The Debate: Academy graduates deserved their United debuts

Wednesday 10 January 2024 16:00

Manchester United's most recent Academy graduates have "very much earned the right" to make their first-team debuts, according to a leading football journalist.

James Tucker, northern football correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, proffered that opinion when appearing as a panellist on The Debate, our weekly discussion show. His comments came in a week when Omari Forson made his senior bow, as a substitute in Monday's Emirates FA Cup win at Wigan Athletic.

The young midfielder is the second debutant to emerge from United's world-renowned youth system in the space of just 17 days, following Willy Kambwala's start at centre-back in the Christmas weekend trip to West Ham.

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"The squad at Wigan was very young, and I think that's a reflection in part of about 11 senior players being out," said Ducker.

"Omari was on there obviously, Rhys Bennett, Joe Hugill... Forson has been on the tours and has been around the squad for a while.

"If anyone was going to come on [against Wigan] you would probably have expected it to be him."

Erik ten Hag has awarded debuts to five Academy graduates so far across his two seasons, including Dan Gore this term and Kobbie Mainoo and Charlie McNeill last season. Alejandro Garnacho made his maiden senior appearance under Ralf Rangnick in April 2022, when aged only 17.

"Obviously the club's had its battles over the last decade or so, but I think one of the consistent themes has been the success of the Academy," added Ducker.

"Even through some of the turbulence, they have continued to produce a high calibre of Academy graduate. Garnacho has been one of the best players this season.

"You very much earn your right to be there and I think it's going to be an exciting time for some of those Academy players."

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Forson and Kambwala's recent ascent means the all-time tally of Academy players to appear in a competitive first-team fixture now stands at 249. Naturally that raises the prospect of the magic 250 figure being reached this season and former Reds winger Ben Thornley, who was himself added to the list in 1994, believes it could happen in the current month.

"It's always a great moment when you see an Academy graduate making his first-team debut," said the MUTV pundit.

"Omari was involved in pre-season as well,. That would have given him a taste to try and kick on in the Under-21s and make Erik ten Hag see that he is worthy of a first-team squad place at least.

"It's always great to see Academy graduates and we might see the 250th, maybe not against Spurs, but certainly against Eastleigh or Newport, which would be brilliant. What a milestone.”