Manchester United’s youngsters have a big test tonight in the FA Youth Cup.
The under-18s face historic rivals Leeds at Old Trafford, looking to book at place in the quarter-finals.
It is a big test, but Nicky Butt, head of first team development at United, believes there are a number of players who have the potential to make the breakthrough for the Red Devils.
Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have become regulars this season, while Tahith Chong, James Garner, and Angel Gomes have also featured in the Premier League.
Butt believes this current bunch of players in the under-18s could provide more players for the first team.
Speaking to BBC Radio Manchester, he said: “If you’re looking at the youth team, there’s probably eight players that’ll play on Wednesday who have got a chance of making their debut and being ‘the next one’.”
Our preview of the fixture picked out five potential match winners, Teden Mengi, Charlie McCann, Reece Devine, Hannibal Mejbri and Dillon Hoogewerf.
‘Any of the eight’
Butt was more reluctant to select any names, probably not to burden any individuals with extra pressure.
He added that he did not want to be proved either, as he never would have expected Brandon Williams to be ‘the one’ to make the grade prior to his breakthrough this season.
Butt said: “You can’t ever say it, because three years ago I wouldn’t have sat here and said Brandon Williams is the one.
“He’s a great lad Brandon, done amazingly well, a really talented player and he’s regular in the Manchester United first team now, but you don’t know who is going to take the bit between their teeth and not let go.
“It’s a mindset, it’s not just ability. It could be any of the eight, it might not be the most talented, but the one who can handle most pressure.”
Butt added that Marcus Rashford was the only young player he had been totally sure about.
If we had to whittle it down from the under-18s at present, currently Hannibal Mejbri and Teden Mengi have the best chance. Both players are regulars for the under-23s already.
Yet as Butt says, you never know, and it can depend on the first team situation. Williams got his chance thanks to an injury to Luke Shaw.
Most of these in the under-18s are a couple of years off challenging, but there will be fast-track decisions in extreme cases. Mason Greenwood is remarkably still eligible to play in the FA Youth Cup tonight, although he won’t be involved.
That shows how far ahead the young striker is in his development, to have 10 first team goals already.
It’s up to the youngsters to take inspiration from Butt’s comments tonight and enhance their reputations. If it doesn’t go well, it’s just a bump in the road.
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