Manchester United’s world-famous youth academy and their successful ‘Class of 92’ has proven something of a poison chalice for blossoming talents over the years.
Promoting youth and letting that young talent flourish at the club has always been a key part of the Red Devils’ identity, long before Sir Alex Ferguson struck gold with the likes of Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt.
The Busby Babes set the tone early on, and the work Jimmy Murphy did with the club’s young players remains historic and a part of the fabric to this day. However, it does mean that any youngster with an ounce of talent who is on the cusp of breaking into the first team feels tons of pressure to fulfil their potential.
And while you occasionally get a Marcus Rashford, most of the time they flop and fade into obscurity. Here are nine ‘wonderkids’ who failed to make the cut at United and vanished.
The midfielder partnered Paul Pogba in that infamous 2011 FA Youth Cup-winning side and won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award in that same season, but he failed to break into the first-team squad and left permanently in 2014.
Tunnicliffe, 30, has since slipped up and down the English pyramid and has been playing for Portsmouth since 2021.
In a strange era for United under Louis van Gaal, Borthwick-Jackson seemingly emerged into the first-team from the youth academy out of thin air, but immediately earned the trust of his manager with a string of performances. Bombing down the wing from left-back, there were even David Beckham comparisons thanks to his crossing abilities.
A series of loan spells would follow, where Borthwick-Jackson literally looked like a completely different player to the one who debuted under Van Gaal. Like completely unrecognisable – in a bad way. He only actually left United in 2020, and has been at League One side Burton Albion since 2021.
Borthwick-Jackson walked so Trent could run. https://t.co/afBzvRdYnE
— Jordan (@FourFourJordan) December 16, 2021
United pursued the Norwegian midfielder from a young age and had him locked into their academy setup by 2011. He would g on to win the Jimmy Murphy Young Player award a year later and light it up for United at youth level, signing professional terms on his 17th birthday.
But the story essentially ends there. Nothing more was ever heard of Daeli at United, with him returning to Norway to sign for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde side in 2013. He’s bounced around divisions in Europe since, most recently making a home in the German second tier with 1. FC Nurnburg.
Scorer of perhaps one of the most satisfying goals in recent history and immediately becoming a cult hero for his contributions, 17-year-old Macheda looked every bit a star in the making when he came off the bench and rifled a winning goal into the top corner against Aston Villa in front of the Stretford End in 2009.
The goal would prove key in ensuring United won the Premier League, but that was about as good as it got for the Italian at the club. Now 31, Macheda has played in England, Wales, Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey in what has been one hell of a journeyman career. He currently finds himself on loan at Cypriot side APOEL from Ankaragucu.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 5, 2022
An American-born Italian international, United snapped up Rossi when he was 17 in the hope he would blossom into a star for the first team. It started well, but Rossi soon stagnated and was quickly out of the door in 2007, just three years after he signed for the club.
His time at Villarreal immediately after United was about as good as it got. Rossi then found himself club-hopping around Spain and Italy, before briefly heading to Major League Soccer with Real Salt Lake. Now 36, he’s in his second spell with Serie B side SPAL after leaving the club in 2022 and going without any football for half a year.
Scott spent 14 years on the books at Manchester United from youth level up to making his senior debut in 2018. He was released at the end of the 2017-18 season, though, waving goodbye while youth teammates Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay kicked on in the first team.
It was November 2018 before Scott found a new club, briefly signing with Altrincham before leaving later in the month. He then featured for Newcastle Town in January 2019, before signing for Kidsgrove Athletic that summer, while also doing work on a construction site. His dream had completely unravelled, essentially playing local football while working full-time.
An interesting opportunity finally presented itself to Scott in 2020, when he had the chance to sign for Hong Kong Premier League side Happy Valley. Since then, he’s become a star of football in Hong Kong, making the league’s Team of the Year in 2020-21. He’s a regular at Kitchee, now 25 years old. Funny old game, isn’t it?
Bagging twice on his debut off the bench against Hull City in 2014, it looked like Wilson was absolutely tailor-made for stardom at United. He then scored all four goals in a 4-1 win over Manchester City for the club’s under-21s in the Manchester Senior Cup final to end a terrific breakthrough season.
Wilson was slowly integrated into Van Gaals’ team the following season and scored again for United in January 2015, before penning a new long-term deal shortly after. Everyone was convinced the young Englishman would be a star, but that all began to unravel after his first loan spell at Brighton.
He never found a way back into the fold after a handful of temporary moves flattered to deceive, and was never given another chance when Jose Mourinho took charge at the club. He’s finally found his stride in League Two, featuring prominently for Port Vale since signing in 2021.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 31, 2017
A name that flies completely under the radar for the most part, Chilean forward Henriquez trialled with United in 2009, before signing for the club in 2012.
Somewhat of an enigma, the striker did well in the youth ranks and played plenty of football out on loan, firing in at a respectable rate for Dinamo Zagreb in 2014-15 where he finished the season with 29 goals in 37 appearances.
Strangely, that wasn’t ever enough for United to want to give him a chance in the post-Ferguson era – likely a result of how poorly run they had become – and he signed for Zagreb permanently in the summer of 2015.
He’s since tailed off, however, and left Europe in 2018 for Mexico. Henriquez returned to Unversidad de Chile, where he was before signing for United, that same year and enjoyed four successful years with the club. He’s been back in Europe since 2022, leading the line for Polish top-flight side Miedz Legnica.
One for the Football Manager enthusiasts, Gribbin was a special talent on the immensely popular game and just as highly regarded in real life. Gribbin would regularly go viral for his exploits at youth level for United and was widely considered perhaps the club’s brightest prospect.
But after a series of injuries and personal issues, Gribbin was released upon the expiry of his contract in 2019, with some outlets reporting he had given up on football completely. He would sign for Sheffield United, but left in 2020 without making a senior appearance.
He seemed to find his feet with League Two side Barrow, before an injury derailed his first real strides forward in the game since leaving United. He left there in June 2021, and has been playing semi-professional football ever since with FC United of Manchester, where he is currently recovering from an ACL injury.
A seriously shocking fall from a player who was once genuinely tipped to go far for United.
— Ron (@utdronnie) March 22, 2023