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Manchester United's Youth Cup Winners Are Facing a Career Crossroads This Summer

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 23:  The Manchester United Team celebrate victory in the FA Youth Cup Final 2nd Leg match between Manchester United and Sheffield United at Old Trafford on May 23, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Rob DawsonManchester United CorrespondentMarch 13, 2014

No club has won the FA Youth Cup more often than Manchester United.

Their 10 victories is three more than Arsenal, six more than Chelsea and seven more than Liverpool

But perhaps more importantly, at least one player from each of the sides that won it in 1953, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1964, 1992, 1995 and 2003 have gone on to make at least 50 appearances for the first team. 

Some, like Bobby Charlton, George Best, John Aston, David Sadler, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville, added European Cup winners' medals to their Youth Cup triumphs.

26 Aug 2000:  David Beckham of Man United celebrates scoring from a free kick with Gary Neville during the match between West Ham United and Manchester United in the FA Carling Premiership at Upton Park, London.   Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford/ALLSPORT
Ben Radford/Getty Images

Some year groups have proved more fruitful than others. 

The Class of '92 produced Giggs, Neville, Beckham, Butt and Scholes. Meanwhile, Kieran Richardson is the most famous graduate from the team that won in 2003.

Still, even he played more than 80 games for the first team and won two England caps before leaving for Sunderland in 2007.

United's history of success in converting raw youngsters into first-team players leaves the latest batch of Youth Cup winners in an odd position. The team that won the competition in 2011, one that created a lot of excitement among fans at the time, could become the least successful in terms of producing senior players.

It's a strange situation. Had things been different, the two stars of that team, Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison, would have already broken through. But for different reasons both are now fulfilling their potential elsewhere.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 11:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United is challenged by Marc-Antoine Fortune of West Bromwich Albionduring the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on March 11, 2012 in
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The ones who remain are at a crossroads in their careers.

Four of them, Tom Thorpe, Jesse Lingard and twins Michael and Will Keane, are England Under-21 internationals. But their combined first-team appearances amount to just four, and Will Keane is the only one to get a taste of the Premier League.

They are at a crossroads because next season they will all turn 22 and will soon be ineligible to play in the Under-21 Premier League.

They will eventually be forced to graduate to senior football, whether it's at Old Trafford or not.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - JULY 23:  Jesse Lingard of Manchester United in action during the pre-season freindly match between Yokohama F.Marinos and Manchester United at Nissan Stadium on July 23, 2013 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan.  (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty
Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

The squad is braced for David Moyes' rebuild in the summer. But it's not clear where the Keanes, Thorpe and Lingard fit in.

It takes a brave, and secure, manager to put his trust in talented youngsters. And it's more likely Moyes will sign a replacement for Nemanja Vidic rather than simply add centre-halves Thorpe and Michael Keane to a group that already includes Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.

On the other hand, Butt, Scholes, Beckham and the Neville brothers got their opportunities when Sir Alex Ferguson rebuilt his squad following the departures of Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis.

MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 14:  Michael Keane of England celebrates after scoring during the 2015 UEFA European Under 21 Championships Qualifier Group 1 match between England and Finland at StadiumMK on November 14, 2013 in Milton Keynes, England.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Will Keane, Michael Keane and Lingard are currently on loan at QPR, Blackburn and Brighton respectively. Thorpe has returned to United after suffering an injury on his debut for Birmingham last month.

All four are facing a pivotal summer as Moyes builds his new-look squad.

From nine Youth Cup-winning teams over more 60 years, at least one player has always made the step up.

Thorpe, Lingard, Will Keane and Michael Keane are facing a battle to ensure the Class of 2011 continue that record.

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