Manchester United: Power Ranking the Potential of the Top 10 Under-21s
Over the past couple of seasons, Sir Alex Ferguson has been putting together a team which combines both potential stars and experienced players.
This season in particular, Ferguson has brought in Phil Jones, David De Gea and Frederic Veseli and has also handed first-team debuts to the likes of Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers, all reassuring fans the future will be bright at Old Trafford.
But which players have more potential? Here are my rankings as to who I think will be the future stars of the current squad.
Disagree? Get the discussion going in the comments section.
Ben Amos: Unlikely to feature heavily in the United side in the future with the likes of Lindegaard and De Gea around.
Frederic Veseli: The youngster is a relative unknown. I'm reserving my judgement until I've seen him turn out for United.
Ryan Tunnicliffe: Just missed out on a top ten spot.
John Cofie: Again, narrowly missed out on the top ten.
10. Larnell Cole
For those of you who aren't aware of Larnell Cole, here's a brief introduction. Cole is held in very high regard among the coaching staff at Carrington. He can play anywhere across the midfield, although many of his under-18 opportunities have been limited to the right of midfield due to the likes of Paul Pogba and Ryan Tunnicliffe.
Cole received his first United appearance in the last 12 minutes of the Carling Cup tie against Leeds. He has also played four games for the England under-19s.
Paul Scholes has likened him to winger Shaun Wright-Phillips:
He looks a great prospect. He's very small but he's a very clever footballer. He's similar to Shaun Wright-Phillips but a player who can play inside a bit better than Shaun. Shaun's an out and out wide-man but Larnell can play in a three in midfield.
Cole could be featuring more regularly in the coming months as United rotate their squad for the Europa League.
9. Rafael Da Silva
Rafael da Silva has enjoyed an extensive run of games in the United team over the past couple of seasons thanks to the lack of competition for his place. That isn't to say that he doesn't deserve it, as he has proven himself to be a great right-back and has built great chemistry with United's current first-choice right midfielder Antonio Valencia.
What da Silva's game does lack is discipline, as he has a very bullish approach to tackling at times and can get himself into altercations with opposition players.
Former United right-back Gary Neville has backed Rafael to make the position his own. Speaking to Sky Sports he said:
Rafael's always had ability. He gets to the ball quickly, he is aggressive, he defends his position well, he is tough, courageous, good on the ball, he gets forward well and provides energy in attack. But he has really developed in the last six months with games and experience. He has also got a great attitude. He is more than capable of going on to become United's right-back for many years. We haven't had a consistent right-back in the last couple of years. I have been around. Wes Brown and John O'Shea have played some games as well as Rafael, but in the last four or five months we've had a consistent performer in that position.
Rafael will now have the likes of Frederic Veseli, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling challenging him for his place, so he will have to remain consistent to ensure his spot.
8. Fabio Da Silva
Fabio has had several hurdles in the way of him reaching his full potential. Alongside injuries, he has had to compete with Patrice Evra for the Manchester United left-back spot, which is not an easy task at the best of times.
Fabio is the better behaved of the twins in terms of cards, although he still commits an average of 1.5 fouls per match.
Fabio has good dribbling skills and likes to get forward just as much as his brother, if not more. Fabio is equally adept to playing at left midfield and right-back as well as his natural position.
An injury to Patrice Evra in the near future could give Fabio the opening to stake his claim for his place in the first team. However, he could also have competition from fellow fledgling Ezekiel Fryers.
Ferguson said the following about Fabio:
The da Silva brothers have got great temperament to play. They’ve got a winning mentality. Like Rafael, Fabio loves playing and loves training, the enthusiasm is always there.
As Ferguson rotates his squad for the run-in and the Europa League, Fabio could get more chances to impress, and he will definitely need to grab those opportunities with both hands if he is to stay ahead of Zeki Fryers.
7. Zeki Fryers
Many fans believe that Zeki Fryers could bypass Fabio da Silva to become Patrice Evra's successor. Fryers is strong and athletic and like Evra, he loves to push forward and join in with the attacking plays.
Fryers' United debut was somewhat unorthodox, partnering Michael Carrick at centre-back in the Carling Cup against Leeds, and he has also featured in United's doomed Champions League campaign.
Fryers will undoubtedly be battling it out with Fabio for a place in the Europa League games, and is a player who we will be seeing more and more of over the next year.
It has been reported that United are struggling to come to a contractual agreement with the player, and Tottenham have shown an interest in signing him for a nominal fee at the end of the season. Sir Alex will no doubt be eager to keep the player at the club as he seems to have a bright future ahead of him.
After the Leeds game, Sir Alex said:
I thought young Fryers did very well. He showed good composure, wasn't fazed by it which is really good because you always want to see what their temperaments are like because the atmosphere here, as you know, is hostile and he coped with it very well.
With Evra's consistent poor performances this year, you have to wonder how his place has not been snatched from under him. If United can tie Fryers down to a lengthy contract, then he will undoubtedly become a star for the club.
6. Andreas Pereira
United fought off the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich to secure the signature of 16-year-old Belgian midfielder Andreas Pereira, and he is regarded as one of the hottest midfield prospects in Europe.
Pereira has been described as a No. 10 who has great vision and passing ability. Pereira is also a fantastic dribbler, although it has been said that he lacks pace. Pereira could be groomed to be United's next big playmaker.
Upon signing for United, Pereira said the following:
I knew that PSV had given me my chance, but Manchester United is obviously a great club. Other British clubs were interested. I thought about it, but Manchester United is a dream club for me. I have been a few times to Manchester United to have a look. I got a tour and spoke with Sir Alex Ferguson. Being a 15-year-old and being able to talk with him is great.
If Pereira lives up to the hype, then the loss of Ravel Morrison will be almost irrelevant. It may only be a couple of seasons before we see this player make his move up to first-team football.
5. Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck has been a breakout star for United this season, scoring six and assisting a further two in 17 games.
After returning from his loan spell at Sunderland, questions were raised as to whether Welbeck could compete with the likes of Chicharito and Dimitar Berbatov, however stellar performances from the young England star kept them on the bench.
When fit, Welbeck is often the first choice to partner Wayne Rooney—a partnership which could benefit the England side as well as United.
His finishing, passing and defensive contribution are excellent, however to become the full package he needs to begin to show a little more selflessness in front of goal.
The striker is also injury prone, which could easily be the deciding factor between an excellent career and an average one.
Sir Alex said the following about Welbeck:
We were always aware of Welbeck's ability. The issue with him now is addressing the physical side. When he was 16 he had problems with his knees because he was growing, then he had some thigh problems. It was nothing serious, just a matter of waiting for Danny to develop into a man, which we are seeing the signs of now. He has a great physique but there is still more to come. Our stats show there's still a bit to do before he becomes a complete adult. He has a good attitude, although he should have, he's a young player with an opportunity at Manchester United.
With the "more to come" which Ferguson promises, Welbeck's career should be an exciting one.
4. Will Keane
During his time in the United academy, Will Keane has established himself as the Wayne Rooney of the setup. Keane is often deployed as a second striker who involves himself in the majority of the build-up play and creates the link between the midfield and the attack.
Fans have likened him to former star Teddy Sheringham, in the way that he is an intelligent player and has a lethal touch in the box.
Keane has already been capped twice at U-21 for England, and also came on for the final four minutes of United's shocking 3-2 loss to Blackburn in December.
Keane has made the United bench on many occasions this season, and will likely be making more cameos as the season goes on.
Keane has proven himself to be a prolific scorer at youth level, notching 17 goals in 15 starts for the under-18 side last season and another six goals in seven appearances for the reserves.
Perhaps his biggest fan is United veteran Paul Scholes, who said this to the Manchester Evening News:
I think Will Keane has the capability to be a top-class centre-forward. He's one of the lads I've been working with. He was always someone I liked when I was watching the youth teams. He's just got a presence about him, he's a strong lad and has great feet – the ability to strike a ball. The kind of things Ruud van Nistelrooy had.
With enough exposure to first-team football, Keane can become a United legend. Ferguson may want to consider sending him out on loan in the near future to ensure this.
3. Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba announced himself to the EPL the other night against Stoke with a cameo appearance which turned a few heads.
Pogba's name has often been mentioned along that of Paul Scholes in terms of his level of potential quality.
Pogba is the perfect mix of strong physique and impressive technique, and topping this with his eye for goal, he will no doubt be a key fixture in the United team for years to come.
However, there's a stumbling block.
Pogba's contract ends in July, and there have already been big clubs like Man City sniffing around the French midfielder. Despite this, Ferguson has said the following after the game against Stoke:
Pogba did very well. He’s got great talent and has a tremendous physique for a young boy. You can’t believe he’s 18. I was very pleased [with his performance]. It was a good time to bring him on as we were in control of the game and it gave him a chance to be confident with the ball. We are negotiating his contract at the moment. It’s a bit complicated as he’s changed his agent a couple of times. The boy wants to stay, I think that’s obvious.
Pogba has been compared to Patrick Vieira in the past and like Vieira, his potential could lead him to becoming one of the EPL's top centre midfielders.
2. David De Gea
Despite having a shaky start to his maiden season at Old Trafford, there is no denying that David De Gea has the potential to be one of United's greatest keepers.
De Gea's transition from La Liga to the EPL has been a fairly bumpy ride and the strikers of the Premiership have capitalised on his lack of command of his area.
While most have criticised the idea of sending him out on loan, a short-term deal to the Bundesliga would do him no harm, as they play a similar style of football to the EPL.
Comparisons to Edwin van der Sar may be a little deceptive, as the Dutch stopper was already a world-class goalkeeper when he arrived at United and already had solid EPL experience, whereas De Gea still has a lot of learning to do.
With time, De Gea may show more and more similarities to van der Sar. He undoubtedly has the potential to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Teammate Anders Lindegaard said the following about the young Spaniard:
He is only 21. His potential is massive and there is no doubt he will be United's best goalkeeper at some point. My job is to make sure it is not until I have retired. Which is in 10 years.
1. Phil Jones
Phil Jones is easily one of the most promising defensive talents in England and he has proven to the fans this season why £16.5 million was spent on him.
Prior to signing for United, he forged a fantastic bond with fellow United star Chris Smalling at the Under-21 European Championships, which will undoubtedly go from strength-to-strength as the years progress.
Jones has proven himself and centre-back, right-back and centre midfield this season and his versatility will come in handy in the future when it comes to covering for injuries.
Jones has managed to feature in 19 of United's 23 games this season, scoring once and assisting once. In these matches, he highlighted his impeccable timing and discipline, committing only seven fouls in the entirety of the season.
England manager Fabio Capello has said the following about Jones:
It is difficult to find a player like Phil Jones, really difficult. In my career I found probably only two. I'm talking about Franco Baresi at Milan and Fernando Hierro at Real Madrid. They were great players, who could play as a midfielder but also at centre-back. Phil can play in different positions but always at the top level. This shows what he has - he is a talent.
Future England captain? Maybe. Future United Captain? Almost definitely.