Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Shrewsbury Town v Manchester United XI - Greenhous Meadow

5 former Man Utd wonderkids that quit football altogether: Cofie, Roche…

Manchester United’s academy is responsible for producing a huge number of professional footballers, from club heroes like David Beckham and Marcus Rashford to countless others that forge their career paths elsewhere. 

But not every talented Carrington prospect makes it as a professional football, while others burn brightly before calling time at a young age.

We’ve identified five former Manchester United starlets that – for one reason or another – gave up on the game altogether.

Paul Woolston

Having joined the Red Devils in 2018 after coming through at hometown club Newcastle, Woolston was viewed as a promising goalkeeper.

He represented England up to Under-18s level and represented United in the Football League Trophy and Premier League 2.

But he was forced to retire at the age of 23 after two operations and a prolonged period of rehabilitation.

“To have to retire at just 23 has been really tough to come to terms with but I feel a lot more positive now,” Woolston told United’s official website.

“I am really proud of everything that I have achieved, many people dream of playing football at this level. Of course, I would have loved to have gone on further but it has been an absolute honour to represent Manchester United during my time here.”

Since hanging up his gloves, Woolston has undertaken his coaching badges and received considerable support from Manchester United with work experience placements.

Cameron Stewart

Born in 1991, Stewart belonged to the class of Carrington prospects that included Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck and Nicky Ajose.

The Manchester-born winger joined United as a teenager, having impressed scouts while at local club Fletcher Moss Rangers.

Stewart never broke through to make his debut for his boyhood club, but he did enjoy a respectable enough Football League career, representing Hull City, Burnley, Blackburn, Charlton, Leeds, Ipswich, Barnsley, Doncaster and Lincoln.

But he was just 28 when he announced his retirement in 2018 after struggling for regular opportunities.

“A lot of people were questioning, ‘Why hasn’t he played? Why hasn’t he done this? Why hasn’t he done that?’,” Stewart told The Set Pieces during his late-career struggles.

“That’s the question mark that hangs over you in the end. I’m sure I won’t be the only player in this boat, there will be hundreds out there.”

John Cofie

Born in Ghana but raised in England, Cofie represented the Young Lions at Under-17 level and joined United’s academy from Burnley for a considerable compensation fee whilst he was a teenager.

The forward was part of United’s 2010-11 FA Youth Cup winning side alongside the likes of Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison. But his only senior experience came in a series of loans away – Royal Antwerp, Sheffield United and Notts County.

After joining Barnsley on a free transfer in 2013, Cofie embarked on a proper journeyman career that included no fewer than 12 clubs in seven years, eventually retiring aged 27 in July 2020 after one final stint with Philippines-based Global FC.

“It wasn’t a hard decision,” he told The MEN.

“I wasn’t debating it for years, I just fell out of love with the game, I didn’t enjoy it anymore.

Lee Roche

Right-back Roche made his United debut in the Champions League away to Deportivo La Coruna. Five years later he was working as a plumber and cavity wall remover.

READ: The Man Utd kid who went from the Champions League to the building site

Liam McClair

Son of United legend Brian McClair, Liam developed his skills at Carrington and played alongside future professionals like Matty James, but he struggled with injuries at a young age and never quite made it.

McClair Jnr ended up going to university and after turning his attention to music, now sings at weddings and gigs around Manchester.

Regular listeners of The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast will recognise McClair’s name for his musical loops contributions.

READ: The story of Liam McClair, the ex-Man Utd hope & heir who gave up on football

READ MORE: Where are they now? Man Utd’s 10 wonderkids from FM 2013

TRY A QUIZ: Can you name Man Utd’s 30 youngest Premier League debutants?