HomeFootballManchester United academy's cautionary tales

Manchester United academy’s cautionary tales

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Mason Greenwood’s breakthrough this season has been an enthralling watch for many Manchester United fans.

The Red Devils take pride in the fact that for a run of 4,026 consecutive games since 1937, there has been at least one academy product in their matchday squads.

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Manchester United fans also enjoy watching academy products shine in the first team and are always prepared to have more patience and provide a longer rope to the youngsters.

Greenwood has been touted for greatness after his first season in the first team where he has already scored 13 goals.

The 18-year-old possesses all the attributes one need to become a top forward in the game.

But there have been too many talented young players who went on to lose their way in senior football.

Manchester United themselves have had their fair share of academy products, who promised much but eventually faded away under the pressure of playing at the top level.

Note: I won’t be including players who went on to have solid careers in other Premier League or Championship clubs, despite failing to make the grade at Manchester United.

Ravel Morrison (Currently on loan at Middlesbrough from Sheffield United):

It is difficult to find even one Manchester United fan who does not lament the fact that Ravel Morrison failed to make it at the top level at Old Trafford or at any other club.

Morrison was part of the FA Youth Cup-winning Manchester United side in 2011, which also contained current first-team stars such as Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard.

The youth observes, who watched Pogba and Morrison play in the same midfield, salivated at the prospect of the duo doing the same in the first team.

The Frenchman went on to win Serie A titles with Juventus, returned to Manchester United as a club-record signing and was also instrumental in France winning the World Cup in 2018.

But Morrison, on the other hand, has continued to struggle to settle.

The Englishman, now 27, has had a difficult time growing up in a tough area of Manchester and battled issues off the field even when he was wowing everyone on the pitch at the youth level.

Multiple court appearances, lack of discipline and a refusal to lead the kind of life needed to make it at the top level of football, bogged him down even before he grew out of his teenage years.


Manchester United lost faith in him and sold him to West Ham in 2012.

For a brief period, Morrison excelled at West Ham in the Championship but his issues off the field never went away.

Loan spells at QPR and Cardiff City didn’t do much to revive his career and he finally joined Lazio in 2015.

He made a grand total of eight appearances for the Serie A outfit.

Loan spells at QPR and Mexican club Atlas followed, and he also spent a few months at Swedish club Ostersund.

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder gambled on signing him on a free transfer last summer but he made just four appearances before he was shipped out on loan at Middlesbrough in January, where he has made just two appearances thus far.

Morrison has emerged as one of the prime examples of a player who showed immense potential as a teenager but that hasn’t translated into performances in senior football.

A lot went wrong with the English midfield but his lack of discipline has stopped him from realising his God-given talent.

Tom Thorpe (Currently without a club):

Tom Thorpe was captain of the Manchester United reserve side that won the league title in the 2014-15 season, and it was his second title at the club.

He was also part of the famous side that won the FA Youth Cup in 2011, alongside Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard.

The centre-back was also a European Under-17 champion with England.

The defender, now 27, was considered a player of some pedigree while he was coming through at the Manchester United academy.

A solid centre-back with an eye for a pass, Thorpe was touted for big things at the senior level and was expected to make it at the top level even if it was not at Manchester United.

He played just 111 seconds for Manchester United at the senior level before leaving the club in 2015.

Thorpe went on to ply his trade at the lower leagues with Rotherham and Bradford City and even had a loan spell at Bolton Wanderers.

But he never settled and eventually spent a season in India with Indian Super League side ATK.

But since getting released from the ISL side in 2018, Thorpe has been without a club and his football league career has been on hold for two years now.

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson (Currently without a club after Manchester United released him at the end of last month):

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson made his Manchester United debut under Louis van Gaal and did make an impression playing at left-back.

He looked defensively solid and his crossing ability was much-talked-about during his initial days in the first team.

There was wide consensus that a good loan spell at a solid club in the Championship would do him a world of good but that is where things went horribly wrong in his career.

He was loaned out to Wolves in the summer of 2016 but he was back at the club six months later after failing to make an appearance in their first team.

Borthwick-Jackson also had poor loan spells at Leeds United, Scunthorpe United, Tranmere Rovers and Oldham Athletic before returning to Manchester United in May this year.


The Premier League giants decided against offering him a new deal and he left the club at the end of last month.

Most of his loan spells were terminate prematurely and concerns about his attitude have been raised at different clubs.

Borthwick-Jackson talked about a few negative experiences in his goodbye note to the club but at 23, time is running out for him to make it at the top level.

James Wilson (Currently at League Two side Salford):

Like Mason Greenwood, there was real hype around James Wilson when the striker was coming through the ranks at Manchester United.

He was a prolific marksman at the youth level and won three league titles with the reserve side.

The forward also scored a brace on his debut for Manchester United towards the end of the 2013-14 season.

Wilson went on to make 17 appearances in Louis van Gaal’s first season as Manchester United manager but only managed two more goals.

The youngster was loaned out to Brighton in November 2015 and he played more regular football in the Championship and netted five goals in the second tier.

But the same verve was missing in his game. However, next season is where the real problems started for the forward.

Wilson joined Derby on loan in the summer but suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out for the rest of the season.

The injury continued to be a problem for him at the start of the next campaign but he earned another loan spell to Sheffield United in January 2018.

But he scored just once in eight appearances and was back at Manchester United next summer.


By that time Wilson was nowhere near the first-team picture at Old Trafford and he moved north of the border to Aberdeen for another loan spell in August 2018. He did enough to earn a permanent contract at Pittodrie a year later.

But just months later, he was back in England in January this year when he joined League Two side Salford.

The forward is trying to rebuild his career in the fourth tier of English football but the COVID-19 pandemic forced a premature end to the season in the lower leagues.

He has a contract until the end of next season at Salford and will be hoping to prove his mettle once the 2020-21 campaign starts in the coming months.

A few underwhelming loan spells and a bad knee injury stalled the career of a young forward who looked destined to make it at the top level around five years back.

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