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Tuesday 15 October 2019

Youth policy to the fore: Ole looking to youngsters to transform Red fortunes

 

ON THE CUSP: Ireland U-19 captain Lee O’Connor could make the breakthrough at Old Trafford this season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
ON THE CUSP: Ireland U-19 captain Lee O’Connor could make the breakthrough at Old Trafford this season. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ahead of the new season, most of the top clubs can boast of sensational young talent in their ranks.

And yesterday we got an indication of how the future might look when Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur met at the Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai in an intense, and sometimes fractious, pre-season encounter, which United won 2-1.

Teenage striker Angel Gomes scored the winner 10 minutes from time after Lucas Moura's deflected strike had levelled Anthony Martial's early opener.

Among the many problems facing Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the league kick-off approaches will be whether to start Mason Greenwood, the 17-year old striker who's been lighting up the clubs pre-season tour, or use him as an impact sub.

Natural

Described by his manager as "a natural finisher", Greenwood is a two-footed player who can take free kicks or penalties with either foot.

Solskjaer is reconfiguring Manchester United as a fast, attacking side and analysis of the club's pre-season matches shows how the club's academy players have created most of the talking points, from prolific under-age scorer Greenwood's first senior goal, against Leeds United, to Dutch winger Tahith Chong's (19) tricky footwork that won a penalty for Martial to score in the same match.

Yesterday, Greenwood wasn't spared robust challenges during the 45 first-half minutes he played and he didn't seem fazed.

In the second half, another United 18-year-old, Gomes, breaking at pace from the left wing, played a neat one-two with Juan Mata and threaded the ball past the Spurs' keeper.

With Axel Tuanzebe (21) and James Garner (18) also showing exceptional promise, the impact of United's youth revolution will be felt over the next few years.

Recent signings - Wales international Daniel James (21) and defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka (21), fit Solskjaer's "young, hungry and eager to learn" specifications.

PACE: Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood (C) runs with the ball at the Tottenham defence in Shanghai. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
PACE: Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood (C) runs with the ball at the Tottenham defence in Shanghai. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Another 18-year old who is expected to break into the senior Old Trafford squad is Waterford man Lee O'Connor, a versatile defender who's captained Ireland's Under-19s from a midfield berth in the European Championship group games.

Refreshed

O'Connor, who was part of the United squad that travelled to Barcelona for their Champions League quarter-final tie, says: "Ole's arrival refreshed all the players because it doesn't matter how old you are to him."

An Ireland player who missed out on the U-19 finals is Troy Parrott (17), who was not released for the tournament because his club manager Mauricio Pochettino who had other plans for him.

Included in Tottenham Hotspur's squad midway through last season, Parrott has been impressing on the club's pre-season tour.

The 17-year old's first start for Spurs was against Serie A champions Juventus in Singapore and he didn't disappoint, forcing a save from Gianluigi Buffon, which was pounced on and tapped home by Erik Lamela. Parrott also rattled the net with a fine strike but the goal was ruled offside.

Although he won't be 18 until February, Parrott's talent and progress has fast-tracked him into the Tottenham squad.

Pochettino has cautiously dampened down the hype that's been building around the Dubliner.

But he admits: "He's still so young but we'll see what happens. Of course, he's going to have the possibility to be with the first team."

Yesterday Parrott showed class and composure from the kick-off, either holding the ball and getting his team-mates into play or splitting the United defence and setting up chances.

Former Ireland international Richard Dunne believes Parrott could be the answer to one of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy's biggest problems.

"We want more goals in the team," he says. "We have probably been missing a centre-forward over the last couple of years in the national senior side and he seems to be coming now."

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