Manchester United have always outlined the importance of youth. In 1938, the club named an academy graduate in their matchday squad, with the Red Devils following the same principle in every single game since then. From the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville to the new generation of stars such as Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Mason Greenwood – the tradition has stood the test of time. Sir Alex Ferguson, in particular, pushed the emergence of youth, especially when he brought the now-famous Class Of ’92 into English football’s top flight when many doubted his decision.
Today, we will look at the next crop of youngsters who are ready to break into the senior team. Without further ado, here are the five hottest academy prospects of Manchester United.
#5 Hannibal Mejbri (Midfielder)
Manchester United signed Hannibal Mejbri last summer from AS Monaco in a deal reported to be worth £9 million, with the Old Trafford club paying £4.7 million, the rest in add-ons. The Red Devils beat competition from the likes of Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal to sign the then-16-year-old. The teenager possesses technical ability and is a modern midfielder, who is capable of combining excellent recovery of the ball, fast transitioning and the ability to finish.
Mejbri has played 13 times for the Manchester United Under-18s, scoring once and setting up three more. He has also featured five times for the Under-23s, providing three assists. Although the 17-year-old is doing well right now, he has a long way to go. But Mejbri is definitely heading in the right direction.
#4 Teden Mengi (Centre-back)
Teden Mengi has been one of the standout performers for Manchester United’s Under-18 side for the last two seasons. Manchester-born Mengi, who was scouted by the Red Devils at the age of six, has been with the club for 11 years. The 17-year-old performances haven’t gone unnoticed and he was selected in the first-team squad for a Europa League game against Astana last year.
Composed on the ball with an ever-improving reading of the game, Mengi is aided by a perfect physique for a modern centre-back – he’s tall, strong and quick. As a regular for the Under-23s, things are moving quickly for Mengi, and if Manchester United manage to get rid of one or two among Eric Bailly, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, there will be space for another back-up centre-back in the squad.
#3 Anthony Elanga (Winger)
Just 17, Swedish winger Anthony Elanga is still eligible for the Manchester United Under-18s and the FA Youth Cup squad. A regular in the Under-23s, Elanga has played every game bar two for Neil Wood’s side this year, including those in the EFL Trophy. At the Under-18 level, he has popped up occasionally, scoring six goals and grabbing two assists in seven games.
Elanga is quick, has good control of the ball and is direct. The young winger, like many others at his age, lacks decision making at times but that aspect of his game is bound to improve as he continues to play regularly for the Under-23s. In recent times, Manchester United have been hesitant in terms of sending out too many players on loans. But with a couple of players ahead of him in the pecking order, it may make sense if the Red Devils allow him to leave on loan in order to get accustomed to playing regular first-team football.
#2 Dylan Levitt (Midfielder)
Dylan Levitt is making heads turn with his performances for the Manchester United youth teams for the past couple of seasons. The 19-year-old Welshman, who is rated very highly by his coaches, has made the Red Devils fans excited as he has been compared to a certain Paul Scholes. Great vision, quick feet, the ability to pick a pass over short or long-range, great anticipation in tackling and an eye for goal – it’s fair to say he ticks plenty of boxes when it comes to becoming a complete midfielder.
Levitt is another one who has recently stepped up to first-team training under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, having caught the Norwegian’s eye with his performances for the Under-23 side. The youngster was given his senior debut in a Europa League game against Astana last year and although Manchester United lost the game, Levitt did make his mark with a decent performance in the middle of the park. He obviously still has some way to go but if handled properly, he could become a complete midfielder.
#1 Ethan Laird (Right-back)
Ethan Laird is a versatile player who can be deployed as a full-back and also as a central midfielder at times, with the youngster impressing one and all with his mature displays and impeccable defensive instincts. Laird is known for his tough tackling, pace and power, and is said to possess a great footballing brain. The 18-year-old’s defensive game might be his strong point but he is not out of his depths while making forward runs.
Laird’s progression was only held up by injuries but he made his first-time debut in the same game as Dylan Levitt against Astana as a right back. With Aaron Wan-Bissaka being the first-choice right-back for the senior side, the Under-23 player can be his deputy in coming seasons and can even challenge him for a spot in the playing eleven.