Manchester United pride themselves on their ability to promote youth players and the club holds the record of having at least one homegrown player in their matchday squad since 1939 – a streak of 4,146 matches.
This record is unparalleled in elite football around the globe and the club deserves plaudits for the remarkable achievement. However, not every academy graduate ends up making it at Old Trafford but most end up having a decent professional career.
New manager Erik ten Hag will have to decide the futures of the current crop of academy graduates – Brandon Williams, Tahith Chong, Andreas Pereira and Axel Tuanzebe. They cannot be termed young any more and are desperate for minutes. The Dutchman’s first job during pre-season is to reduce a bloated squad, which includes those who have emerged from the youth ranks and move them on, either on temporary deals or in some cases, permanently.
Moving them on permanently will also help in increasing the spending power with a part of the sales set to be made available for the new boss.
After appearing sporadically under Jose Mourinho, the centre-back decided to head out on loan. After a fruitful spell with Aston Villa in the Championship in 2018-19, Tuanzebe got his chance under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. His highlights included an incredible display away to Paris Saint-Germain where he pocketed Kylian Mbappe as well as becoming the youngest player to captain United since Norman Whiteside in 1985, during an EFL Cup victory against Rochdale.
The defender was expected to kick on and fight for a starting berth but injuries prevented him from putting in a consistent run of games. He opted to go out on loan once again last season but managed only six starts for Villa before deciding to try his luck in Italy for Napoli. That temporary spell turned out to be even worse, with the 24-year-old starting only a solitary match, and playing for a grand duration of just 10 minutes in Serie A.
Tuanzebe must realise his chances of breaking into the first team at his childhood club is very difficult at the moment with Ten Hag preferring to make a couple of defensive additions in the transfer window.
Journalist Fabrizio Romano has already tweeted that the Red Devils are open to selling the academy graduate this window.
The left-back was a surprise hit when he made his debut in the absence of Luke Shaw and Ashley Young in the 2019-20 season. Having a strong right foot meant he could double up as a right-back as well and made 36 appearances for the senior team, recording a goal and seven assists in his debut season.
He found his chances limited in the 2020-21 season, prompting the club to send him out on loan in 2021-22. Representing Norwich, the 21-year-old impressed as he played 29 times and recorded one assist even though the club finished last.
The England U-21 international wants increased game time having got the taste of regular Premier League action, something United will not be able to provide. Manchester Evening News have reported that the Englishman could depart his boyhood club with the Red Devils open to moving him on.
Football agent Rob Segal, via his column for Caught Offside, was quoted as saying, “He is a young lad and had to move to the other end of the country, but what he doesn’t want to do now is go back to Old Trafford and just wipe off all this season’s hard work by sitting back on the bench.
“Manchester United know and appreciate this, so for Williams, it is more probable for him to go out on another loan, but Manchester United aren’t ruling out any eventuality.”
The winger, signed from Feyenoord, made his debut for the first team during Ole’s interim spell. There were high hopes after his exploits for the reserve team but he has failed to truly shine for the senior team.
Twelve appearances in 2019-20 was the most he made for the club and has not appeared in the red of Manchester since since the Europa League last 16 second leg against LASK in August 2020.
The Netherlands U-21 international has since spent time out on loan for Werder Bremen, Club Brugge as well as Championship outfit Birmingham City but he has failed to stand out in any of his loan spells. Injuries have also not helped the 22-year-old.
United triggered the one-year extension in Chong’s contract which ties him to the club until 2023. This was not done as an endorsement of his talent but mainly to avoid losing him on a free.
Ten Hag will take a look at his compatriot but with so many options on the wing currently at the club, it is difficult to envisage a future for Chong at Old Trafford.
The Brazil international last played for the English club back in 2020 and since then has spent time out on loan at Italian club Lazio as well as Flamengo.
He has impressed for the Brazilian club and a pre-agreement for his departure was signed but the deal has since collapsed with reports stating Ten Hag might keep him on as a squad player.
Apart from the inevitable pre-season heroics, the versatile midfielder, who is 26, should ideally be moved on and academy prospects like Hannibal Mejbri and and James Garner should be tried out instead of opting to keep the midfielder at the club.
He has a year left in his contract with the club having the option of extending it by another year. Potential suitors are few and far between at the moment, which might open doors for a squad role.