Say what you want about former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, but he certainly shared the club’s rich tradition of giving academy products a chance in the senior team.
Amid United’s injury crisis half-way through last season, the Dutchman could have dipped into the January transfer market to reinforce his squad. However, he put his faith in the club’s young players and they did not let him down.
A large number of youngsters made their first-team debuts for the Red Devils last year, including highly-rated pair Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Marcus Rashford, but Joe Riley is another academy graduate who has already shown very encouraging signs at senior level.
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Joe Riley joined United’s youth ranks in July 2013 as a talented midfielder with a keen eye for a pass. In the 2014-15 campaign, he played 27 matches for the under-18s and his impressive performances at that level saw him promoted to the under-21s last term.
Riley can play at right-back, right midfield and central midfield, however he has mainly featured for the under-21s as a left-back and he’s produced some excellent, eye-catching displays in that position.
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The 19-year-old from Blackpool emerged as a key man for Warren Joyce’s team, who were crowned Barclays U21 Premier League champions in May for the third time in four years.
How did he break through?
Riley’s senior Man United debut came as a half-time substitute in the team’s successful FA Cup campaign. He replaced fellow youngster Cameron Borthwick-Jackson during the 3-0 win at Shrewsbury Town on February 22.
Three days later, the Englishman made his first start against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League and played the full 90 minutes in United’s emphatic 5-1 win over the Danish side.
Riley is tenacious, full of running, inventive and composed on the ball, and capable of providing quality deliveries from both open play and dead ball situations. That said, it’s unclear as to what his best position is, as is often the case with young players.
What does the future hold for Riley?
Riley may well feature in Jose Mourinho’s first match as United manager, which is a friendly at Wigan Athletic next Saturday. However, full-backs Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia are fully fit, while Luke Shaw is set to return during the club's pre-season tour of China later this month.
For those reasons, it will be extremely difficult for the versatile Riley to establish himself as a first-team regular at Old Trafford in the immediate future. Time away on loan next season could be ideal in allowing the youngster to gain experience and discover where he is most effective at senior level.
Reverting back into United’s under-21 setup, where he spent the majority of last season, is another option for the teenager. He’s shown signs of real promise in his first-team appearances to date and there is no question that Riley’s long-term future should lie with the 20-time English champions.
Which Man Utd youngsters deserve a chance under Mourinho next season? Leave YOUR opinion in the comments box below!