Manchester United have had a rough season. We came into it hoping for a title challenge, and even after an impressive away win last night, the table still reads ‘seventh place’.

The defeat to Wolves a fortnight ago cast a grim spell over the club. It was the worst way to begin 2022, with a first defeat over Ralf Rangnick.

It prompted plenty of introspection, with supporters fed up with years of false dawns. Players were struggling to buy in under Rangnick, and this season was beginning to feel lost.

Brentford v Manchester United - Premier League
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There has a been a little improvement since, with United winning two games and drawing the other, a match the team really should have won.

Today United are feeling less like an empty shell of a former giant, and more like a club with potential to rise again.

Key to the optimism has come from the club’s academy stars, who are taking a key responsibility in leading the way.

Anthony Elanga has started the last two games and opened the scoring in the win over Brentford. He has been excellent and really seized his chance.

Elanga’s goal came on the same night Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford both broke their scoring droughts. Having three academy players score in one game is a rare feat for most clubs, but the type United are well accustomed to.

Former academy star Scott McTominay was pulling the strings in midfield too, and there’s more to come.

The likes of Hannibal and Shola Shoretire could yet have a role to play this season, while Ethan Laird, Teden Mengi, Alvaro Fernandez, Marc Jurado, Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, Isak Hansen-Aaroen and Charlie McNeill are among those also hoping to follow in Elanga’s footsteps.

Academy bears fruit when United need it most

The academy has given United a key boost when the club needs it most. At a time where fans felt at their lowest ebb for years, there is hope again.

Winning the two games in hand can take United just three points behind third placed Chelsea. All is far from lost.

United have an envious academy record, naming a youth player in the matchday squad for more than 10,000 consecutive games, dating back to before the second World War. This is a record which won’t be going away any time soon.

Brentford v Manchester United - Premier League
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The academy is key to United’s identity. Just when the club needed a reminder of the way forward, United’s core values have provided exactly what was needed. A belief in homegrown talent is helping Ralf Rangnick, and it will continue to do so.

There is no guarantee of future silverware, but United have a platform to build from again, and when the club are successful, there will be homegrown players lifting trophies along with big money stars, and that will make the success so much sweeter.

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