Manchester United’s forgotten man could be surprise answer to Erik ten Hag’s midfield problem – Steven Railston

Cold Friday nights at Leigh Sports Village are often worth it for Manchester United’s academy talent.

There’s no escaping the elements at the stadium which is about 10 miles from Old Trafford, but sometimes there are individual performances so brilliant they’re enough to make you forget about the finger-biting cold.

United have a rich history of natural talent in the academy and that tradition has survived decades when other aspects of clubs have changed for the worse. There are hundreds of employees who work tirelessly at United and some are tasked with defining and shaping the future of young players every day. United’s unrivaled player production record is testament to their brilliant work.

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The under-18 FA Youth Cup triumph earlier this week was also proof of that. The club has been hungry for first-team success over the past decade and the youth’s excellent run in the Youth Cup was a much-needed bright spot in a dismal season.

The next step for these players is to have a career in the professional game. United have a stellar record of providing opportunities for talent emerging from the club’s academy, but only a few can progress to the first team, naturally.

Ralf Rangnick gave 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 latter’s first taste of European football. Shoretire made his first-team debut in February last year against Newcastle in the Premier League.

Shoretire then played Real Sociedad in the Europa League four days later. When he came on as a final substitute on that occasion, he made United history by becoming the youngest player to play for the club in European competition.

Shoretire was incredibly only 17 years and 23 days old. That made headlines and the youngster was named Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year for 2020/21 soon after, which was the perfect way to end his promising campaign.

The 18-year-old contributed eight goals and four assists last season and has improved those numbers this year despite a relatively new position change. Shoretire normally 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 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 excellent, building, catching the ball and excellent in the way he was playing forward passes, getting past players, leading the team,” Wood said.

“I wanted to take another look at him, he didn’t play much there, it’s a challenge for him and I thought he did really well again. He was very disciplined in his positioning and showed some excellent parts that we know he has.”

Shoretire has eight goals and 10 assists this season and has been instrumental in United’s under-23s having a strong Premier League season. His vision and quick feet make him a genuinely difficult proposition for defenders and it’s interesting that he’s been able to play deeper at a time when the club is in dire need of midfielders – he’s become a problem area at the club.

Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba leave in a few weeks and that will make room in the squad. United are expected to move quickly to sign a new defensive midfielder, but they could already have the replacement of Pogb with Shoretire.

Shoretire deserves a chance to show that it can perform at the top level.

He should be considered to play in that position in pre-season.

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