When it comes to Manchester United’s pre-season, no young player comes into it with the spotlight James Garner does.

Garner, 20, has a chance to write his own future this summer as United consider what to do with him in 2021/22.

Last season Garner had two loan spells, at Watford and then Nottingham Forest, where he played more than 40 Championship games.

At Forest he became a particular fan favourite, scoring against this weekend’s pre-season opponents Derby in the process.

Derby County v Nottingham Forest - Sky Bet Championship
(Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Opportunity knocks

Garner made his Manchester United debut aged just 17 under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a final minute substitute against Crystal Palace.

He followed that up by scoring in United’s first pre-season game of 2019 in a win over Perth Glory.

In this pre-season in 2021 he will have an even more prominent role, with the likes of Scott McTominay, Fred, Donny van de Beek, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes all absent for the opening fixture.

Garner will join Nemanja Matic in midfield, while fellow young guns Dylan Levitt and Ethan Galbraith will also be desperate to prove a point of their own.

While more loans beckon for Levitt and Galbraith, Garner’s future is more uncertain.


There is a possibility Garner goes on a top flight loan, joining a Premier League club for the season. The attraction there is that he could get more regular game time.

But this opportunity will likely be available to Garner however pre-season goes. His objective will be to show Solskjaer that he is ready now.

Is Garner first team ready?

Garner indicated his quality in late 2019 with four Europa League starts for Manchester United in the group stages. His performance away in a 1-0 win at Partizan Belgrade demonstrated both his quality and maturity.

The 20-year-old’s task now is to prove he make an impact right away and influence the club’s plans.

Strong performances from Garner may end up with United reducing plans for Nemanja Matic, feeling more relaxed with Paul Pogba’s situation, and even influencing decisions on incoming transfers.

(Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)

Garner is an all round midfielder, capable of playing in a defensive role, but this also serves to blunt his attacking quality. Garner’s passing is among his top attributes, and for the under-23s in 2019/20 he scored eight goals in 10 games.

United have to plot out the season ahead and may feel that even with strong performances, they cannot offer Garner the game time he deserves, choosing to send him on loan.

But right now the midfielder’s future is firmly in the balance. If he shines during the upcoming pre-season matches then he has a chance to make himself indispensible and push Solskjaer to fast-track him.

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