Through its glorious history there’s been one single element of success that stands out for Manchester United among all others. It’s a belief in youth talent. Manchester United has always placed its trust in gifted young players, either home grown or imported, and taken the time to build them into champions, with historic results. George Best, Cristiano Ronaldo, Rooney, Charlton, Giggs, Scholes or any one of the innumerable names. It’s been a recipe for trophies like none other in the domestic game. With youth talent like Martial, Rashford, Herrera and Shaw, the tradition continues today. Jose Mourinho seems likely to bolster the squad in the short term to make ground in the league table, so who are the young talents on the continent who could potentially help United reclaim its rightful place at the top of the domestic and European game?
Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan
Blame for the struggles United have undergone these last few seasons can hardly be laid at the feet of De Gea. But this young Italian keeper has already been the subject of many transfer bids from top sides. At just 17, Donnarumma is already no.1 for Milan. When he was subbed on for Buffon against France, he became the youngest ever keeper to represent Italy. He’s still not the finished product. He’s a little shaky on crosses and his positioning has to be refined. He’s already mastered organising bot the Milan and Italy defences and Italy legend Dino Zoff has already pegged him for greatness.
Hakan Calhanoglu – Bayer Leverkusen
It’s been too long since United had a free kick maestro. Someone to step up alongside players like Beckham, Ronaldo or Cantona. It’s been even longer since Turkish football had a world class star of its own. Step forward Calhanoglu. Blessed with first rate passing, unusual strength on the ball and exceptional vision and read of the game. This 22 year old midfielder possesses the mantle of perhaps the best free-kick taker in Europe at the moment. He scored 11 goals in 38 games while at Hamburg, including an incredible 41 metre screamer of a free kick. He hasn’t hit quite the same standards this season at Bayer. At one stage he was linked to Man United, but he’ll need to re-find his long range goal getting skills to make Old Trafford.
Julian Weigl – Borussia Dortmund
At just 21, German Midfielder Julian Weigl has already established himself as a key player at Thomas Tuchel’s rejuvenated Dortmund. Arriving from 1860 Munich, Weigl completed more passes than any under 23 player in any of the top European leagues last season. He started the 2014/15 season at 1860 Munich as the Bundesliga’s youngest ever captain before moving on to join Tuchel at Dortmund. His career has gone from strength to strength at the Westfalenstadion. He earned a perfect 10 from ESPN for his Champions League performance against Sporting Lisbon last October, and also a call up to Euro 2016 in the summer. Weigl is the organiser at Dortmund, so could likely prove valuable alongside the young attacking talents coming through at Old Trafford.
Thomas Lemar – AS Monaco
The French central midfielder is once again finding the form that earned him a call up to the Senior French squad. He was called up against Sweden and made his debut against the Ivory Coast aged just 21. An assured, speedy dribbler, from Guadelope, Lemar played well enough at Caen for 2 seasons to receive the call up to one of Ligue 1’s glamour sides. He’s already scored 10 goals in 38 games from midfield despite it not being one of his strengths. According to former Monaco defender Eric Di Meco, Lemar can play any position bar centre forward. With a contract expiring in 2020, this range and ability would make the likes of Jose Mourinho sit up and take notice.
Niklas Sule – 1899 Hoffenheim
The rumours are that Chelsea are already saving up to pry the 21 year old German defender away from the Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Sule rejected a move earlier in the year, perhaps because Bayern have taken an interest too. It may turn the youngster’s head if Manchester United were to make their presence known. Sule is enjoying a barnstorming season playing in Hoffenheim’s back 3 and seems keen to establish himself before moving on. He won the silver medal for Germany at the Summer Olympics in Rio and debuted for the senior German side against Finland. With United on the lookout for defenders, Sule seems a definite star of the future.
Manuel Locatelli – AC Milan
That there are 2 Italians on this list, and that both play for Milan, speaks a great deal about what Montella is accomplishing with young talent at the San Siro. The 18 year old midfielder has dreams of emulating his hero, Andrea Pirlo. The goal he scored off the underside of the post against Azzuri legend Buffon in the match against fierce rivals Juventus seems to have set the stage for a promising career. It’s too early to see if Locatelli can maintain the staggering form he’s shown in the red and black so far this season, but, once again, Chelsea and Real Madrid have shown an interest in scooping him up if Milan fail on their early season Champions League promise. Locatelli would provide a little spark to the United central midfield.
Rick Karsdorp – Feyenoord
Feyenoord and Holland right back, Karsdorp, is already familiar to United fans from this season’s Europa league clashes. Though the match at Old Trafford finished with a comfortable victory for the Red Devils, the young Dutch defender acquitted himself well as one of the losing side’s better players and even offered an attacking option against the run of play. With attacking full backs like Marcelo and Dani Alves becoming more crucial to the game as time goes by, players like Karsdorp will likely play a bigger role in deciding games and even leagues. A strong crosser like Karsdorp could provide solid ammunition for a rampaging Zlatan or a Rashford. With an 82% pass rate and blessed with natural pace, Jose Mourinho might just have taken note of the 21 year old for the summer transfer window.
Emre Mor – Borussia Dortmund
Two Dortmund players and two Turks on the same list may raise some eyebrows, but the 19 year old winger has been in scintillating form this season at the Westfalenstadion. United have always relied on strong wingers and Mor’s exploits at former club FC Nordsjaelland will have already attracted Mourinho’s interest. An ability to play out wide or as a number 10 or even false 9 is only topped by a unique ability when it comes to dribbling and a gift for finding the extra space needed to make a difference with his favoured left foot. Liverpool and City took an interest before his move to Dortmund, but United will likely have the finances to fund his next move.
Borja Mayoral – Read Madrid
Real have a habit of letting top talent go too early (Morata being a case in point) and with the spending habits of the Spanish giants as they are it’s unsurprising Mayoral accepted a loan out to Wolfsburg for a season before taking a chance in the all-white shirt. His goal scoring feats at youth level are exceptional and last season he scored 15 goals in 33 for the B team back in the Segunda. Many coaches other than Zidane will be watching how the 19 year old striker performs in the Bundesliga during his loan season and Jose Mourinho must be thinking about how to approach his forward situation in the looming post-Zlatan years.
Jose Luis Gaya – Valencia
City have already been scouting the 21 year old left back, seen as the natural successor to Jordi Alba in the Spanish team in much the same way he replaced him at Valencia. He’s actually been first choice left back at the Mestalla since he was 17 and has represented Spain at all youth levels, also earning two full caps for the seniors. Another fast, attacking full back that might suit Mourinho’s push for trophies in the immediate future, Gaya comes with a £50 million buy-out clause which should give some indication of the hype surrounding him.
With United more than willing to splash out on talent to achieve their targets, it seems likely many of these names will be linked with a move to Old Trafford in the coming months. It would be interesting to see how these younger foreign talents might integrate with the massive potential already playing for the Reds.
Thanks to Pollemma.com for this post.