World Cup summer’s generally present an obstacle in two areas: the transfer window and pre-season preparation.
As the saying goes however, in the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. The opportunity in this scenario is afforded to some of the young talents on the periphery of the first team who have been given the chance to shine on the US tour while their more experienced counterparts are away.
Below is a bit of background on the young guns included in the touring party
Mason Greenwood (Age: 16)
On the back of his performances for the under 18’s this season, where he notched up 17 goals despite it being his first season at that level, Greenwood is the most exciting inclusion in the touring party.
Formerly an attacking midfielder, Greenwood has been converted to a number 9 this season to great effect. His positional switch has led to comparisons to Robin van Persie in style of play leading the line – van Persie who himself started as an attacking midfielder.
The goal at 9:30 in the video below has van Persie’s fingerprints all over it:
What has impressed most about Greenwood this season is that he has scored every type of goal – not just the wonder strikes that made the highlight reels at under 16 level. He has often popped up with headers or close range strikes, to compliment the long rangers.
The most skilful, technically gifted player to grace the Academy in the past few seasons has undoubtedly been Angel Gomes, however Greenwood would push him close. Where Greenwood has an advantage on Gomes is in his strength and pace, which could elevate him to end up being the more successful of the two at senior level. On top of that, Greenwood is completely two footed, with most people still unsure as to which foot is his strongest.
Greenwood’s first training session with the 1st team saw him make a fool of Matteo Darmian – a sign of things to come for opposing defenders in the coming years.
Angel Gomes (Age: 17)
Gomes has endured a frustrating season on a number of fronts. On the back of becoming United’s youngest ever Premier League debutant & captaining a very talented England under 17 side to qualify for the World Cup Finals, Gomes was expected to kick on further this season and elevate his profile even higher.
Injuries, however, have hampered his season, with Gomes having to contend with a bench role as England triumphed in the under 17’s World Cup thanks to star performances from Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho & Rhian Brewster among others. Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi took Gomes’ place in the starting line-up. In spite of Gomes carrying a knock during the tournament, Hudson-Odoi currently possesses far greater pace and power than Gomes, which gave him the trump card in terms of selection.
This is a challenge that Gomes needs to contend with in a general sense if he is to continue his elevation and make a big impact at senior level. There is no question over his technical ability, it is just a question as to whether he can compete physically to get the most out of it.
This summer presents a good opportunity to address those concerns. It is worth noting how young Gomes still is – if he was born a day later he would still be eligible for the Under 18’s this season. Perhaps a Jesse Lingard-esque route to regular first team football at United needs to be taken – whether Gomes and his advisors would be willing to go through that process is another question.
Tahith Chong (Age: 18)
Of the youngsters included in the touring party, Chong is the one most likely to make a telling impact on the first team this season. This is in part due to ability, but mainly due to the gaping hole that exists on the right flank. Gareth Bale and Willian have both been linked as ready made solutions to the problem, however neither seem likely to end up at Old Trafford.
Opportunity beckons then for Chong – and he is ready to take his chance. Last season was always going to be an important one for Chong, having been out of action for over 10 months due to a cruciate injury. The nature of his comeback has convinced a lot of academy viewers that he has what it takes to make it at United.
The game that underlined these credentials for me was for the under 18’s last December against Liverpool at the Cliff. In horrendous conditions, Chong took a very heavy tackle on the same knee which kept him out of action for so long previous. After a period in distress, Chong dusted himself and played on with the same fearless nature that underpins his game.
This, to me, showcased the mental strength Chong has. Unlike some of the talented young wingers that have come through at United in recent years (Januzaj, Depay, Zaha etc.), Chong looks to have the mentality to make the most of his ability and have a sustained impact at Old Trafford.
Of the other inclusions in the touring party, 17-year-old James Garner looks to have the ability and mentality required to make it at the highest level. Formerly a centre back, Garner played in the holding midfield role this season, as captain for club and country, to great effect. His attitude and leadership skills should impress Mourinho.
19-year-old Scottish youth international, Ethan Hamilton, is another midfielder included in the touring party who has an attitude which will sit well with Mourinho. Hamilton has a natural hunger for work and has impressed for the under 23’s in a box-to-box role, with his driving runs from midfield a regular feature. There have been more naturally gifted midfielders to come through the academy in recent years, however Hamilton’s attitude and work ethic should lead to him having a good career in the game.
19-year-old Josh Bohui is a pacy striker who has impressed since moving to the club. His hold up play has improved a lot during the season, as United are trying to mould Bohui into a multi-functional modern day number 9. I personally feel that Nishan Burkhart has a better chance of making it at United, however Bohui has regularly got the nod over Burkhart to date which suggests that the United coaches see potential in him. I guess they’re better placed to judge…?!
United fans may be familiar with 21-year-old Demi Mitchell after his impressive showing from left back against Crystal Palace on the final day of the 2016/17 season. Mitchell spent most of last season at Hearts in the SPL, where he made a big impression.
I have always rated Mitchell highly and have been impressed with his permanent conversion to left back. His characteristics as a player suit the demands of the modern day full-back. Mitchell possesses natural pace and attacking nous, supplemented with great technique and delivery. As with the right side of midfield, left-back is currently open for business, therefore it will be interesting to see if Mitchell can force his way into Mourinho’s thinking on tour.
The final youth player included in the squad is 19-year-old Ro-Shaun Williams. Williams, who is generally referred to in relation to his sprinting records underage (there I’ve done it again), was a very promising defender at under 18’s level, forging a regular partnership with Axel Tuanzebe at the heart of the defense from the age of 16. At times the two had a wall-like effect.
I use the word ‘was’ while referencing Williams promise, as it seems that his development has stalled somewhat of late. Perhaps this is more of a general reflection on the grand mess that was last seasons under 23’s side, which didn’t shed much positive light on any of the squad. Williams still possesses all the raw tools to have a big career in the game, therefore his progress on tour, playing with better players, will be worth watching closely.