"Just enjoy watching them, most won't be here in a few years" - words said by Ian, a long-time United Reserves/Academy watcher, to me. The FA Youth Cup winning 2010/11 team got people excited not just because they won the competition but because they were, by some distance, the best young side in the country. Comparisons to the 'Class of '92' maybe came a bit early but some of the hype was justified. Yet, Ian's words, were as wise as ever; for who was to predict such a drastic change of individual fortunes in such a short space of time?
The Reserves was the natural step up for most of the squad. They were an experienced U18 team and the majority would be too old for the Academy in the 2011/12 season. Individually though, those who have moved up to the Reserves have had seasons that really don't reflect the trajectory they were on.
Sam Johnstone - one of the success stories. With height and physical growth has come a season of highs for Sam. A loan to Scunthorpe in League 1 at the age of 18 is impressive for a goalkeeper and he came through that spell well, making ten appearances. His return to United saw him play a big part in the Reserve season run-in, including some huge saves and penalty shoot-out success in the Reserve Playoff Final. Sam's ended his season by captaining England's U19s and will either be with them this summer or on the first team tour for the second year running.
Michael Keane - his move from right back, back to his preferred centre back position has been inspired. Now one of the tallest in the Reserves, Michael had an outstanding season and has definitely benefitted from spells in midfield and right back - he's incredibly comfortable in possession and an accomplished defender. He made his first team debut at Aldershot, made his England U19 debut, and won Reserve player of the year. Like Sam, if he's not at the Euro U19s, he's a certainty for the first team tour.
Sean McGinty - a somewhat average first half of the season at United saw him get minutes in the Reserves whilst Fryers was used at centre back. With the return of De Laet from loan, McGinty was sent out to Morecambe where he played four times before his season was cut short by a dislocated shoulder. He only played 15 games this season, not the progress he'd have hoped for.
Tom Thorpe - the captain of the FA Youth Cup winning side endured a very odd season. He only started 12 of the 32 Reserves games as injury niggles held him back. Physically, Tom's a bit of a late developer and so he was sometimes used in central midfield to toughen him up. With 8 sub appearances, no one played more minutes off the bench at Reserve level and he did end the season with appearances for England's U19s, scoring his first goal for them. Yet having been captain and certain starter, Tom, despite showing his class, has had a very stop-start season.
Michele Fornasier - for Fornasier, read Tom Thorpe. Much like Thorpe, a certain starter at U18 level had to deal with substitute appearances and more often than not was used out of position in central midfield. The reliable Thorpe-Fornasier centre back pairing was broken and disused.
Zeki Fryers - has had a good season both at left back and centre back. It's even lead to surprise first team appearances when injuries hit. A much better season for him following injury hell the season before. Yet, he's rumoured to be on the way out as the club are yet to meet his contract demands. The Twitter folk who seen to have a finger on the pulse say that he's almost certainly gone.
Alberto Massacci - with just one start for the Reserves and a host of injuries he was released in April.
Luke Giverin - just three starts as Luke remains on the periphery of the team. His season ended well though, a new contract and a winning goal in the Manchester Senior Cup.
Jesse Lingard - no first team debut but a good season. Nominated for Reserve team player of the year after 9 goals and 9 assists, he's proof that height and physicality aren't always needed to do well. Has an outside chance of going on the first team tour.
Larnell Cole - despite being nominated for the Reserve team player of the year, Larnell had a mixed campaign. He did well at times but was often no better than average. He made his first team debut at Leeds, but neither playing him at right back nor right wing really made the most of his abilities (best used centrally I think). Still, if he can get fit, he'll surely be part of England's Euro U19 squad.
Paul Pogba - flashes of magic were few and far between. Overall, a very disappointing season at Reserve level. For all the hype, he rarely ran a game. His talent remains undisputable and he made 7 first team appearances but never started for them. He's now signed for Juventus and will earn a wage he probably doesn't deserve yet. Arguably their midfield is as good as anyone's right now so he probably won't be playing first team football there.
Ryan Tunnicliffe - half a season on loan at Peterborough didn't really seem to help his progress. Despite playing 26 games there at Championship level, he was very hit and miss. His return to United revealed a heavier, slower, less sharp footballer and he only started to look like his old self in the last few Reserves games of the season. The loan would have been a good experience but it feels like he's not improved as a player.
Ravel Morrison - a tainted genius. Just four appearances for the Reserves in which he still scored three goals - still he was picked for the first team twice. Injuries and discipline kept him out of the side and the club decided to wash their hands of him in January as he joined West Ham.
John Cofie - played more minutes off the bench than he started for the Reserves but he was unable to get ahead of other strikers. He went on loan to Antwerp and failed to impress there. No progress for John.
William Keane - one of the rare cases of progress. Another superb season at Reserve level in which he scored 19 and set up 10 more. Despite a first team debut, his season though ended on a sour note as he damaged his ACL on international duty and will now miss 6-9 months.
Despite collective success, individually only a few of the players have endured the season they hoped to. The triumvirate of Morrison, Pogba and Tunnicliffe - an unrivalled midfield machine for their age - has been pretty much dismantled. The centre back pairing of Thorpe and Fornasier have been seen in central midfield more often than not. Fryers has had a good season but appears to be off. William Keane's wonderful campaign and progress has been halted in the most cruel of ways. Of the 15 to be promoted from the Academy, 20% have already left the club!
It serves to show that hype should always be met with caution. Few would have predicted that the brightest stars from that group would have been Michael Keane and Jesse Lingard. It's often the quieter ones who not only work hardest but are likely to achieve the most. Aged 19 at most, these players have plenty of time on their side to get things right and many will probably be out on loan next season to aid their development. However, expectations may well have to be realigned - youth success, even in the most comprehensive of fashions, doesn't guarantee anything.
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