Hyping up Manchester United youth prospects has become such a parody that when they’re actually performing well, nobody takes notice. But the game has changed once again.
All eyes are on a potential revolution on the red side of Manchester following Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s minority takeover of the club, which includes control over the football operations.
While Erik ten Hag’s side continue to stop and start on the pitch, that revolution is quietly bubbling away in the background.
If you’re on social media in any form, you’d know thanks to the insane era of celebrating the appointments of executives and personnel in office roles like they’re record transfers.
Kobbie Mainoo, Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Hojlund are doing their best to quell the chaos, but between the board room reshuffling, Ten Hag’s injury crisis and the hundreds of bizarre Old Trafford rebuild renders on Twitter, the club is somewhat of a rollercoaster.
Apart from at under-18 level, where things are – quietly – going smoother than ever and where that revolution we discussed is just beginning to boil over.
The young Red Devils have put together an outstanding campaign so far, winning 14 league games out of a possible 14 at the time of writing.
It’s unheard-of stuff, really. The kind of run both United’s men’s and women’s first teams are quite literally begging for right now, the kids are making it look easy and giving off a serious ‘Class of ’92’ vibe as an entire unit.
Credit can and should be dished out to several names. Director of Academy Nick Cox, who oversees the youth setup; Adam Lawrence who took charge of the 18s this season after making the step up from U13-16s; the Class of ’92 for creating an endless vacuum of pressure and subsequent ‘we are Man United’ tax.
But crucially, most of the flowers should be given to the kids making it happen. Because they are absolutely joyous to watch and frighteningly talented at such a young age.
Seriously, what happened to mucking around in sixth form and experimenting with nights out and disgraceful hangovers for the first time?
Instead, this crop of youngsters have swapped that for having more talent in two feet than we’ll ever have in our mind and bodies for the next 40 years, putting defenders on the ropes every weekend and creating art on pitches home and away.
It’s stuff so electrifying that even The Rock would struggle to compete.
GOAL! James Scanlon extends United's lead! pic.twitter.com/Rqirp8q7rs
— utdreport Academy (@utdreportAcad) January 30, 2024
Forty-two points from 14 games and in exhilarating fashion. Football isn’t meant to be this perfect. A Manchester United side isn’t meant to be this good these days.
Something has happened, though, and the talent factory appears to be open for business once again.
After the emergence of Mainoo and Garnacho this season, there is no reason why the likes of Shea Lacey, Ethan Williams, 16-year-old Harry Amass or somebody else can’t follow in the duo’s footsteps.
Not every player will make it at United. They can’t. But this is an enigma that won’t be forgotten and deserves to be celebrated in real time.
A stunning, 4-3 comeback win over Liverpool doesn’t do justice to the hard work throughout the season so far, but the combination of spirit and sheer excellence they showed against their rivals is a fitting summary of what makes the side so special.
In (another) challenging season for United in the headlines, with changes at board level that often have a ripple effect on the rest of the club, Lawrence’s 18s have stuck up a massive middle finger to all that, shouldered the Class of ’92 comparisons made by idiots like us, and ran with it all.
That is true football heritage and the biggest indicator that this young United side is something remarkable.
By Mitch Wilks