Ashley Fletcher.

Opinion: Why United's DNA is spread far and wide

Monday 22 February 2021 15:00

It was just a normal weekend of action in the Premier League and beyond. Well ,as normal as you can get in the current predicament.

Matches being won and lost, goals flying in, the odd smattering of transfer news... and Manchester United's fingerprints were all over the scene. At least, that's what we might have said in the past. Today we refer to it as the Reds' DNA and it's running throughout the English game.

We know players who were raised in our Academy are given the education to enjoy excellent careers, whether that is at United or other clubs. The value that is placed on this upbringing should never be underestimated because the proof is in the pudding.

Michael Keane was outstanding in Everton's historic win at Liverpool.

Saturday was probably just an ordinary day in the context of the domestic football season but it was pleasing to see George Tanner's name crop up as the scorer in Carlisle United's League Two game at Salford City. A big United fan and genuinely nice lad, I was there when he signed his contract at the Aon Training Complex with his family, and it was very refreshing to know he is doing well after a couple of months out due to injury.

However, then came a burst of goals all around the 22-minute mark as I followed the updates on Sporting Life's vidiprinter on my phone - the ideal way to track Saturday's action if you're of a certain age and want to feel nostalgic. Nick Powell, who Sir Alex Ferguson signed as a youngster from Crewe Alexandra, played regularly for our Reserves. Fraizer Campbell was on the mark for Huddersfield against high-flying Swansea City. Bang, another one - Ashley Fletcher opening the scoring for Middlesbrough at Reading.

Ten minutes or so later, Reece James netted for Doncaster Rovers against Hull City. Powell struck again and Tanner's earlier effort was cancelled out at Salford. The scorer? James Wilson.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. For example, the vidiprinter also flagged a goal for Kenji Gorre in Portugal's Liga NOS, for Nacional. In that same league on Friday night, Angel Gomes had swept home a superb free-kick for Boavista. Back to domestic matters, the teatime game was the big one in the Premier League as Everton won the Merseyside derby at Liverpool.

The Man of the Match? Michael Keane, a member of our last FA Youth Cup-winning side. While watching him 'in the zone' at Anfield, repelling everything Jurgen Klopp's men could muster, I recalled conducting his first club-media interview, alongside his twin brother Will (who is now with Wigan Athletic), at the Aon Training Complex many years ago. I could not have been more thrilled with his exceptional performance against Liverpool. He and Will are just two of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

Football is, of course, not merely about goals or even good performances. There was a big transfer story earlier in the day with Ryan Shawcross signing for Inter Miami, the Major League side owned by David Beckham and managed by Phil Neville. Our former defender enjoyed a wonderful 14 years at Stoke City and you only have to look at the way Potters fans responded to his departure to understand how much his sterling service was appreciated. He's another success story for our Academy and we all wish him well for his new adventure in the United States.

Ryan Shawcross has linked up with two fellow Academy graduates in Florida.

Continuing the focus on transfers, there were not too many big deals in January but Joshua King switched from Bournemouth to Everton. The Cherries moved in the market themselves to land Ben Pearson from Preston North End. Two more former Reds youngsters on the rise and attracting plenty of interest in a quiet window. 

Even those who merely concentrate on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first-team squad will have seen ex-Academy men performing against us recently. Sam Johnstone, for instance, impressed in goal for West Brom and, only last week, we faced Real Sociedad's Adnan Januzaj. It's just a shame he'll be deprived the traditional warm welcome back from the most respectful of supporters in Thursday's Europa League second leg at Old Trafford.

It is always encouraging to know those who have flown the nest are doing well for themselves, just as much as it is tracking the progress of our current loanees doing the business for other teams.

Ben Pearson traded Preston for Bournemouth during the transfer window.

I used to speak regularly to former Reserves coach Warren Joyce for his Inside United magazine column and remember discussing Leicester City winning the Championship at a canter with over 100 points in 2013/14 with the likes of Ritchie De Laet, Danny Drinkwater and Matty James all involved. We also talked about how other clubs were also leaning heavily on former United men at the time.

Joyce wondered aloud why more sides did not do it and this point currently feels as valid as ever. Footballers brought up at the Aon Training Complex have a certain stamp on them; not only the quality that got them there in the first place but other key characteristics such as attitude, belief and humility which means many are fully capable of shining elsewhere. 

Long may it continue.

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