Where are they now? Man Utd’s 2002-03 FA Youth Cup winners

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Manchester United players celebrate the FA Youth Cup trophy. Old Trafford, April 2003.

Manchester United have always had talented players in their academy – but what happened to the team that won the 2003 FA Youth Cup?

After winning 2-0 in the first leg of the final against Middlesbrough, the Red Devils wrapped things up with a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

We’ve taken a look at the Xl from that second leg to see how they all fared.

GK: Luke Steele

Steele never made a competitive first-team appearance for United and was used as part of a swap deal to bring in Tomasz Kuszczak, which saw Steele move to West Brom in 2006.

The goalkeeper’s most noteworthy spell came at Barnsley, where he made 227 appearances and famously helping them reach the 2008 FA Cup semi-final.

After the Tykes suffered relegation to League One in 2014, he moved to Greece and spent three years with Panathinaikos.

Steele returned to these shores in 2017 but made just 19 appearances in all competitions during stints at Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and Millwall.

He then dropped into non-league in 2020 and surprisingly played for Peterborough Northern Star Reserves and Jubilee FC as a striker, scoring 15 goals in eight games.

“In my last two games, we won 3-2 and I scored two hat-tricks,” Steele told BBC Radio Nottingham in April 2021. “I was getting called up to the first team but they’d finished the league [because of coronavirus], so it was frustrating because I didn’t get the chance to keep progressing through the divisions.

“It wasn’t a fantastic standard but I was making progress, and I would’ve kept going this year as far as I could but Covid prevented that.”

The 38-year-old returned to his natural position during a brief spell at Notts County before being appointed in a player-coach role with United Counties League Premier Division North side Deeping Rangers.

RB: Phil Bardsley

Bardsley was rewarded with his first-team debut against West Brom in December 2003 and went on to make another 17 appearances for United.

After loan spells at Royal Antwerp, Burnley, Rangers, Aston Villa and Sheffield United, he left on a permanent basis in 2007 and spent six years at Sunderland.

The 37-year-old headed to Stoke City in 2014 and hit the headlines for sparking out Wayne Rooney during a sparring session.

He was last seen in Burnley’s squad but was released after their Premier League relegation last season and hasn’t found alternative employment since.

CB: Lee Sims

Sims was released by United in 2004 and then dropped out of professional football following an unsuccessful trial at Cardiff City. Since then, his whereabouts have become obscure.

CB: Paul McShane

Alongside Steele, McShane joined West Brom in the summer of 2006 but then reunited with Bardsley at Sunderland a year later.

He had a brief stint in the North East before signing for Hull City, where he made over 130 appearances and appeared in an FA Cup final.

The former Republic of Ireland international spent three years at Reading before joining League One side Rochdale in 2019.  McShane then returned to Old Trafford in 2021 and is now a coach of United’s Under-23s squad. 

LB: Lee Lawrence

After helping United win the FA Youth Cup, Lawrence got his first taste of first-team football during a loan spell at Shrewsbury Town in the Conference.

The defender made nine appearances and helped them win promotion but also picked up an injury that derailed his progress. He was subsequently released by United and last played for semi-professional outfit Wigan Robin Park FC.

RW: Chris Eagles

During his time at United, Eagles scored one goal in 17 first-team appearances and also managed to get on the wrong side of Roy Keane.

“I remember when Roy Keane punched up Chris Eagles one time,” Rio Ferdinand told the VIBE with FIVE podcast in 2021. “He [Eagles] was only a young kid, [taking] liberties. It was good for him Eagles.

“Roy must have been coming back from an injury, or he didn’t play, and he was playing with the reserves and the youngsters that were in there like Eagles and Lee Martin were like rats, getting in close and trying to tackle.

“He went in late on Roy once or twice and Roy said to him, ‘Listen, slow down’. The ball comes in again, Eagles was trying to impress, trying to leave him mark and left a little bit on Roy again and pulled his jersey. Roy just turned around and went bang in the jaw.”

After being deemed surplus to requirements by United in 2008, the winger played Premier League football with Burnley and Bolton. He then dropped down the league pyramid and retired after leaving Oldham Athletic in January 2020.

CM: Ben Collett

Collett scored in the first leg of United’s FA Youth Cup victory over Middlesbrough and received the prestigious Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award in 2002-03.

But he suffered a double leg break in a game against Middlesbrough’s reserves a few weeks after the second game and never played for the first team. 

The midfielder did have short spells at New Zealand Knights and AGOVV Apeldoorn but hasn’t played professional football since 2007. 

He later won a £4.3million payout after undergoing legal proceedings against Middlesbrough and their player Gary Smith. During the hearing, Ferguson described him as “A-class” with an “outstanding chance” of becoming a full-time professional if he had not been injured.

READ: Where are they now? Every Man Utd Academy Player of the Year since 2000

CM: David Jones

Despite being captain of United’s FA Youth Cup-winning team, Jones was never given a first-team opportunity by Sir Alex Ferguson. 

The midfielder joined Derby County in January 2007, helping them win promotion before being part of the team that had the worst-ever Premier League points total.

He then bounced between the top two divisions during spells at Wolves, Wigan, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday.

The 38-year-old became a player-coach at National League side Wrexham, who are now owned by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

LW: Kieran Richardson

The biggest star from this team, Richardson made 81 first-team appearances for United but was never going to dislodge Cristiano Ronaldo.

He joined Sunderland in 2007 in search of regular first-team football and immediately attained hero status by scoring the winning goal in the Tyne-Wear derby.

The former England international spent five years at the Stadium of Light before brief spells at Fulham, Aston Villa and Cardiff City.

Richardson is presumably retired having most recently been seen when he had unsuccessful trial periods with Granada and Southend in 2017.

ST: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake

Ebanks-Blake came through the ranks and made two first-team appearances for United, scoring once in a 4-1 win over Barnet in the League Cup.

“It doesn’t matter who it was against – it could have been a pub team,” Ebanks-Blake told the Shropshire Star in 2021. “I played and scored for Manchester United at Old Trafford, and that’s a moment that will never ever leave me.”

He went on to impress for Plymouth and Wolves, winning the Championship Golden Boot two seasons in a row with the latter and going on to enjoy three years in the Premier League.

After leaving Molineux, the striker lined up for Ipswich, Preston, Chesterfield and Shrewsbury before finishing his career in non-league football in 2019. 

The 36-year-old sometimes works as a pundit for MUTV and has recently started working alongside a friend to advise young players. 

ST: Eddie Johnson

Johnson scored United’s only goal in the second leg against Middlesbrough and made one first-team appearance in a League Cup win over Leeds.

The forward was released in 2006 and then had spells in the lower leagues with Bradford City and Chester City. He saw out his playing career in America, playing for Austin Aztex and Portland Timbers before hanging up his boots at the age of 28 in 2012.

A while back Johnson appeared on our Broken Metatarsal podcast, speaking about his time at Manchester United and knowing how Cristiano Ronaldo was destined for greatness.

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