The cold Friday nights at Leigh Sports Village are often made worthwhile by Manchester United’s academy talent.
There is no escape from the elements at the stadium that is situated around 10 miles away from Old Trafford, but sometimes there are individual performances so brilliant that they are enough to make you forget about the cold biting at your fingers.
United have a rich history of naturing academy talent and that tradition has survived decades when other aspects of the clubs have changed for the worse. There are hundreds of staff that work tirelessly at United and some are tasked with defining and shaping young players’ futures every day. United’s unrivaled record of producing players is a testament to their brilliant work.
The U18s’ FA Youth Cup triumph earlier this week was also proof of that. The club has been starved of success at first-team level over the last decade and the youngsters’ excellent Youth Cup campaign was a much needed positive in a dark season.
The next step for those players is to have a career in the professional game. United have a stellar track record of offering opportunities to the talent that emerges from the club’s academy but only a few can progress to the first team, naturally.
Ralf Rangnick handed Charlie Savage and Zidan Iqbal their debuts against BSC Young Boys in December and Shola Shoretire also made an appearance in that game. It was a memorable night for all three, but it wasn’t the first taste of European football for the latter. Shoretire actually made his first-team debut back in February last year against Newcastle in the Premier League.
Shoretire then played against Real Sociedad in the Europa League four days later. When he came on as the final substitute on that occasion, he made United history by becoming the youngest player to appear for the club in European competition.
Shoretire was incredibly just 17 years and 23 days old. That made headlines and the youngster was named the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year for 2020/21 soon after, which was the perfect way to round off his campaign full of promise.
The 18-year-old contributed eight goals and four assists last season and he’s improved on those numbers this year, despite a relatively new position change. Shoretire has typically played as a forward, on the left or right side of a 4-2-3-1, but Neil Wood has recently used him in a deeper position, as he explained to the Manchester Evening News last month.
“We played Shola in a deeper role at Leicester and I thought in the second half [in that game] he was outstanding, in the build-up, getting on the ball, and outstanding in the way he was playing forward passes, driving past players, driving the team,” Wood said.
“I wanted to have another look at him there, he’s not played there a lot, it’s a challenge for him and I thought he did really well again. He was really disciplined in his positioning and showed some excellent bits that we know he has. “
Shoretire has eight goals and 10 assists this term and he’s been instrumental in United’s U23s enjoying a strong season in the Premier League. His vision and quick feet make him a genuinely difficult proposition for defenders to contend with and it’s interesting that he’s been able to play deeper at a time when the club urgently needs midfielders – it’s become a problem area at the club.
Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba are leaving in just a few weeks’ time and that will make space available in the squad. United are expected to act swiftly to sign a new defensive midfielder but they might already have Pogb’s replacement with Shoretire.
Shoretire deserves a chance to show he can perform at first-team level.
He should be considered to play in that position in pre-season.