ve if not for the Stockport-born sensation.

There’s been endless debate about whether or not Ten Hag should be afforded a third season in charge after his United side recorded the club’s lowest finish in Premier League history – yeah, worse than Moyes and Rangnick – but regardless of who’s sat in the dugout next season, one thing cannot be ignored.

Youth is always the way forward at the Theatre of Dreams, and there’s a young man who’s already been earmarked by the boss in exactly the same way Mainoo was in 2022-23.

READ NEXT: Where are they now? Man Utd’s star-studded 2022 FA Youth Cup winners

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name every player Erik ten Hag has used at Man Utd?

Toby Collyer joined United from Brighton in 2022 while Rangnick was still in charge of the club on interim basis, having impressed in a trial towards the end of the season.

He arrived quietly despite his status as an England youth international, and his fast start at United shouldn’t ever really have come as a shock given that he made his debut for Brighton’s under-23s at just 17 in 2021.

It’s been exactly that ever since, though, with the star names jumping him in the pecking order and stealing the fanfare from beneath him. Perhaps, though, it’s just what he needed.

Operating virtually in stealth mode for much of the 2023-24 season, the defensive midfielder has been able to thrive between his sessions around the first team and dipping back into the under-21 setup when needed, playing vital minutes in the Premier League 2.

Bubbling away in the background, the 20-year-old has had a front seat to United’s season, closely analysing the senior squad and – knowing his potential – evaluating how he can make an impact.

His manager has certainly been thinking that if his behaviour has been anything to go by, naming him on the bench seven times in the Premier League and – notably – collaring him after United lifted the FA Cup in shock fashion, similarly to how he did Mainoo the previous season after they lifted the EFL Cup.

So, why exactly is Ten Hag so keen on Collyer? What has he seen that the rest of us haven’t yet noticed? Let’s take a look.

Fair play, Mr. Ten Hag. We weren’t familiar with your game.

First it was Mainoo, now it’s Collyer. What’s in the water at La Carrington and where has it been for the best part of a decade when United have needed supremely cool, press-resistant midfield demons to actually step up and fill the void?

That’s not important now. What is vitally important are the next steps for young Collyer, a destroyer at the base of midfield who soaks up pressure like a sponge, but crucially sniffs out danger like a police dog at a British summer festival and lays into his opponents with an unrelenting physicality.

Collyer’s not flashy, but he doesn’t need to be. Certainly not in a United side involving Mainoo. In fact, Collyer needs to do the dirty work.

There’s an art to playing ugly. It’s easier said than done, and those who can do it, ironically make it look beautiful. Collyer has the potential to do that for the Red Devils.

After watching United this season and concluding that they were in desperate need of a sweeper at the base of their midfield who’s three steps ahead, but also has the legs and physicality to stop teams on the counter, it becomes abundantly clear why the club is so high on Collyer.

When he emerges alongside Mainoo in pre-season, don’t be shocked when he’s suddenly the hipsters’ new favourite footballer. If Mainoo didn’t already look silky smooth, just wait until he’s been truly unlocked by his water-carrying, Carrington teammate, who’s been quietly groomed for the role for the past year.

If United continue to trust the process, all their midfield woes might be solved for good.

By Mitch Wilks