Erik ten Hag may be judged by the media on his immediate Manchester United results, but supporters know this is a long-haul job to turn this ailing club around.
Ten Hag knows that leading Manchester United to the very top will take time, and in addition to being able to spend the biggest fees of his managerial career (£46m on Lisandro Martinez), he has a plethora of academy talent to help him out.
When the Dutchman was appointed as Red Devils boss, football director John Murtough pointed to his track record of developing youth as a key factor, commenting that he is ‘renowned for his team’s attractive, attacking football and commitment to youth’.
Manchester United’s FA Youth Cup winning team has a potential core of talent which Ten Hag could lean on in future years. And remarkably, a couple of them even seem to be already catching his eye.
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Manchester United’s Fantastic 4
Midfield is a position where Manchester United have struggled in recent seasons, ever since Michael Carrick retired.
This summer has seen hope provided by academy duo Charlie Savage and Zidane Iqbal, who both starred on pre-season tour, while James Garner hopes to be ready to make an impact now and played all 90 minutes of a friendly against Wrexham this week.
But it is a quartet of Manchester United’s FA Youth Cup winners, who could forge the club’s ‘Fantastic 4’ – and by time the upcoming Marvel movie of the same name is finally released in 2025, they could all be starring for Erik ten Hag’s Red Devils.
Kobbie Mainoo: Mainoo, 17, is one of the best prospects to come through Manchester United’s academy in recent years. He made his under-18s debut at 15, and under-23s at just 16.
Mainoo (above) started every game of United’s FA Youth Cup winning run and this week he was called up by Erik ten Hag to play 45 minutes against Wrexham.
The central midfielder has an ability to glide past opponents with his quality on the ball as well as out pass them or beat them with a trick, and he is also capable of popping up with a goal or two.
Supporters have compared Mainoo in style to a young Paul Pogba, without being as rangy. The youngster is a special talent who can go a long way in the game.
Dan Gore: Gore is the most industrious of all four midfielders, and is the total package. The teenager is good at breaking up play and doing the hard work, while he is also gifted from a creative sense.
Gore’s run into the box set up United’s second goal in the Super Cup NI this week, and last season he managed to provide nine assists at youth level.
The England youth international has already made his under-21 debut and is still only 17. One of his youth coaches described him as the biggest talent he has seen in 30 years.
Isak Hansen-Aaroen: Manchester United beat the Brexit deadline to sign Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Tromso in 2020.
By this time he had already made his Tromso debut and provided an assist. He has had a big impact at youth level, playing a key role in United’s FA Youth Cup run.
Erik ten Hag called Hansen-Aaroen up to first team training this week, a hugely encouraging sign. He has the skillset to become a player the Dutchman uses regularly.
The 17-year-old is strong in possession, rarely giving the ball away, effective at the base of a midfield or further forward. He has represented Norway at under-19 level and it would be a surprise if he does not make it at Old Trafford.
Sam Mather: The most attacking of the quarter, Mather announced himself last season with 10 goals and 13 assists.
The England youth international scored two goals this week to lead United to a win over Northern Ireland’s under-18 side, including a free-kick.
Mather trained with the first team earlier this year along with Dan Gore, and his next step is to start making an impact at under-21 level.
The youngster can play on the wing or in a central attacking midfield role, and netted three goals on the way to United’s FA Youth Cup success.