Manchester United’s famed youth academy has produced an abundance of talent down the years, but plenty of their graduates either never play for the first-team or do so only briefly.
For a while, it seemed as though James Garner would be another young star who would only enjoy the hastiest experience of what it feels like to wear the famous Red Devils shirt.
A one-minute cameo at the end of a 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace back in February 2019 offered a glimpse of what the 20-year-old has to offer and he earned praise from his manager after the match.
“I believe he’s got the chance to have a great future, he knows we believe in him, we’ve got great faith in him as the next Michael Carrick,” revealed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the game at Selhurst Park.
“I know he’s young, and I know it’s not fair on kids to compare to great players like Michael was, but he’s the same mould, he plays simple passes, plays through the lines.”
After being compared to one of United’s greatest midfielders in the modern era, Garner would have been forgiven for believing a place in the senior set-up was just around the corner.
However, only six other appearances followed before he was shipped out on loan to Watford at the start of the 2020/21 campaign.
Things didn’t work out for the England Under-20 international at Vicarage Road, though. Garner made 20 league appearances for the Hornets, but failed to find his best form and fell out of favour under the new manager.
His lack of playing time saw United recall their young star in January and search for other options in order to carry on his development.
Rather than letting the disappointment get him down, the Garner headed straight back for the Championship over the winter window, with Chris Hughton’s Nottingham Forest handpicked as a more suitable destination.
Everyone appeared to click for the midfield maestro with Forest. Four goals in 20 appearances for the Midlands outfit earned him a string of plaudits, and his highly respectable 6.98 WhoScored rating suggests he deserved them.
Garner’s outstanding displays at the City Ground have surely done enough for Solskjaer to at least take a look at the Englishman in pre-season as he attempts to solve United’s engine room issues.
The likes of Youri Tielemans have been linked with a move to Old Trafford in recent weeks to add the slick passing and control that has been missing since Carrick’s departure, but the answer to their problems may already be at the club.