Manchester United have produced a ridiculous number of top-level professional footballers, from the likes of Marcus Rashford starring in Erik ten Hag’s first team to others like Angel Gomes forging their paths elsewhere.
The vast majority of youngsters that develop at Carrington end up playing at a lower level, such are the standards at one of Europe’s biggest and most historic clubs.
And some end up out of the game altogether, or phoning up their agent asking about interest. We’ve taken a closer look at 13 Manchester United academy graduates that are currently free agents and looking for a club.
Son of Richie Wellens – Leyton Orient manager, Football League stalwart and Carrington alumnus himself – right-back Wellens was a regular for United’s Under-21s and Under-18s in recent years.
The 20-year-old made six appearances for National League side Oldham Athletic out on loan last season but was released by his parent club earlier this summer.
Also released by United this summer is 22-year-old centre-back Bernard.
You imagine that he won’t struggle to find another club lower down the pyramid in the Football League, given he has four international caps for Jamaica and has loan experience with Salford City, Hull City and – last season – Portsmouth.
Unfortunately in his one and only appearance for the Red Devils, he scored an own goal in a 2-1 Europa League defeat to Astana.
Now we’re going back a bit. Borthwick-Jackson made his debut under Louis van Gaal way back in November 2015 – a 2-0 victory over West Brom in which Jesse Lingard scored his first goal for the club.
The left-back made a further 13 appearances as a fringe player in Van Gaal’s second season before he undertook a nomadic career elsewhere, representing five clubs on loan and eventually signing for Oldham Athletic as a free agent in 2020.
Borthwick-Jackson was last seen playing in League One for Burton Albion, but he was released by the Brewers at the end of the season.
A former winner of the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award, there were high hopes that Tuanzebe might progress to nail down his place at the heart of United’s backline.
Over six years after making his competitive debut, there have been flashes of quality from Tuanzebe – both at his parent club and out on loan, particularly in Aston Villa’s promotion-winning 2018-19 campaign – but he’s suffered with injuries and hasn’t really kicked on as expected.
Tuanzebe signed a new contract at Old Trafford on his return from Villa back in 2019, but he was only ever on the periphery and was subsequently loaned out once more. The 25-year-old is now attracting Championship interest as a free agent, having last featured for Stoke City in the latter half of last season.
The Belgian goalkeeper made one Premier League appearance for United and was loaned out no fewer than six times.
He’s recently spent two years with RKC Waalwijk but made just four Eredivisie appearances – conceding 12 goals – and was released at the end of the campaign.
The older brother of QPR’s Chris and Newcastle’s Joe Willock, young Matty moved up north as a teenager while his siblings developed their skills at Hale End.
The midfielder actually has two international caps for Montserrat, but never played for United’s senior teams amid a series of loans away to the Netherlands and Football League. He even played under Erik ten Hag on loan at FC Utrecht back in 2017-18.
Willock has spent the last year out of football, having been released by Salford City in the summer of 2022.
One of the most hyped academy prospects during Sir Alex Ferguson’s latter years, Wilson eventually made his breakthrough under interim boss Ryan Giggs, scoring on his senior debut in a 3-1 victory over Hull City.
“I feel like I can deal with the physicality and pace of the game,” Wilson told MUTV after his memorable debut.
“I just need to try to get as many games as possible under my belt for the experience. If you’re getting on in the club, you have to be progressing so obviously scoring for every age group is a good sign. I’ve got where I am now but I have to kick on.”
Wilson had the right idea but the reality was quite different. He scored a further three goals in another 19 appearances but never did kick on. After a series of underwhelming loans, the forward eventually joined Aberdeen in 2019 and was last seen playing for Port Vale in League One.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 31, 2017
United’s 100th different goalscorer in the Premier League, Harrop scored on his one and only appearance for the club – a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace on the final day of the 2016-17 campaign.
A few weeks later he rejected a contract offer and joined Preston North End for an undisclosed compensation fee. Harrop played almost a hundred matches for the Lilywhites but his development was hampered by a serious ACL injury in 2018.
Harrop was released by Preston last summer and has since spent a short stint with Northampton, but he’s a free agent once again.
Having left hometown club Preston North End to join United as a youth, Weir eventually progressed to make his debut under Louis van Gaal.
However, an injury-time cameo in a 2-1 victory over Arsenal was his one and only senior appearance before he departed for Hull City in 2016. He notched a small number of appearances in the Football League but hasn’t played professionally since leaving MTK Budapest last year.
Another Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year winner, Tunnicliffe played alongside the likes of Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison in the Under-18’s 2011 FA Youth Cup victory.
The midfielder only made a couple of League Cup appearances for his boyhood club and has been something of a lower-league journeyman. Tunnicliffe, 30, has never spent more than three successive seasons at the same club and is now looking for a new challenge after departing League One side Portsmouth.
Nottingham Forest’s wild shopping spree over the past year actually did the trick as they silenced their doubters to remain in the Premier League.
Lingard was among their marquee signings and top earners but he made a negligible impact, failing to score or assist in 17 Premier League appearances for Steve Cooper’s side.
He’s still only 30 but it feels like a long time ago that he was getting England call-ups and tearing it up on loan at West Ham, doesn’t it?
If you coached Manchester United in Football Manager 2013, you’d have been well aware of Petrucci’s talent and potential.
Unfortunately, real life worked out a little differently for the Italian midfielder, who had his contract terminated in 2014 after uninspiring loan spells at Peterborough, Royal Antwerp and Charlton.
Petrucci has spent the last couple of years with Israeli outfit Hapoel Be’er Sheva but is once again a free agent.
Now we’re really going back. Seven long years have passed since Danny Drinkwater played a starring role in the engine room of Leicester City’s 2015-16 Premier League title miracle. And it’s 11 years since he left Carrington.
The Manchester-born midfielder has been a free agent since being released by Chelsea a year ago but refuses to hang up his boots and is still actively pursuing suitors.
“I’d one hundred per cent go back to Leicester, it’s a special place for me,” Drinkwater recently told Sky Sports.
“To help them get back to the Premier League is something I’d love to do.”
Dream big, Danny.