Charlie McNeill arrived at Manchester United in the summer with a big reputation.
The Mail reported tales of 600 goals scored at academy level for Manchester City, and while these statistics are not publicly accessible to verify, it saw the young striker arrive amid a blaze of hype.
United reportedly beat competition from several teams including Juventus for his signature, and so far he is showing why he was so in demand.
McNeill’s move only went through at the end of September and his under-18s debut had to wait until October. Since then he has been on a real tear at academy level.
McNeill struck twice on Thursday in the under-18s final game of the year, a 4-0 victory over Leeds.
The first goal was a panenka from the penalty spot, displaying a combination of nerve, technique and ability to pull it off.
His second goal was just as highlight worthy. Picking up a long ball, he rounded the goalkeeper before being forced wide, before chipping the ball from a right angle into the net, giving two defenders chasing back no chance.
It was a truly sublime goal and the sign of a top striker. He knows where the net is, wherever he is on the pitch.
Now in eight games for the under-18s, McNeill has scored six goals. He is doing exactly what United signed him for.
Four of these goals have come in his last three games, which shows how he is really kicking on. The winter break comes at a bad time.
McNeill’s six goals at under-18 level makes him the joint top scorer along with Joe Hugill, although the former Sunderland man also has three under-23 goals to add to his tally.
United’s under-18 side is packed with young talented forwards, with Dillon Hoogewerf scoring four goals, while Alejandro Garnacho has been impressive and was unlucky not to score in the win over Leeds.
Room to improve
McNeill is 17 and United will look to move him up to the under-23s at some stage if he keep this up. But despite his good record, he can still get a lot better.
Despite the composure he showed for his second goal against Leeds, he has a bad tendency to occasionally rush shots when he has more time.
Against Wolves the ball cannoned back off the post into his path and instead of passing the ball into the net he swung wildly and lashed it wide. At under-18s level this was an error to brush off. At Premier League level this was the type of miss which would go viral.
In the win over Leeds there were a couple of times he received the ball inside the area, and he could not sort his feet out quickly enough to get a shot away, taking too many touches before being tackled or having an effort blocked.
This is nitpicking, but these are also illustrations of how McNeill has areas of his game to work on before being rushed up to first team level or even sent on loan.
He is on the right track to become a top player. Now he has to round off the edges and kick on. If he does, he could well follow Mason Greenwood’s path into the first team.
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