United's class of 2011 could be the next Busby Babes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The club's 10th FA Youth Cup win heralded the emergence of a new generation of talent. Tim Rich looks at the leading lights

No team can match Manchester United's attachment to the FA Youth Cup. Monday night's win over Sheffield United was the 10th time they have claimed the trophy and their 14th final.

The teams that won the first final in 1953 and the four that followed it provided the first sighting of what became known as the Busby Babes. The boys that overcame Crystal Palace in 1992 became the men that would underpin Manchester United's domination of English football for more than a decade.

Over time Manchester United's youth teams have changed. The introduction of rules limiting the recruitment of home-grown players to those living within a "90-minute drive" of the academy hit United, with their scouting networks embedded across the country, harder than anyone else. As a consequence, Sir Alex Ferguson admits they now buy young players from abroad but the traditions remain. The United side that beat Sheffield United was coached by Paul McGuinness – son of Wilf; one of the original Busby Babes.

Tom Thorpe: Centre-half, 18

As a central defender, this young Mancunian is more Rio Ferdinand than Nemanja Vidic – his qualities are elegance and composure on the ball.

He was an early recruit to Paul McGuinness's side, playing in the 2008-09 season while still a schoolboy but it was in the following campaign that Thorpe really blossomed both for Manchester United and internationally. Along with William Keane, he was part of the England side that won the Under-17 European Championship.

Thorpe can play almost anywhere across the back four and it is his partnership with Michele Fornasier that really demonstrates how United's academy now works in practice.

Fornasier became the latest example of how United have exploited loopholes in European employment law to bring young footballers to Old Trafford. Fiorentina could not tie Fornasier to a professional contract until he reached his 16th birthday.

United then made the centre-half an offer that a subsequent investigation by Fifa found was entirely above board. Fornasier's partnership with Thorpe was never more severely tested than in the 1-0 victory over West Ham at Upton Park in which both excelled.

Ryan Tunnicliffe: Midfielder, 18

Sir Alex Ferguson and Gary Neville are not men who praise easily but they both believe that this powerful midfielder, who captained the side on Monday night, has every chance of making an impact in the Premier League.

Tunnicliffe was born in Bury, the town that produced the Neville brothers and, like Phil and Gary, he is a tireless competitor, whose absolute commitment in midfield has given rise to comparisons with Roy Keane and Bryan Robson.

However, as John O'Shea has discovered to his benefit, it pays to be versatile at Manchester United and Tunnicliffe has filled in well as a makeshift right-back.

As a footballer, he developed early. By the time he was 14, Tunnicliffe was playing for England at Under-16 level and made 20 appearances for United's Under-18 side two seasons ago. Perhaps some indication of his promise is that when Tunnicliffe captained England Under-16s, Chelsea's Josh McEachran and Liverpool's Jonjo Shelvey – then at Charlton – were in the side.

Perhaps his finest hour in the FA Youth Cup run was leading United back from a two-goal deficit at Anfield. It called for grit, determination and skill – qualities Tunnicliffe has in abundance.

William Keane: Centre-forward, 18

They used to sing that there was "only one Keano" at Old Trafford but wait a little while and there might be two more. The 18-year-old from Stockport appears destined for very great things while his twin brother, Michael, has carved himself out a niche at right-back. The only difference is that Michael has chosen to play internationally for Ireland while William has opted for England.

William is an out-and-out striker, who scored twice in Monday night's victory over Sheffield United. After a somewhat stumbling beginning to his academy career, a hat-trick against Manchester City – who until lately had dominated these mini-derbies – provided the perfect kick-start.

That was followed by two goals against Liverpool and the signing of a professional contract in January last year. By the end of last season he had scored 13 goals in 23 appearances and won the Jimmy Murphy Trophy as United's young player of the year.

His early promise was recognised by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United's then reserve-team manager, who called him up last season. As anyone who watched him hold off his marker and put his shot away in the final might have observed, he has the Norwegian's coolness under pressure.

Paul Pogba: Midfielder, 18

This surging, brilliant young midfielder was born in Lagny-sur-Marne, not far from Euro Disney, and some of his football has a quality of fantasia about it.

It was his strike from 30 yards against Portsmouth that began United's run to the FA Youth Cup final and perhaps it was just as well Sir Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill were there to see him score. His move from France had caused an awful lot of trouble.

Two years ago he was on the books of Le Havre in the French second division. Le Havre maintained they had an agreement with Pogba that he would stay with the club until he was old enough to sign a professional contract.

It was then that United stepped in and brought him to England. Le Havre's president, Jean-Pierre Louvel, alleged they had offered Pogba's parents £87,000 and a house, although United were cleared by a Fifa investigation.

Trouble it may have been, but United now have an 18-year-old who plays for France at Under-21 level and who has invited comparisons with Patrick Vieira.

Ravel Morrison: Attacking midfielder, 18

He may be portrayed as the academy's problem child but there is little doubt of his ability. Morrison has played for England from Under-16 to Under-18 level and made his first-team debut in October when coming on a substitute in Manchester United's victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Carling Cup.

He was brought up in Wythenshawe, one of Manchester's most uncompromising neighbourhoods, and two days after he signed academy forms on his 17th birthday he was arrested for intimidating a witness and given a 12-month referral order.

While not condoning his actions, the club said: "The right thing to do now is support him and help him with the process of rehabilitation."

Morrison certainly repaid United's faith on the Youth Cup run and saved his very best for the final. His first goal at Old Trafford was impressive; a couple of touches and a rasping shot. The second was even better – running at the defence, picking his spot and scoring. A rough, glittering diamond.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent