Hyping up academy prospects beyond the point of no return is something Manchester United fans do very well, but they’re admittedly onto something with their latest discovery.
The Red Devils have always historically had a glowing record when it comes to putting their stellar academy to use, but that took off to another level following the arrival of Sir Alex Ferguson and the subsequent emergence of the ‘Class of 92’.
Breaking into United’s first team in an era of unimaginable growth for football in quality, revenues and worldwide popularity, their reputation for being a club founded on youth suddenly was at the forefront of their success once again.
That’s proven somewhat of a poison chalice in more recent years, with just about every prospect to break out being well overhyped and having to deal with endless loads of pressure as a result, failing to make good on any of their promise and inevitably fading away from the limelight.
Since efforts were made to perform somewhat of a hard reset on the academy during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure, things have started looking up again. No, not every player who pulls on a United shirt from age six to 18 is now a certified Ballon d’Or winner, but the talent conveyor belt looks somewhat more consistent.
Shock horror, we know.
And while United haven’t had a clue what to do with their most promising and technical young starlets in recent years, Erik ten Hag is doing his best to fix that, making good on the foundations set. You only have to look towards Alejandro Garnacho and Kobbie Mainoo as evidence.
If those two are anything to go by, then the third talent off the conveyor belt ought to be 16-year-old Shea Lacey, who couldn’t embody a traditional Manchester United winger anymore if he tried, despite coming to the club from rival lands.
Born in 2007 (no, seriously) Lacey grew up in Liverpool around a Liverpool-supporting family. Ouch. But what that does mean is that his come up through the ranks at United feels even sweeter, especially knowing that he’s the total package.
We’re trying not to lump too much unnecessary expectation onto the teenager here, but he’s already gone viral more than once for some serious obscenities for United at academy level, and has continued to dazzle in pre-season ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.
Shea Lacey a joy to watch. pic.twitter.com/6oNZt2wWNG
— academyarena Utd (@academyarenaUTD) August 3, 2023
A tricky winger with a frightening technical ability for his age, United fans have been impressed with the physical development of Lacey.
The above clip, though, embodies everything brilliant about him and proves that he’s got all the credentials to become an all-time great winger at a club where wide men are at the centre of the success.
Mentality clearly isn’t a question. A scouser – whose older brother rejected United for Liverpool – pulling on the shirt of local rivals and absolutely bossing it, slaloming through defenders like it’s nobody’s business? We absolutely love it.
Lacey’s agility and technique allow him to cut through tight defensive blocks like a hot knife through butter, and he combines it with a wicked eye for goal well beyond his current years. His ambitious shot is saved in this instance, but the rebound is followed in, and the fact he even tries it after such a mazy run says it all about the stones the kid has.
Watching a youth prospect blossom and fulfil the potential he’s been beckoned with is one thing, but it’s a completely different level of cathartic when that youth prospect has shoved a middle finger up to bitter rivals in the process.
A scouser being a success story at United isn’t an entirely uncommon trait – arguably the club’s greatest player was born in Croxteth and came through the ranks at Everton – but it’s still a rare occurrence. Lacey has all the tools to follow in Rooney’s traits and become an all-timer at the club, defying the odds and endearing himself to red Mancunians everywhere.