In 2019-20 and 2020-21, Manchester United committed to a youth overhaul by bringing in several exciting young talents from Europe, under the watch of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Nicky Butt.
United placed a greater emphasis on rebuilding their youth team following Solskjaer’s arrival and the impending effects of Brexit on youth transfers, with Butt becoming Head of First Team Development after years working in the academy.
We’ve checked in on the 13 players signed across the two summers Solskjaer had in charge of United, seeing how their development went given the high-profile restructuring that went on at the club.
The goalkeeper only spent one year in Manchester after signing in 2019, moving to FC Copenhagen on a permanent deal in 2020.
Now 20, the Milan-born Swedish youth international spent the first half of 2023-24 on loan at Serie C side Fiorenzuola, but has just returned to parent club Pisa.
Dutch winger Hoogewerf was technically Solskjaer’s first signing as United manager, joining the club in June 2019 after rejecting fresh terms at Ajax.
He arrived with plenty of fanfare and scored a hat-trick for the club’s under-18s in November 2020, but never quite kicked on and left in 2022 to sign for Borussia Monchengladbach. He’s scored once in 14 games for their second team so far this season.
Another striker, United snapped up Mejia from Real Zaragoza in 2019, but his development in England was stunted massively by a series of injuries which left him on the shelf for the best part of two years.
Mejia was given a new contract in the summer of 2023, but has just left the club permanently, returning to Spain with Sevilla, where he is already off the mark for their reserve side.
Hardley caught the eye of United scouts while playing for NAC Breda and his performances convinced the Red Devils that he was worth pursuing. He signed for the club in the summer of 2019 and made a strong impression, quickly moving up into the under-23 side.
Despite training with the first team, Hardley left the club without making a senior appearance in July 2023, following Zidane Iqbal to Utrecht. He’s been a regular fixture in the club’s Jong Utrecht side in his first season back in the Netherlands.
Known by Hannibal as most and recognised as the kid with the afro and a few screws loose, the midfielder arrived at United with plenty of promise, the Red Devils paying Monaco an initial €5million to secure his services.
Hannibal absolutely ripped it up at youth level for United and won their Reserve Player of the Year award for 2020-21, then made his senior debut three days later against Wolves.
He struggled to bring the same technical ability and flair to the senior side, though, picking up a reputation as a runner and a physical presence. A loan spell to Birmingham boosted his stock, but failing to progress from his role as a rotation arm under Erik ten Hag, he’s just moved to Sevilla on loan.
The Spanish club are believed to have an option to buy Hannibal for around €20million, but considering he’s already been removed from the squad by the manager following a lacklustre start, he’s got some work to do.
Moving onto the summer of 2020, United’s big play was snatching McNeill away from noisy neighbours Manchester City.
He arrived having scored hundreds of goals for City at academy level – but as a boyhood United fan – and flew in his first season at under-18 level.
McNeill has struggled to make the jump to senior football since then and has bee unfortunate with loans to Newport and Stevenage which didn’t go as planned. However, he’s still only 20 and with United’s lacking striker depth, has the chance to add to his solitary appearance to the club thus far before the season is over.
Signed from Sunderland in 2020, United reportedly fought off the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and others to secure Hugill.
Somewhat of a surprise package, Hugill’s physical development has gone hand in hand with his technical development and allowed him to thrive at under-18 and under-21 level for the club. He signed a new deal in 2021 and has just gone on loan to League One outfit Burton Albion, where he scored on his debut.
There could be a bright future for the 20-year-old at Old Trafford if he makes good on his current loan spell.
Starting between the sticks as United won the FA Youth Cup final in 2022, Vitek has enjoyed a strong start to life at United in the youth team.
The 20-year-old Czech recently inked a new deal through to 2027 and has been on the bench a handful of times under Ten Hag, but has just joined Accrington Stanley on loan in search of senior minutes.
Considering Andre Onana’s shaky start to life at United and the sale of Matej Kovar in the summer, there could well be an opening for him in the future.
Football fans were shocked when Kambwala was given a surprise United debut against West Ham in December 2023, but the French youth international has actually been with the club since 2020.
Signing that October, rotten luck saw him struck with an 11-month injury layoff just weeks after making the move and his progress halted as a result.
He bounced back strong from an injury that would’ve spelled the end for many, though, and recently came off the bench for his second senior appearance against Newport County in the FA Cup. Expect to see more of the 19-year-old as the season progresses.
Signed alongside another two Spaniards in the summer of 2020, full-back Jurado arrived from Barcelona and was considered a coup for United.
He failed to kick on beyond academy level, though, and after three years of regular football between the under-18s and 21s – winning the FA Youth Cup in 2022 – he left the club in the summer of 2023, returning to Spain to sign for Barcelona’s local rivals Espanyol.
While Jurado arrived from Barcelona, Fernandez was snatched away from the grasp of Real Madrid and enjoyed a more promising ascent at United, with there being a greater feeling that he could kick on and reach the first team.
Winning United’s under-23 Player of the Year award in 2023, he spent the 2022-23 campaign on loan at Preston and impressed massively, winning the club’s Young Player of the Year award.
He was surprisingly sent on loan to Granada in 2023-24, with opportunities at left-back seemingly limited despite Tyrell Malacia’s injury, and was recalled in January before being sent to Benfica, who have an obligation to purchase Fernandez depending on appearances.
It feels like a player the club have given up on too soon, although reports also state United have both sell-on and buyback clauses should Benfica make the deal permanent.
Alongside Jurado and Fernandez came Garnacho, who signed from Atletico Madrid’s academy in 2020.
After ripping it up at youth level, the Madrid-born Argentine international finished up his youth career by scoring a brace in the FA Youth Cup final and winning the Young Player of the Year award, having already made his first-team debut aged 17 under Ralf Rangnick.
After a false start under Erik ten Hag on United’s 2022-23 pre-season tour, some tough love has whipped Garnacho into shape and seen him transform into United’s most devastating winger and one of the best young talents in world football.
At just 19, it genuinely feels like the club has a star on their hands. He’s already made over 60 appearances and has weighed in with 17 goal contributions at the time of writing, while also being capped by Argentina three times.
Hugely impressed by the efforts Solskjaer went to in order to convince him to sign for United according to reports, the Red Devils secured midfielder Hansen-Aaroen in 2020.
Standing out with his blonde streaks and tattoos, what also set him apart were his incredibly creative midfield performances. His development went through the roof after Solskjaer left the club, but he failed to find a way into United’s first team, despite having debuted in Norwegian football aged 15.
Frustrated with a lack of chances to break through, the Norwegian rejected fresh terms at United and has just signed permanently for Werder Bremen at the age of 19. Watch this space.