While Manchester United‘s first-team recruitment has been criticised in recent years, they’ve managed to secure some of the best emerging talents from across the globe.
Head of youth-team development Nicky Butt was part of the iconic homegrown Class of 92 and United have invested heavily in their Under-18 side as they try to unearth similar talents.
We’ve compiled an XI of promising players who have signed for United’s academy in the last five years, arranged in a 4-4-2 formation.
GK: Matej Kovar
Signed from Czech side FC Slovacko in January 2018 following a successful trial, Kovar has impressed at youth level and has taken part in a number of first-team training sessions.
The goalkeeper endured a difficult loan spell at League One side Swindon Town in the first half of 2020-21 but is still highly regarded at Old Trafford.
RB: Marc Jurado
A La Masia graduate, Jurado spent nine years at Barcelona, scoring the fastest ever goal at youth level during a game against Viladecans in 2013.
He turned down the offer of a contract extension from the La Liga side in favour of a switch to United, who had to pay a small compensation fee.
After having some adaptation time in England, the full-back has now made eight Under-18 Premier League appearances at the time of writing.
CB: Willy Kambwala
Following in the footsteps of Patrice Evra and Anthony Martial, Kambwala came through the famous Les Ulis academy before moving to Ligue 2 side Sochaux in 2018.
The 16-year-old centre-back has captained France Under-17s on several occasions and joined United in a deal worth in the region of £3.6million on transfer deadline day in 2020.
He has been limited to just one Under-18 Premier League appearance this season due to injury problems, but the Manchester Evening News claim it is only a “matter of time” before he is promoted to a higher age group.
CB: Di’Shon Bernard
Bernard played alongside the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tariq Lamptey at Chelsea’s academy before joining United in 2017.
The defender had a United debut to forget against Astana, scoring an own goal, but is currently impressing on loan at League Two side Salford City, winning the PFA Player of the Month award for December.
“I think obviously you get to a certain age and a loan is definitely the right thing,” Bernard told The Independent in February 2021.
“Obviously not many players want to do it but it’s definitely vital for your progression in your career because going on loan (is) gaining experience and you realise what men’s football is about.”
LB: Alvaro Fernandez
Fernandez spent three years in Real Madrid’s academy but joined United on a free transfer in 2020 after failing to agree on a new contract with the Spanish side.
The left-back enjoyed an impressive start to his United career, scoring on his Under-18s debut before earning an immediate promotion to the Under-23s.
He reportedly models his game on Madrid legend Marcelo and has provided four assists in his last four games in Premier League 2.
RW: Tahith Chong
Signed from Feyenoord in 2016, Chong made his first-team debut under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in January 2019 and later won the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award.
Having made 12 appearances for United in 2019-20, he joined Bundesliga side Werder Bremen on loan ahead of 2020-21 but failed to make a major impact.
The 21-year-old was recalled in January 2021 and immediately sent to Club Brugge, where he has one goal and two assists in his first four appearances.
CM: Ethan Galbraith
Since joining United from Linfield in 2017, Galbraith has regularly displayed his impressive array of passing in the middle of the park.
The 19-year-old made his United debut in a Europa League game against Astana in November 2019 and is already a senior international for Northern Ireland.
“Ethan, over the last six months, we’ve seen a maturity in his play and the way he goes about his work day to day,” Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough said in November 2020.
“Not to put too much pressure on his shoulders, but he’s our little Iniesta or Xavi, someone who can get on the ball and manipulate the ball and find positive passes. Over the coming years, he will give us a different flavour to the squad.”
CM: Isak Hansen-Aaroen
One of several highly-rated Norwegian players, Hansen-Aaroen made his first-team debut for Trosmo aged 15 years and 319 days, becoming the youngest player to ever appear for the club.
Despite having trials at Liverpool and Everton, the midfielder agreed to join United on his 16th birthday in 2020.
After impressing with the Under-18s, he made his Under-23s debut in October and will be hoping to catch the eye of fellow Norwegian Solskjaer.
LW: Hannibal Mejbri
United have already shown a lot of faith in Mejbri, agreeing to pay Monaco a potential £8.7million for the then-16-year-old in 2019.
The creative midfielder has shown regular glimpses of his undoubted talent, registering four goals and seven assists for United’s Under-23s in 2020-21.
“Hannibal’s a leader. The way he plays his football is 100mph, he’s non-stop running up and down,” Nicky Butt told the Manchester Evening News in March 2020.
“He’s got his own path. We make sure when we sign players we always speak to the parents and give them an example of all different ways of getting into Man United’s first-team.”
He was recently promoted to the first-team squad and looks set to make his senior debut before the end of the season.
ST: Charlie McNeill
Having reportedly scored over 600 goals at youth level for Manchester City, McNeill is regarded as one of England’s best young talents.
United fought off competition from the like of Juventus and RB Leipzig to bring the striker to Old Trafford for an initial fee of just £750,000 in 2020.
The 17-year-old has hit the ground running with 13 goals in 12 Under-18 Premier League appearances this season, including four against City.
More importantly, he’s also an excellent sh*thouse….
ST: Joe Hugill
A £300,000 signing from Sunderland, Hugill has been likened to Harry Kane and snubbed interest from Tottenham and Arsenal to join United in 2020.
It immediately became apparent that the striker was too good for Under-18s football and he was fast-tracked into United’s Under-23s squad.
Despite being just 17 years old, he has scored 10 goals in 15 Premier League 2 appearances, averaging a goal every 86.9 minutes.
“Four goals by Hugill, he’s a top striker as well, we’re looking forward to seeing his development,” Solskjaer said after Hugill’s incredible performance against Liverpool Under-23s.