Willy Kambwala became the 248th player to graduate from Manchester United’s youth system as he made his full debut for the club away to West Ham in the Premier League.
Making his full debut on a day when five academy players started for United at the London Stadium, Kambwala is the latest player to contribute to the club’s exceptionally rich history with its academy.
Erik ten Hag’s hand has been forced somewhat by injuries, but the Red Devils have always been a club unafraid to lean on their most promising youth prospects and the Dutch coach has adopted that philosophy himself since taking charge.
The 19-year-old central defender joined United in 2020 from Sochaux, but got injured just weeks after signing for the club and faced an excruciating 11-month layoff before finally recovering in late 2021.
It makes his rise to the first team all the more special. No matter what happens going forward, nobody will be able to take away such a special and unique moment away from Kambwala, who has the potential to turn his United debut and French youth career so far into an impressive showing at senior level.
Kambwala has become the fourth United academy star to be given his debut by Ten Hag since he took charge at the beginning of the 2022-23 season, joining a small but exceptionally star-studded list of players whom big things are expected of.
While not technically a United academy graduate having signed from Penarol in 2020, Pellistri spent three years earning his stripes at youth level and then on two separate loans with Alaves before being trusted with United’s first team.
Pellistri had to show a tremendous amount of patience after slotting seamlessly into United’s under-23 setup, but was finally handed his competitive debut for the club on 10 January 2023, coming off the bench and registering an assist in the Carabao Cup against Charlton Athletic.
He’s since stuck around the first team as a rotation arm, but has threatened to take Antony’s spot on the right flank a number of times and still could.
Given his senior debut on the same night as Pellistri, fans with their ears close to the ground would’ve noticed Ten Hag’s incredibly careful treatment of Mainoo during his first season in charge.
The Stockport-born midfielder caught the manager’s eye early on and was a regular fixture in first-team training before starting against Charlton and making his Premier League debut a month later as a substitute.
Since then, though, Ten Hag has made a considered effort to deploy Mainoo as one of his most important tools. After overcoming an unfortunate injury suffered in 2023 pre-season, he made his full league debut from the start away to Everton and has looked like United’s most capable player ever since.
The sky is the limit.
Flying under the radar somewhat with Mainoo stealing all the headlines, Gore has quietly been exceptional in midfield at youth level alongside his young colleague, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ten Hag.
Winning the Reserve Team Player of the Year award in 2022-23 and featuring in the FA Youth Cup winning squad of 2022, 19-year-old Gore was handed his debut against Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup in September 2023, having made the bench a handful of times before that.
Gore has been unable to force his way back in since that impressive showing, but considering his ceiling and United’s midfield woes, we back him to find a way in once again before the season is over.