Ezekiel Fryers (Zeki) probably can't believe his luck. With arguably the best up and coming United centre back out on loan to Peterborough, Zeki has had the chance to show his rich promise already at just 19. He does, however, have 13 appearances for England at various youth levels. He can play left or centre back.
He is far from the only promising centre back coming through at Carrington. As with other positions, the next couple of years may see the emergence of several stars of the future. If so, they could save United a small fortune in the transfer market.
Nevertheless, Sir Alex loves to blend youth with experience and transfer buys with home grown produce. While Ryan Shawcross slipped away, there are at least a couple of other centre backs who could be at least as good.
Scott Wootton is very highly rated at Old Trafford, which sort of makes a nonsense of any transfer rumours in central defence. He was actually a product of the Tranmere and Liverpool youth systems, who became disillusioned at how many overseas players Rafa Benitez was importing.
He swiftly became captain of United's Academy side and could well have captained the Reserves if Oliver Gill hadn't been around—which he's not now. Scott has now returned to Old Trafford with a knee injury and who knows...he might feature in the New Year.
Among the others who should make it at the highest level, I rate Reese Brown as even better than his brother Wes Brown at the same age. He is also a footballing defender.
Sean McGinty was one of the most highly rated young players ever at Charlton Athletic. At 15, he was Ireland's under 17 centre back and has already gone onto play several times for the Irish U19s. Signed by United at 17 for a reputed £500,000, he is also the most highly rated of the current Irish crop.
Tom Thorpe captained the United team that won last year's Youth Cup, beating Liverpool and Chelsea along the way. I can't improve on this profile of Tom who, in my opinion, is possibly the best of the lot, especially being not only a footballing defender, but also versatile enough to play all across the back and even in midfield.
Blessed by a truck load of useful defenders, it is hard to predict who will actually make it in the first team at United from the current crop of young men. The final two to mention are Michele Fornasier and Michael Keane.
It may be that Michael will concentrate on being a left back, but he has the height and composure to play at centre back and has already turned down an Irish call-up. He played well in his debut against Aldershot in the Carling Cup.
Michele Fornasier was already Italian U16 captain when United nicked him from Fiorentina. He partnered Tom Thorpe at the centre of defence in the successful Youth Cup campaign and has been a regular starter since he joined.
So, all in all, United seem to have most of the bases covered going forward, especially at centre back. It is no surprise that Sir Alex is trying to build a squad of versatility, because in the past, title runs have been almost derailed by injury crises.
As this season has already shown, players will get their chance on a regular basis if they show their flexibility. If you look at the model set by Barcelona in Europe, the modern footballer has to be able to do almost everything, interchanging across and up and down the pitch.
Rio Ferdinand was ahead of his time, like Bobby Moore, in being a footballing centre back. In our opinion, that is the way forward, to a form of 'total football' that can match Barcelona and Real Madrid. That is the challenge for the young players who are established and those trying to break through.
The future is bright...the future is Red...