Marcus Rashford.

Academy the core behind United's PSG success

Three key positions, three big performances in defence, midfield and attack during Manchester United’s excellent 2-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday.

The spine of the side consisted of Academy graduates Axel Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford, showing their character and quality on the Champions League stage against high-profile and world-class opponents such as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

These boys honed their craft at the Aon Training Complex and are an absolute credit to the club. The pride that radiates from such a performance is magnified by those within the building who have worked with the players from an early age, shaping the sort of individual that can go toe-to-toe with the very best.

Scott McTominay.
Scott McTominay produced an all-action performance in midfield.

Axel’s mental strength and composure in returning after 10 months on the sidelines in such a setting was awe inspiring, and it is little wonder he earned special praise from his manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, afterwards. The feeling should be reciprocated because it was a big call from the boss to start the 22-year-old and further illustration, if any was needed, that he has faith in those brought up the United way.

McTominay lost a contact lens in the first half but kept his eyes on the prize as he marauded around midfield, nullifying the home side’s midfielders and keeping close tabs on the likes of Neymar, in particular. It was a fascinating tussle and, even though the Scotland international was booked in the first half, he stuck to his task with the sort of discipline and commitment that mark him out as a real team player.

There is not much more that can be said about matchwinner Rashford, who repeated his heroics at the Parc des Princes in 2019 with another late goal. The England forward is rightly receiving all manner of plaudits for his off-field work in fighting child poverty but his on-pitch performances also demand attention.

He had been lively throughout the tie before firing low past Keylor Navas in the PSG goal with three minutes of normal time remaining. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and that is certainly true of Marcus, in many respects.

On our previous trip to Paris, that dramatic night last year, Ole decided to back his belief in youth as he handled a number of enforced absentees. Andreas Pereira, McTominay and Rashford were in the starting line-up but it was the bravery in throwing on Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood, for his senior debut, that really warmed the heart.

United’s commitment to developing our own talents remains as strong as ever. It was the foundation built on by Sir Matt Busby when his Babes took football by storm, only for the side needing to be rebuilt after the Munich Air Tragedy. When the 1968 European Cup final win was achieved, Shay Brennan, Bill Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, George Best, Bobby Charlton, John Aston Jnr and Brian Kidd were all cut from the red cloth.

We had to wait until 1999, and that incredible Treble-winning squad, to conquer Europe again but, when Bayern Munich were beaten in the dramatic final, Gary Neville, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt all started. Nine years later, when Chelsea were overcome in Moscow, Wes Brown and Paul Scholes were in the XI and Giggs came off the bench.

Axel Tuanzebe.
Axel Tuanzebe - dazzling on and off the pitch!

So there has always been this homegrown thread running through United’s successful teams. Football in 2020 may look vastly different to what it did in 1968, and even 2008, but there is one constant for followers of this great club.

No matter the size of the occasion or the task in hand, there will always be a desire to showcase the talent that we have produced ourselves and raised the Manchester United way.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.

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