Manchester United’s Class of 2011 were labelled ‘the next Busby Babes’ - Where are they now?

  • Rob Swan

Manchester United have a long, proud history of bringing through talented youngsters and giving them a chance to shine in the first team.

The club’s famous record of including at least one academy graduate in every matchday squad stretches back to October 30, 1937 – a run spanning a remarkable 82 years.

Even now, during one of the most difficult periods in the club’s recent history, United are giving their young players – including the likes of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams – opportunities to establish themselves in the first team.

However, the fact United haven’t won the FA Youth Cup since 2011 must be a concern for the club.

Since then, Chelsea have dominated the competition, winning it six times. Norwich City and Liverpool have also won it since United last landed their hands on the trophy.

Shortly after United last won the FA Youth Cup – beating Sheffield United 6-3 in the final – the Independent published an article which looks, well, rather silly now.

The headline read: ‘United’s class of 2011 could be the next Busby Babes’.

They analysed five of the team’s stars, and we’ll look at where they are now…

Tom Thorpe

What the Independent said: “As a central defender, this young Mancunian is more Rio Ferdinand than Nemanja Vidic – his qualities are elegance and composure on the ball.”

Where is he now?

Thorpe went on to make his Man Utd debut under Louis van Gaal in September 2014 but never played for the club again.

After a spell at Rotherham, the defender went on to join Indian Super League side ATK in 2018.

The 26-year-old left the club in 2018 and, unfortunately, is still on the lookout for a new team.

Ryan Tunnicliffe

What the Independent said: “Sir Alex Ferguson and Gary Neville are not men who praise easily but they both believe that this powerful midfielder, who captained the side on Monday night, has every chance of making an impact in the Premier League.

“Perhaps his finest hour in the FA Youth Cup run was leading United back from a two-goal deficit at Anfield. It called for grit, determination and skill – qualities Tunnicliffe has in abundance.”

Where is he now?

Tunnicliffe made two appearances for United’s first team before being offloaded to Fulham in January 2013.

The former England Under-17 international, who turns 27 in December, joined Championship side Luton Town in the summer after a two-year spell with Millwall.

Will Keane

What the Independent said: “His early promise was recognised by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United’s then reserve-team manager, who called him up last season. As anyone who watched him hold off his marker and put his shot away in the final might have observed, he has the Norwegian’s coolness under pressure.”

Where is he now?

Big things were expected of Keane but a couple of serious knee ligament injuries hindered his development and, subsequently, harmed his career.

The 26-year-old signed for Ipswich Town in the summer after a three-year spell at Hull, where he only managed to score one goal in 26 appearances.

Paul Pogba

What the Independent said: “This surging, brilliant young midfielder was born in Lagny-sur-Marne, not far from Euro Disney, and some of his football has a quality of fantasia about it.”

Where is he now?

The most successful player of United’s Class of 2011 and by a distance, too.

Pogba is now a World Cup winner and regarded as one of the world’s best central midfielders in terms of talent, although his attitude has often been questioned since returning to Man Utd from Juventus in 2016.

Ravel Morrison

What the Independent said: “He may be portrayed as the academy’s problem child but there is little doubt of his ability. A rough, glittering diamond.”

Where is he now?

Regarded as the most talented player from United’s Class of 2011, Morrison has failed to live up to expectations so far.

The 26-year-old, who was once hailed by Sir Alex Ferguson as the best youngster he’d ever seen, has been given another chance to get his career back on track by Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder.

What about the rest?

Let’s take a look at the other members of United’s FA Youth Cup-winning squad…

Sam Johnstone

After loan spells to a host of Football League clubs, Johnstone eventually left Old Trafford in 2018, signing for Championship West Brom on a four-year contract.

The 26-year-old is the Baggies’ first-choice goalkeeper and is currently fighting to secure promotion back to the Premier League.

Michael Keane

Perhaps one player that United should have kept, Keane went on to excel at Burnley before earning himself a £25 million move to Everton in 2017.

The centre-back has also earned 10 England caps, scoring one goal.

Michele Fornasier

Not a name that many United fans will remember, Fornasier failed to break into the first team and signed for Sampdoria in 2013.

The defender then spent four years with Pescara and now plies his trade with Serie B side Trapani, on loan from Parma.

Sean McGinty

McGinty has had a nomadic career since leaving Old Trafford in 2013, playing for various clubs in the Football League.

He signed for Scottish club Partick Thistle in 2018 following a two-year spell with Torquay United

Gyliano van Velzen

A former Netherlands Under-21 international, Van Velzen joined League Two side Crawley Town in the summer after several years back in his home country following his departure from United in 2013.

Larnell Cole

Another highly-rated member of Man Utd’s academy, Cole left United for Fulham in 2014 but failed to establish himself as a first-team regular at Craven Cottage.

Following loan spells with MK Dons, Shrewsbury Town and Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the midfielder joined Tranmere in 2017, where he scored two goals in 13 games before being released in January 2019.

He remains unattached at the time of writing.

John Cofie

Cofie made headlines at the age of 14 when he was purchased by Man Utd from Burnley for a £1 million fee. The Red Devils had high hopes for the forward, who was born in Ghana in 1993.

He went on to play a few times for England’s Under-17 side but didn’t get close to making a first-team appearance for United, who offloaded him to Barnsley in 2013.

Cofie left Australian semi-professional side Hume City in 2018 and hasn’t been seen in football since.

Tom Lawrence

Lawrence, a Wales international, was handed his United debut by Ryan Giggs at the end of the ill-fated 2013/14 season.

He joined Leicester City in 2014 but was on loan at Blackburn when the Foxes won the Premier League title.

The 25-year-old joined Derby County in 2015 but recently hit the headlines following a drink-driving incident involving teammate Mason Bennett and club captain Richard Keogh, who was sacked by the club for gross misconduct.

Tyler Blackett

Blackett played in United’s first-team 12 times under Van Gaal before being moved on to Reading in 2016 by Jose Mourinho.

The 25-year-old is still with the Championship side three years later.

Jesse Lingard

Lingard has his critics, but the 26-year-old has achieved far more than most of his former Class of 2011 teammates.

The midfielder has made 180 appearances for United, scoring 29 goals, plus a further 24 appearances for the England national team.

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