Where are they now? The last 10 Man Utd academy grads SAF gave debuts

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Manchester United's Ryan Tunnicliffe playing in the FA Youth Cup. Upton Park, January 2011.

Sir Alex Ferguson was lauded for giving first-team opportunities to Manchester United’s academy graduates – and he continued to do so right up until the end of his reign.

Fergie helped maintain a tradition of United including an academy graduate in every matchday squad dating back to 1938.

We’ve taken a look back at the last 10 players from the academy he handed senior debuts. It’s fair to say it’s a mixed bag.

Ryan Tunnicliffe

When Tunnicliffe came off the bench to make his senior United debut against Newcastle in the League Cup in September 2012, the midfielder earned his dad £10,000.

His dad had placed a £100 bet on his son appearing for Manchester United when Tunnicliffe Jr was just nine, and we can’t help but think the odds of 100-1 were a little bit tight from the bookies in question.

But it was one of only two appearances Tunnicliffe made for the senior squad before dropping down to the Championship with permanent spells at Fulham, Millwall and Luton Town. Since 2021, he’s been playing for Portsmouth in League One.

Lewis Cook making his England debut at Wembley in March 2018.

READ: 5 footballers whose families placed long-term bets on their success

Scott Wootton

Wootton made the contentious switch from Liverpool’s academy to Manchester United’s as a teenager, making his first-team debut in that 2-1 League Cup victory over Newcastle.

The defender made just three more appearances for the Red Devils, notably conceding an injury-time penalty which was converted by Eden Hazard to send a League Cup tie at Stamford Bridge to extra-time, with Chelsea eventually running out 5-4 victors in a crazy game.

An underwhelming spell at Leeds followed, and the 28-year-old now plays in Australia’s A-League with Wellington Phoenix.

Robbie Brady

The third of four debutants from that Newcastle game, it may have been Brady’s only run-out for the senior side, but he has subsequently proved by far the most successful of the quartet.

Injuries have thwarted his progress in recent years and limited his playing time at Bournemouth, but the midfielder has established himself in the Premier League with Hull, Norwich and Burnley while becoming a key figure for the Republic of Ireland.

Marnick Vermijl

The final player handed his debut against Newcastle, Vermijl hung around at Old Trafford until 2015 before dropping into the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday and Preston.

Now 30, he plays for Belgian third-tier side Thes Sport alongside his brother, which is nice. Speaking of brothers…

Michael Keane

The best Keane brother on this list.

Will Keane

The second best Keane brother on this list.

READ: Will Keane: I watched Rashford and thought, ‘That could’ve been me’

Larnell Cole

Cole’s sole appearance for United’s first team came as a substitute in a 3-0 League Cup win at Leeds in September 2011.

The midfielder moved to Fulham alongside the aforementioned Tunnicliffe but similarly played just once for the Cottagers.

Now 29, he was last seen playing for Radcliffe Borough in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

Paul Pogba

Another debutant from the bench at Elland Road, Pogba is best remembered for being greeted to first-team football by being elbowed in the head by Mikael Forssell.

We have absolutely no idea what’s happened to him since.

Paul Pogba's Manchester United debut

READ: The 10 players Man Utd let leave alongside Paul Pogba in 2012

Zeki Fryers

Better known as a left-back, Fryers was handed his senior debut in the centre of defence alongside Michael Carrick in United’s 3-0 win over Leeds and played five more times in 2011-12 before controversially joining Tottenham via Standard Liege.

He now plays in the National League South for Welling United, so it probably wasn’t worth the fuss.

Tom Cleverley

Before he became a much-maligned figure at Old Trafford, Cleverley was handed his senior debut by Ferguson in the 2011 Community Shield.

The midfielder was introduced at half-time with United 2-0 down to Manchester City but was part of the comeback which saw them triumph 3-2.

He made 79 appearances in all competitions for the Red Devils, second only to Paul Pogba on this list, and remains in the Premier League (for now) with Watford.


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