Manchester United are starting to feel a bit more like Manchester United again.
The club was, for want of a better word, lost for a few years. Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho both brought trophies, but a somewhat rudder-less and scatter graph approach. There had also been a negligence of the academy, previously the lifeblood of the club.
Things have improved. There is a more of a direction now, and the underinvestment in youth football is being rectified and already starting to produce fruit.
Mason Greenwood was the jewel of the academy in 2019. At just 17 he commanded a permanent place in the first-team and has already scored 12 senior goals in his maiden full season.
Brandon Williams was a bit more of a surprise story. But his ‘local boy done good’ path is one of hard work, determination and opportunism, a refreshing tale about setting a target and making it a reality, perhaps even earlier than he would have dreamed of.
Williams was only 18 at the start of this season and was preparing for his first full campaign at Under-23 level, having been permanently promoted from the Under-18s over summer.
The teenage full-back made his first-team debut as a substitute in an EFL Cup tie. His impressive application combined with a lack of senior options paved the way for more and more chances. Now, he has made 26 first-team appearances and is a key member of the squad.
More players like Brandon Williams is exactly what United want.
Another talent making a big impact below the first-team is Manchester-born centre-back Teden Mengi, someone earmarked by United Under-23 manager Neil Wood as a player the club wants to ‘do a Brandon’ with in the coming months and years.
Mengi only turned 18 at the end of last month. He is still awaiting a senior debut, but he was part of the predominantly teenage squad chosen by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the Europa League trip to Kazakhstan in November, taking a place on the bench.
Wood has described the youngster as ‘fantastic’, telling the Manchester Evening News, “He came up to us quite early on in the season and, a bit like Brandon in a sense, he came from the 18s and took his chance. He played really well and he kept his place in the team.”
The reserve team boss added, “When he dropped back down at the end of the season to lead the Youth Cup team, he put in some excellent performances there.
“We’ll be looking to work with him next season and he’s one we want to ‘do a Brandon’ with, push him on and the goal is to try and get him pushed up into that first team if we can.”
Wood considers Williams the shining example for others to look up to.
“He came back [from summer] in great shape and he was working the hardest of the group,” the coach said. “He’s got his rewards now. He’s got his chance in the first-team, did really well and he’s not looked back since.”
As a centre-back it will ultimately be harder for Mengi to make the step up to senior level. The nature of role is one that requires greater physical maturity and benefits greatly from experience.
It might be the he occupies others roles while he learns his trade at a higher level – the ‘athletic’ ability noted in his official club profile will make that possible - but if he has the personal drive and dedication, it appears he already has the talent to make his dream a reality.
Source : 90min