Marcus Rashford is the latest in a long line of Manchester United academy prospects to move up and make his mark on the first-team.
The Red Devils have a long and proud history of producing talented youngsters – in fact a statistic emerged recently that Manchester United have had a graduate from their youth system in every single match day squad since October 30, 1937. That’s 75 years, or 3,623 consecutive games.
That is an incredible feat, even for a club the size of United, and is testament to the clubs staff and setup. Many clubs may produce good prospects at their academy but the list of players that actually “make it” in terms of first-team action is far less. To have both the talent and the opportunity is a rare thing but United have produced at an incredible rate.
From the ‘Busby Babes’ to the ‘Class of ’92’ under Ferguson, there are over 200 players in United’s history to go from Youth Team to First-team. From legends Bobby Charlton and George Best to more recent graduates Danny Welbeck or Paul Pogba, teenage sensations coming through the ranks at Old Trafford is almost as old as the game itself.
With that in mind, we look at five of the best youth graduates to make their first-team debuts as teenager’s for the Manchester giants in modern times (Best and Charlton aside)…
The Northern Irishman signed a professional contract with United in 1982, at the age of just 17 and actually made his debut at the age of 16, two weeks before his 17th birthday.
His nationality and talent lead to obvious comparisons to George Best, but Whiteside earned notable accolades himself including becoming the youngest ever player to score for United, the youngest top score in League and FA Cup Finals and the youngest player ever to score at a World Cup (Spain ’82)
Perhaps most famous for scoring the winning goal in the 1985 FA Cup Final, Whiteside was never really a factor once ‘Fergie’ arrived at United and his career was eventually cut short through injury at the age of just 26. Nevertheless, he remains one of the finest talents to emerge from the academy at United.
The current Stoke City boss was initially a product of the youth set-up at United, making his first-team debut a month shy of his 20th birthday. Three successful seasons straight from the academy were added to when he re-signed for the Red Devils in 1989 after a short time in Barcelona.
Then followed seven excellent seasons under ‘Fergie’, Hughes helping the club to win two Premier Leagues, two FA Cups and a Cup Winners Cup amongst others in that time. With 163 goals in 473 games in all competitions over the two spells at the club, Hughes was an uncompromising and tough tackling striker, causing opposing defenders all sorts of trouble with his strength and aggression but with remarkable technique and goal-scoring ability to boot.
Currntly assitant to LVG at Old Trafford, Giggs is firmly entrenched as a United legend. The quintessential one-club man, the Welshman spent 23 years trophy-laden years at Old Trafford, winning individual and club honours too numerous to mention here, but suffice to say he is the most decorated player in club’s history.
Like Whiteside, he made his first-team debut at the age of 17 and was a prodigious talent, his incredible speed and footwork on the left-wing one of the defining images of the Fergie era. Despite unsavoury reports on his personal life in recent years, Giggs’ list of records and achievements will sit alongside his humble character and he will forever be one of United’s best-ever players.
Another of Ferguson’s stalwarts, Scholes was not technically part of ‘The class of ’92’ but remains one of the key figures in United’s success, particularly in the 90’s. He made his debut in 1994 and went on to make over 700 appearances in 20 seasons at United.
Like Giggs, he remained in Manchester for his whole career and was highly revered by his peers, everyone from Pep Guardiola to Thierry Henry, Glenn Hoddle to Xavi hailing his talents. Indeed, Zinedine Zidane once called him the”greatest midfielder of his generation” – high praise indeed.
His vision, technique and range of passing were second to none and his quiet reserved personality off the pitch was reflected on it, the solid efficiency of his work frequently interspersed with displays of insane talent and thunderbolt shots on goal.
A future legend perhaps, Pogba is currently establishing himself as one of the best central-midfielders in Europe but actually spent three seasons in United’s academy after joining at 16 from French side Le Havre.
He only made seven first-team appearances, but with his relationship with the club and manager and role in the side never really gelling, he may go down as one of the rare ‘mistakes’ in Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford.
Now producing the kind of football at Juventus that caused United to acquire him in the first place, he will be one of the best players in the up-coming European Championship’s and most-wanted in the summer transfer market.