So far this season Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has not hesitated to promote youngsters from the club’s youth ranks up to his senior matchday squads. The likes of Guillermo Varela, Axel Tuanzebe, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Jesse Lingard have all made the step up to senior level this term, with the latter particularly impressing in United’s recent matches.
Louis van Gaal
Say what you want about Van Gaal’s tactics but there’s no doubting that he shares Man United’s rich tradition of bringing through the youth talent at the club.
The Dutchman has shown a genuine desire to give United’s young players a taste of first-team action and allow them to learn from experienced internationals like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Wayne Rooney, both of whom captain their respective countries.
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In United’s thrilling 3-3 draw at Newcastle ten days ago, 20-year-old James Weir became the latest player from the club’s Academy to make the first-team squad when he was named on the bench. Weir joined United in 2008 and has been steadily progressing his way through the youth ranks ever since.
Weir is predominantly an attacking midfielder but during his time at Old Trafford he’s used his strong, athletic nature to play in a number of different positions including full-back and winger. The Preston-born starlet is neat and tidy in possession, blessed with lots of skill and plays the game with little wasted motion. He uses these abilities, along with his keen eye for a pass, to burst into attack from midfield and make things happen in the final third of the pitch.
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The next Juan Mata?
Out of all of United’s regular first-team players, Weir resembles Spanish playmaker Juan Mata the most with his creative and probing style of play. He has played most of his football in central attacking roles but, by his own admission, Weir is looking to make an impact in the under-21 team as a 'false winger'.
From this, it’s easy to see why comparisons have been made between the Spaniard and Weir, who has admitted to watching Mata in games and trying to learn off him in training sessions. Like Weir, Mata is naturally an attacking midfielder, however the 27-year-old has operated as a “false winger” for much of his time at United, drifting infield from the right-hand side to good effect.
Weir was called up to train with the first-team at Carrington as a reward for his good form with United’s under-21 side. He made 21 appearances for them in last years title-winning campaign and the Englishman has firmly established himself within the squad this season.
Weir scored a lovely goal back in September as United’s under-21s began the defence of their title with a 3-1 win against Everton and has since gone on to captain the team on a few occasions.
Things to improve?
For someone so talented, Weir doesn’t score enough goals and needs to improve this area of his game as he gets older. He only managed one last year for the under-21s and that was in a Lancashire Senior Cup win over Accrington Stanley.
The positive thing for Weir is that he is clinical in front of goal, so the thing he needs to work on is getting himself into goalscoring positions more frequently. Whenever he has got himself through on goal over the years, Weir has proved to be a calm, precise finisher.
Under-21 coach Warren Joyce has labelled Weir as a “clever footballer” and it’s difficult to disagree with him on that. When he’s deployed out wide the young star makes intelligent runs that defenders struggle to pick up and when he plays centrally he has the technical ability to control football matches all on his own.
As already mentioned, Weir recently received his first taste of first-team football for Manchester United and his long-term future at the club looks very bright. Should he continue to impress for the under-21s, it won’t be too long until Weir actually gets a run out for Van Gaal’s men and the chance to prove himself at senior level.
Should Louis van Gaal include Weir in more first-team squads? Have YOUR say in the comment box below!