United's 18s are on a tear.

Man Utd’s Under-18s are the recipe for redemption under Sir Jim Ratcliffe

A screamer from Marcus Rashford was about the best Manchester United fans could’ve realistically wished for in a derby day defeat to Manchester City – the latest, stinging reminder in precisely how far they’ve fallen.

Rashford’s misfiring throughout the 2023-24 season has been symbolic of his entire team’s struggles as a whole. Two steps forward and three back summarises Erik ten Hag’s time in charge thus far, and while it’s been much worse at times in the post-Ferguson era, they’re still way off the glory days of yesteryear.

But there’s change on the horizon and  – crucially – a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, with the Glazer family finally releasing their stranglehold on the Red Devils and Sir Jim Ratcliffe acquiring a sizeable stake in the club.

One might scoff at the fact that United are underachieving to such an extent that supporters are on their knees begging for a billionaire to bail them out and free them from the shackles of being run like a circus, but one look at how United have been run in the last decade goes a long way in explaining the desperation.

For all of the club’s riches and for all of INEOS’ petrochemicals millions, however, throwing more money onto the fire won’t put it out.

What will do, though, is reverting back to type. Establishing what it is that has always set United apart historically, championing it and letting that very flame catapult them into a new – and more sustainable – era.

That comes in the form of youth. Specifically, United’s current crop of under-18s – because they’re bloody brilliant.

A quite literally flawless league campaign has since been derailed with two draws, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. The young Red Devils – managed by Adam Lawrence – have won 15 league games out of 17 this season and drawn just twice.

It’s been exceptional to watch in real-time and feels like the dawn of a new era with INEOS now in at the club and ready to rip everything out and start again.

United’s youth department has fallen behind in recent years, but with an effort on overhauling the setup came the FA Youth Cup triumph of 2022 and the subsequent increase in quality which is now being seen with Lawrence’s 18s.

Class of ’92 comparisons are all too easy to make, but considering the run they’re on, they’ll be unable to avoid them – especially after smashing Crystal Palace 5-0 on the way to reaching the Premier League Cup final.

Yet another rampant display from the young side, the air of ruthlessness already within the squad is frightening.

Ethan Wheatley embodied that ruthlessness with a brace in a staggering performance – and one that United’s senior side could’ve done with away at the Etihad stadium as they stuttered towards inevitable defeat, despite Rashford’s best efforts.

Several first-team players could learn a thing or two from Wheatley and his crop of young colleagues. Outstanding talent and a sky-high potential.

It might feel like doom and gloom at the moment with Erik ten Hag’s side stranded 11 points adrift of the top four and desperately clinging onto an FA Cup run to save the season, but with the 18s quietly cooking in the background, United are just getting started.

A new era is undoubtedly underway with INEOS at the helm and there are several young stars in Lawrence’s side who could spearhead the revolution – Wheatley being just one of them.

United’s Head of Academy Nick Cox recently told the Talk of the Devils podcast: “What sets you aside is character. Character is the thing that is going to make you successful at Manchester United.

“So you better be looking for it, you better be recruiting for it, you better be trying to nurture it.”

He’s not wrong, and while it’ll take more than just character for the dream to become reality for these young stars and United fans alike, what’s the point in living if we don’t dream big?

We could – and probably will – be producing ‘where are they now?’ lists on this special group in years to come, but for now, it’s all about enjoying the ride and giving a brilliant team the flowers they deserve.

United’s under-18s can be the catalyst for change.

By Mitch Wilks

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