Manchester United's Teen Star Callum Gribbin Has Raw Ingredients for Greatness

Pete Hall@@petehall86Special to Bleacher ReportNovember 19, 2015

Rory Martin for BR

Callum Gribbin is hardly a secret. The 16-year-old Manchester United midfielder has been dubbed "the next Ryan Giggs," and his hype videos have already pulled in hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.

United know they have something special. Whether Gribbin will go on to emulate members of the immortal "Class of '92"—David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and the Neville brothers—remains to be seen, but the club are not in the business of promoting that prospect.

"No coach, schoolteacher or anyone else involved with Callum Gribbin will be speaking about him, we don't want to put pressure on his shoulders," Manchester United told Bleacher Report.

There's clearly something very good to hide then. Otherwise, why such secrecy over a local teenager who has barely settled into the surroundings of his new sixth-form college?

Whisper it quietly, but Gribbin really might be United's next great youth product—a homegrown talent to rise among the sea of international stars at Old Trafford and connect the present to the club's rich history of developing their own superstars. It's the romantic story everybody who loves the club wants to read again.

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We all know the oft-stated stat that the famed Carrington production line has put a youth-team graduate in every first-team United matchday squad since October 1937. However, since the Class of '92 passed through, plenty of talented players have tried and failed to live up to that group of treble winners after coming through the ranks at United.

Gribbin has the platform to buck that trend. And those who know him best genuinely believe he can continue the line of Beckham, Giggs, Scholes and Co. and help return United to their former glories.


Like Scholes, Gribbin was born in Salford, Manchester, less than three miles away from Old Trafford. But as a left-footed creative playmaker, with fast feet and the ability to drift past a player, he was always going to be compared to Giggs.

Having progressed well through United's youth ranks, he got the call to represent England at Under-16 and Under-17 levels, where his coach was Kenny Swain.

"I heard about Gribbs through our scouting network and everyone would say, 'You have to see this lad, he is similar to this player, or that player,'" Swain told Bleacher Report. "Then I'd go and look at him, then within five minutes, you can see that this boy is something special.

"He can take it under pressure anywhere. The best players tempt the opposition into the challenge, and it is all about the timing of release, which Gribbs has to a T, way beyond his years. Not many kids can deal with him or want to deal with him. He just sends them the wrong way and makes them look foolish. He leaves me breathless."

Swain says the raw talent he witnessed from Gribbin was second only to what he'd seen from Ravel Morrison, the former United player who has struggled to live up to his potential and now finds himself on loan at Lazio.

As a player, Gribbin is hard to fit into a particular box. He can play in numerous positions and has a swagger reminiscent of United's great enigmatic Frenchman, Eric Cantona. His fleet-footed skills and panache, meanwhile, summon talk of Giggs, while his calm distribution and eye for a pass might get fans thinking of Scholes or Michael Carrick.

And then there's his flair for free-kicks. Stunners at Old Trafford against Hull and in an Under-19 Champions League clash against PSV Eindhoven in September got fans excited and attracted big numbers to salivate over his abilities on YouTube.

"He's a very skilful player, a very good passer of the ball and creates a lot of chances for his team-mates," YouTuber Kieran Corrigan, who posts clips of United's youth games, told Bleacher Report.

"One of his biggest assets is his set pieces, especially his free-kicks. This season and last, he has scored with some brilliant free-kicks.

"One of his best games was against Aston Villa last season, during which he produced some wonderful bits of skill. This was the game in particular that inspired me to make his best bits video. It was really easy to put together."

When one watches Gribbin glide past four Villa players, holding off his markers, it speaks of a young man completely in tune with his capabilities. It's videos, GIFs and Vines such as this that are announcing the immense potential United are so very keen to keep quiet. But word is getting out: The Guardian recently named Gribbin as one of 20 Premier League youngsters to watch in their Next Generation 2015.

CHESTERFIELD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29: Callum Gribbin of England during the Under 17 International match between England U17 and Portugal U17 at Proact Stadium on August 29, 2014 in Chesterfield, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Exposure attracts suitors, and in 2014 Gribbin became aware of interest from United's great rivals, Liverpool. It came at an opportune time, with Gribbin so unhappy at having been benched for a youth-team derby against Manchester City that he had taken to Twitter to air his grievances. 

"The main concern with Gribbin is his attitude," Manchester Evening News journalist Samuel Luckhurst told Bleacher Report.

"There were a few issues last year around the time Liverpool made an approach, and he is another teenage footballer who should be advised to get off Twitter. He had to delete one rash tweet over his playing time in the youth team.

"Fortunately, it seems he's put that behind him by signing a new contract and [Louis] Van Gaal's made him feel involved by introducing him to first-team training."

Gribbin agreed a new four-year deal at United in July and was in line to travel with the first-team squad on their preseason tour of America before fitness concerns determined he'd be better served staying at home.


Being an authentic local lad on the rise, Gribbin was always going to be compared to members of the Class of '92. He was not even six months old when that legendary group ascended to the promised land of Champions League glory, but he will face the same challenges they did to make good on his potential.

"It is tough to grow up in the Manchester suburbs with all the distractions and temptations," Swain told Bleacher Report.

"How these kids are going to grow, what problems they are going to meet and what guidance they are going to get will make all the difference. I was on top of that at the FA, and I hope that Gribbs has the support with United and England that means he can become the player he can be."

Gribbin is not the finished article, nor would we expect him to be. According to Tony Park, United youth historian and co-author of Sons of United, one of the biggest areas of concern is his mentality.

"His tactical discipline isn't there yet," Park says. "The biggest potential issue is his temperament. When things aren't going well, it's always someone else's fault. He moans all the time. Almost as though he thinks he has already made it.

"Hopefully he will grow out of that, as he has great potential and is still very young."

Concerns over temperament take us back to Morrison, who was given up on by United and passed around by his agent. His talent is currently being wasted in Lazio reserves—hardly the place for a 22-year-old Mancunian who once looked to have the world at his feet.

Should those with a difficult personality be accommodated for? Sir Alex Ferguson always reserved special treatment for Cantona, after all.

Swain fears Gribbin could go down the same route as Morrison and hopes United have learned their lesson from what happened there. He also urges those on the international stage he has now departed to appreciate Gribbin's brilliance for what it is.

"Gribbs is a wonderful talent," Swain says. "He has an amazing touch and feel for the ball. Yet for others in the FA, he is too lazy, doesn't track back enough.

"What are these people talking about? I'd build teams around players like him. He used to drive me mad, but in his little cameos, he was out of this world. If I was still at the FA, I would be working tirelessly to convince people that this boy has it, even if his work ethic is not up there with the best.

"In terms of raw talent, I am in no doubt this boy has what it takes."

Swain once asked Brian McClair, then running United's youth academy, who the last person was to give up on Morrison at the club.

"After me, it was the manager [Sir Alex Ferguson]," McClair told him. "He was just that good. I told him that I'd take Ravel anywhere, he is special, and I think the same about Gribbs."

The task now is for Gribbin is to succeed where Morrison failed, and also for United to succeed where they failed Morrison. If both get it right, a potentially world-class ball-playing midfielder could rise from United's youth-team ranks and become an iconic, homegrown player at Old Trafford.

Such success can only be achieved if Gribbin has the support system he needs.

Whatever happens, we'll never stop talking about the Class of '92. Eric Harrison's group of players will forever be revered around the footballing world, and a "you'll never win anything with kids" moment may never be repeated again. What's vitally important for the future of United is that they continue to develop players in that image.

Manchester is longing for one of its own to take centre stage again. As it happens, one is ready and waiting. Now is the time for United to deliver. 

Callum Gribbin. Born in Manchester. Raised at Manchester United.

Pete Hall is a freelance football writer who contributes to Sky Sports, FourFourTwo, the Daily Mail and others. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise stated.