Manchester United’s youth setup has developed some wonderful footballers in recent decades, most famously the ‘Class of ’92’, which included David Beckham, Paul Scholes and current assistant manager Ryan Giggs.
Fears were creeping into the minds of some fans that the Red Devils' academy system was no longer capable of producing top-class talent. However, such fears have been somewhat cooled in recent months with the emergence of Paddy McNair, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Sean Goss, Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard and James Wilson.
Louis van Gaal’s rich tradition of giving youngsters their opportunity has ensured at least one player to come through the United academy has appeared in all of their league matchday squads since 1937.
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However, there are two hidden gems within current youth system who have the potential to become big footballing stars, the first of whom the club’s latest signing.
Newport County’s decision to let Poole move to Old Trafford for an initial fee of £100,000 in September makes the 17-year-old United’s most recent acquisition.
Before moving to Old Trafford, Poole underwent a successful trial at their AON Training Complex and caught the eye of several other big teams including Liverpool.
Poole is a Welsh defender who primarily plays at centre-back and currently represents his country at Under-17 level. Last year he became Newport County’s youngest ever player when he made his professional debut against Shrewsbury Town at the age of just 16 years and 94 days old.
This season it is likely Poole will continue to develop within United’s academy, but there could be opportunities for him to play for the Under-21 side as well. International clearance problems have made it difficult for Poole to play competitive games for United, but there’s no doubt the youngster has a lot of promise and potential.
Fletcher joined the Red Devils in July 2012 and has been progressing his way through the various youth teams ever since. He is a traditional target man, but also possesses good feet, acceleration and a clinical finish.
The 20-year-old Englishman scored nine goals from the opening ten Under-18 matches in 2013/14 and, when he stepped up to Under-21 level, managed three goals in five starts during their 2014/15 title-winning campaign.
This season Fletcher has established himself as an essential member of the Under-21 squad and is working hard to improve the overall facets of his game.
His best moment came in September when he scored a fantastic hat-trick for United’s Under-21 team in a 3-2 Lancashire Senior Cup victory over Rochdale. When first-team defender Phil Jones played alongside Fletcher for the Under-21s earlier this season, the England international singled out the youngster for special praise and tipped him for success.
James Wilson’s recent loan move to Brighton could pave the way for Fletcher to challenge Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial for the main striker’s position. It will be interesting to see how his career develops in the coming months and years, but he is certainly one to watch.
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