Manchester United’s famed production line is in full swing again – and it could save Ole Gunnar Solskjaer millions in the transfer market.
Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay were the last young talents to come through the Old Trafford academy and flourish as regular first team stars for both club and country.
And the conveyor belt of stardust shows no sign of stopping with an exciting trio of teenagers fast emerging from the shadows – and getting pulses racing behind the scenes at United.
There’s not been much to hearten United fans since the 9-0 demolition of Southampton with Solskjaer’s stars slipping up badly in the Premier League recently.
Bitter rivals Manchester City have knocked United off top spot and doused Old Trafford’s fanciful title dreams with a powerful charge to the top.
But in midfielders Hannibal Mejbri and Shola Shoretire and centre-forward Joe Hugill United have plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
And United academy expert and former Alex Ferguson Fledgling Ben Thornley reckons the Class of 21 could be a huge pandemic plus for Solskjaer – with the Covid crisis wrecking football finances possibly for years to come.
Mejbri and Shoretire have already been promoted to United’s first team “bubble” with Under-23 academy boss Neil Wood unable to hold the duo back any longer.
And with striker Hugill plundering 16 goals in 20 games for United’s U-18s and in Premier League 2, it’s little wonder anticipation has gone up a notch at the club’s Carrington training complex.
“You’re always reluctant to put too much pressure on these lads and predict big things ahead but United might just have hit the jackpot with these boys” says Thornley.
“You can never really be certain how they’ll develop especially in the transition from reserves to first team.
“But everything I’ve seen so far points to them being special talents who could save United millions in the long run in the transfer market.
“The market is financially stagnant, we saw that in January and it’s predicted to be a similar story in the summer with many clubs reeling from the impact of Coronavirus.
“So what better time to produce diamonds from your own academy?
“These three lads might well become regular United stars of the future, a little bit like the Class of 92.
“What would David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers have been worth in today’s market?
“If United can get Mejbri, Shoretire and Hugill into their first team for the next five, six, seven years it could save them millions.”
So who are United’s terrific trio?
Hannibal Mejbri (18) – United paid £9 million to Monaco last summer to beat off a host of top clubs desperate to sign the Frenchman.
“He’s a huge talent, definitely a star in the making. The kid is sensational and has got a real swagger about him. He’s got an edge and has been absolutely brilliant.
“He started with the 23s in central midfield but now plays off the left and is involved in everything” says Thornley.
“He gets kicked from pillar to post – I can’t think of any player in Premier League 2 who gets fouled more.
“He didn’t handle that well early on and didn’t feel he was getting protection. He’d react and was sent off against West Ham when he lost his cool after taking some rough treatment.
“Now he’s got the mentality that when he’s kicked he get’s up and almost says ‘you’ll get tired of kicking me before I will’.
“He’s such an exciting talent you can’t wait for him to be on the ball. Old Trafford will love him.”
Shola Shoretire (17) – A Geordie from Michael Carrick’s old stamping ground at Wallsend Boys Club. Was at Newcastle’s academy until United snapped him up when his parents relocated to Manchester with jobs.
“Shola only turned 17 this month but wow, what a talent. He’s not big but he’s tenacious and can mix it with grown men.
“He has fantastic balance, great control, pace and can score goals – six in his 14 Premier League 2 games.
“I’ve heard PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus were all tracking him until he signed a pro contract at United and I can understand why Newcastle were devastated to lose him.
“He’s always played above his age but he was only 14 when he played in the Uefa under-19 Youth League so that shows you his quality and potential.
“He’s been playing in a more central role for the 23s and has the vision to pick brilliant passes. I’m not surprised he’s been promoted to the first team squad and was taken to Turin for the Europa League game with Real Sociedad.
Joe Hugill (17) – Snapped up from Sunderland for £300,000 last year – and hasn’t stopped scoring since.
“He’s an out and out number nine and at six foot two inches sometimes looks a bit gangly. He reminds me a bit of a young Niall Quinn
“But he knows where the net is. When he gets in his stride he does everything you’d want a centre forward to do.
“His finishing is exceptionally cool and assured with right and left foot and he’s obviously an aerial threat too.
“He’s a reactive player and can sense opportunity. He scored four goals in the 6-3 win at Liverpool U23s last month and is definitely on Ole’s radar.
“Whatever level you play at for United there’s an expectancy to deliver and Hugill has done that first with the 18s and now with the 23s.
“He’s a different type of player to Rashford and can play more with his back to goal. His progression might take longer than Rashford but he can be a star, no question.”