With an academy as fruitful as Manchester United’s, there are hundreds of ‘lost’ talents that slip through the net.
From Adnan Januzaj to James Wilson and Ravel Morisson, even the most highly-rated youngsters struggle to meet the demands of playing first-team football for Manchester United.
It underlines why Messrs Greenwood and McTominay must be celebrated because it’s far more than talent needed to be successful at Old Trafford. There is a set mentality and mindset needed to meet the demands of playing regularly for England’s most successful club.
Angel Gomes is a name that will attract the same scrutiny as Januzaj and Morrison in years to come. Not least because of his breakthrough into Jose Mourinho’s first team, aged 16. After being handed a senior debut against Crystal Palace in May 2017, there was always a huge amount of attention on Gomes.
Despite Mourinho’s exit and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival, with the latter placing higher importance on blooding academy starlets, Gomes decided his career was heading in a different direction and turned down a new contract in the summer.
“It’s such a special club but I just wanted to be able to play and express myself,” Gomes told The Independent in November, justifying his decision to leave Old Trafford.
“I was offered a great contract, I had all my family and friends around me, but I decided that I was willing to sacrifice that to pursue a different path.
“It’s hard to understand how difficult a decision that was. I’m still a United fan. I still watch every game now, whether it’s the first team or the U18s. I could have stayed and gone out on loan but it just felt like I needed a fresh start.”
Though the reasons behind Gomes’ exit were commendable, Manchester United don’t operate with the same ignorance to academy talent as their rivals. Whilst Chelsea have been guilty of allowing some of Europe’s finest prospects to slip through their net, there is a much shorter list of those that have proven Manchester United wrong.
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, has been the motto at Old Trafford.
Gomes signed for Lille, a club with a history of developing young players and selling them for a handsome profit, such as Eden Hazard and more recently Victor Osimhen, with Jonathan David likely to be the next export off their conveyer belt.
The diminutive number 10 was immediately loaned to Portuguese club Boavista, which given Gomes’ own Portuguese heritage and the fact he speaks the language, seemed a perfect breeding ground for success.
In 22 Liga Nos matches, five goals and as many assists have followed, with Boavista sat just above the relegation zone on 24 points. The first-team experience will harden Gomes and he could return to the Ligue 1 champions in May, with his parent club currently leading the French table by three points ahead of Paris Saint-Germain.
Bruno Fernandes’ dominance in the ‘number 10’ area, a position Donny van de Beek and Paul Pogba would arguably protest is their favoured role too, leaves United well-stocked in attacking midfield and Gomes will feel that justifies his decision to leave.
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Like fellow academy starlet Tahith Chong, Gomes was left at a crossroads, too experienced for Under-23s football but lacking Premier League opportunities. Unlike Chong, he declined a two-year deal in search of a fresh start and left United without starting a league match.
Those opportunities have been afforded by dropping a level, though it remains to be seen if it’s a decision either United or Gomes will regret.