If they are good enough, they are old enough. – Sir Matt Busby
It has been part of the Manchester United DNA for decades. The commitment to bringing young players through and seeing them contribute to the success of the first team. The Red Devils do this better than most – sometimes with homegrown lads, and increasingly taking products of other academies and polishing them up until they shine brilliantly.
The emergence of Anthony Martial has gotten me thinking about some of our most talented teenagers of the recent past. Our youth setup has produced some great ones over the decades but has struggled to produce attacking players of late. It’s worth noting that all three players here were brought in from other clubs.
It’s also interesting to see the way that Cristiano Ronaldo was protected by Sir Alex Ferguson in his early days, especially when compared to how he handled Rooney’s early games during the following season. Meanwhile, Martial has also been thrown straight in – perhaps more due to this season’s lacklustre attack than a desire by Louis Van Gaal to do so.
So let’s take a look at three top talents, and how the first 10 matches unfolded.
Debut at 18 | 6 starts, 4 sub appearances | 9 Prem, 1 UCL 1 goal | 58 minutes average time on pitch
I remember Cristiano Ronaldo’s United debut at home to Bolton like it was yesterday. The swagger, the creativity, the step-overs! He came on in the second half and Old Trafford knew they had a star on their hands.
It wasn’t until his 10th MUFC appearance that Ronaldo notched his first goal – a knuckleball of a free kick against Portsmouth that we’ve seen repeated dozens of times since.
Ronaldo’s last game in a United shirt was the Champions League Final loss to Barcelona in 2009. He’s re-written the record book at Real Madrid, but Reds still sing his song almost every week – and many are still hoping for a return. We shall see.
Debut at 18 | 8 starts, 2 sub appearances | 7 Prem, 3 UCL 6 goals | 75 minutes average time on pitch
Wayne Rooney’s bow after joining from Everton was more than memorable. It was a shotgun blast of goals that showed the teenager had the needed quality. Wazza’s debut hat-trick in the Champions League at home to Fenerbahce was nothing short of spectacular.
Rooney’s first league goal would come a few weeks later against Arsenal, he would add two more away to Newcastle to take his tally for his first 10 matches to an impressive 6 goals from 10 appearances.
Now the United and England captain, Rooney will also likely end his career as leading scorer for club and country as well. He’s been off the pace so far this season, but the good news is that this has opened the door for teenager number three…
Debut at 19 | 8 starts, 2 sub appearances | 6 Prem, 3 UCL, 1 LC 5 goals | 77 minutes average time on pitch
Anthony Martial was far from a known commodity when he joined United from Monaco this season. His 10th appearance in the beautiful red shirt will certainly come in the Manchester derby.
Like Rooney, the young Frenchman treated us to a storybook debut that will live long in the memory. Coming off the bench against Liverpool and scoring a beauty on his first shot!
You get the feeling that there is a lot more to come for the lad that is currently the most expensive teenager in the world. He’s scored in the Champions League and the League Cup already, too.
You’d also expect that whether they are homegrown or imported, United will carry on the tradition of playing those talented teenagers.