Although Manchester United have, by far, the best record for playing home grown talent since the last World War, the 2 positions we have struggled to make a breakthrough in the last 25 years has been Goalkeeper and a Striker. Why that is I really cannot figure out as we have done really well in every other position on the pitch. It could be argued that Welbeck will one day turn into a prolific striker but at the moment that isn’t the case
Hopefully that barren run for a home produced striker will soon come to an end in the shape of current U-18 player James Wilson.
We have had several very good young goalscorers at the club over the last decade, players like Rossi. Ebanks-Blake, Campbell and so on but I never felt any of those would make a long term career at United, with Wilson, I have genuine high hopes that he will eventually make the grade.
I’m not one for getting too worked up about long term prospects for good young players as the step up is huge and its getting harder to fit youngsters into a team, although as we have seen with Januzaj, if you’re good enough then a good manager will find a spot for them.
Wilson hails from Biddulph and was born in December ’95 (wow, that makes me feel ancient), and has been connected to United from the age of 7!
He made his United U-18 debut at the tender age of 15, and scored, against Everton in the 2011-2012 season and has been finding the net ever since. Later that same season he hit the headlines by scoring the winning goal, 7 minutes into injury time, in an FA Youth Cup game v Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford, whilst still only 16, surely the dream of every schoolboy playing in that competition.
A broken ankle kept him out of the game for a considerable period but once he had regained full fitness he has gone from strength to strength
Last season, despite his long term injury, he still managed 14 goals at U-18 level, including a 5 goal haul away at Newcastle United in a 7-1 win. He was in devastating form that day, scoring 4 in the first half and 3 in a 4 minute spell!
What really stood out for me that day was his coolness when under pressure, When players are one on one with a keeper to beat, some players seem to have too long to think about what to do and end up panicking, not this lad. More often that not, he simply rounds the keeper like they are not there to score. In over 40 years watching United, I have never seen a player of any age round a keeper as often as this kid does, what makes it even better is he often does it at blistering pace. When he has the ball at his feet and sets off on a run, he is simply unstoppable and its a true joy to watch a boy with so much skill and confidence.
For an example of the power, pace and ice in his veins take the goal he scored in the recent FA Youth Cup game away at Burnley. Wilson had been a constant threat to the Burnley back line all night with his runs and his ability to hold the ball up and bring others into play. In the second half, he received the ball with his back to goal a few yards inside his own half. He had 2 defenders directly on him and a further 2 players covering those defenders. He took the ball, turned in an instant and he was off, with all 4 defenders in his wake and he raced towards the Burnley area. He took the ball up to the Burnley keeper, went round with embarrassing ease and tucked the ball away with his preferred left foot. Anyone who saw the goal must have marvelled at the ease at which he executed it all and the pure mastery of his profession.
As I say, he is left footed but he scores just as many goals with his right foot and his fair share with his head. Although I have mentioned his power when on the ball, he is a very slight lad right now but will no doubt get some muscle on his bones as he gets older and hopefully that extra bit of bulk wont affect his speed nor excellent balance.
Of course it is very early days for the boy and he is yet to claim a regular U-21 spot, never mind making the ultimate step up. Currently, he is still mainly with the U-18s but has played a few Reserve games and has scored a couple of goals at that level this season. With Will Keane and Nick Powell out on loan, I’m hoping he will get more Reserve games under his belt for the second half of this season and cement a spot there next season.
Like all young players, he has it all to do to shift one of the established squad players out of his way but I firmly believe that Wilson will one day be leading the line, and scoring goals, at Manchester United.