Connect in the back of the net

Louis van Gaal was heralded as the man to transform Manchester United after what was by all means a despicable 2013/14 season.

He may have failed to sail United onto the next frontiers, but his belief in the youth assured continuity of ‘The United Way’.

During his two years at Old Trafford, the Dutchman handed debuts to 14 academy graduates- the highest of any Premier League manager during the tenure.


Van Gaal’s influence

One would make a good case by arguing that the debuts were handed as a last resort due to the impending injury crisis at the time, but Louis van Gaal has a history of handing first team appearances to youngsters.

From Clarence Seedorf to Andres Iniesta, Victor Valdes to Thomas Muller, his debutants have gone on to become some of the most decorated footballers of their generation.

Although LVG may be long gone, following his dismissal immediately after the FA Cup triumph, the 64-year old laid the cornerstone within which the next generation of Manchester United superstars should be firmly built.


The most accomplished

Of the 14 academy graduates, Marcus Rashford is the most accomplished.

At 18, the prodigy scored 7 goals in his first 12 appearances for the first team, an achievement that earned him a calling for England in the European Championship- overturning Wayne Rooney’s record to become the youngest English player to stage an appearance in the competition.

What was rather incredulous was that his goals didn’t come against the beating boys of the Premier League, but rather the league’s most elite, as Arsenal and Manchester City all fell victim to the thumping of his boot.

Likewise handed his first team debut in a similar fashion, Jesse Lingard impressed on his maiden season, summing up a total of 6 goals - chief among them the winner in the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace.


Fates of Keane and Pereira

On the defensive front, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson won over the hearts of the Old Trafford after impressing on their debuts, but what next for the rest of the debutants under LVG?

Borthwick-Jackson and Rashford have already committed their futures to the club by signing long term contracts, but where does the fate of Will Keane and Andreas Pereira lie?

Well, the two academy graduates got on the score sheet during United’s 2-0 win over Wigan Athletic in Jose Mourinho’s first pre-season friendly.

Will Keane, now 23, was a youth player at United alongside his twin brother Michael Keane who is now a defender at Burnley.

Will Keane, 23, was handed his first senior appearance by Sir Alex Ferguson during the 2011/12 season, but a gruesome knee injury hampered his progress making chances in the first team few and far between.

Pereira on the other hand was handed his debut by Louis van Gaal in 2014, but managed only two goals in 11 appearances in the whole of last season, although 9 of them were from the bench.


Mou’s reluctance in playing young talent

Mourinho’s notoriety for not handing as many debuts to academy graduates is well known.

Although he approved the contract extensions for Borthwick-Jackson and Rashford, he also signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - all of whom are forwards.

With United not playing in the Champions League, it’s hard seeing Andreas Pereira and Will Keane getting a run in especially with plethora of talent upfront.


Written by Brian Humphrey

Follow Brian on Twitter @brihum

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