Football Features

Future first-teamers & forgotten men from Man Utd’s 2011 FA Youth Cup winners

By Squawka News

Published: 22:30, 2 June 2023

It’s perhaps unsurprising that Manchester United are the most successful club in England when it comes to FA Youth Cup victories.

The Red Devils are responsible for the Busby Babes and Class of ’92 after all, and in total, they’ve lifted the trophy on 11 separate occasions, including five times in the 1950s and, you guessed it, in 1992.

Since the turn of the century, meanwhile, United have won three finals, in 2003, 2011 — when a squad packed full of talent beat Sheffield United 6-3 on aggregate — and 2022. But our focus is on that 2011 triumph.

Some of United’s starting XI from that two-legged final eventually forced their way into the first-team at Old Trafford. Others made a name for themselves elsewhere while a handful slipped down the football pyramid into the lower leagues.

But where are United’s Class of ’11 now?

Goalkeeper: Sam Johnstone

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: Crystal Palace
  • Man United First-team Appearances: 0

It’s incredibly tough for a goalkeeper to break into the first-team at a major club, as Sam Johnstone has found to his cost in recent seasons with international goalkeeper David De Gea standing in his way.

With first-team opportunities proving impossible to come by, Johnstone opted to drop down a division and into the Championship to play for Aston Villa on loan in 2017/18. He then joined West Brom on a permanent deal in the summer of 2018 and became their first-choice goalkeeper, before moving to Crystal Palace in 2022.

Right-back: Michael Keane

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: Everton
  • Man United First-team Appearances: 5

Keane made one Premier League appearance for United in Louis van Gaal’s second game in charge against Sunderland before moving on to Burnley, where he was a regular in their unsuccessful fight against relegation.

Now an established centre-back, Keane played a crucial role in the Clarets’ title-winning season in the Championship and made the step up to the Premier League seamlessly the subsequent year, earning England recognition in the process and a £30m move to Everton.

At Goodison Park, Keane has endured a mixed stint, sometimes finding himself in the England squad but at other times losing his spot in the Everton team, such as the 2022/23 campaign as he made just 12 Premier League appearances.

Centre-back: Sean McGinty

  • Age: 29
  • Current Club: Ayr United
  • Man United First-team Appearances: 0

The Maidstone-born defender joined United from Charlton Athletic in 2009 and did enough to earn a professional deal in 2011 just after the Youth Cup win before being sent out on loan to Morecambe, Oxford United, Carlisle United and Tranmere Rovers.

After failing to make the breakthrough at Old Trafford, McGinty was allowed to join Sheffield United in League One, but once again he struggled for first-team football.

Following a brief stint at Aldershot Town, McGinty joined Torquay United in 2016. Two years later he switched England for Scotland with Partick Thistle and he remains in the Scottish Championship, now with Ayr United.

Centre-back: Tom Thorpe

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: Macclesfield
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 1

Regarded as a potential first-teamer after captaining United to their Youth Cup success in 2011, Thorpe, like Keane, made just one solitary appearance in the Premier League, replacing Angel Di Maria against West Ham United in 2015.

He was surprisingly released from his contract at the end of the 2014-15 campaign and promptly joined Rotherham United in the Championship who loaned him to Bolton Wanderers for the 2016/17 season.

In 2017, Thorpe joined Indian Super League side ATK, formerly known as Atletico de Kolkata. He left the club in 2018 and went five years without a new team before joining Macclesfield in February of this year.

Left-back: Michele Fornasier

  • Age: 29
  • Current Club: Monopoli
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 0

The former Italy Under-19 international caused a stir when he joined United from Fiorentina in 2009 when the Italian club filed a complaint to Fifa, although no action was taken.

Fornasier failed to make the grade in the North West of England and returned to Italy, making 10 Serie A appearances for Sampdoria in the 2013-14 season before joining Serie A outfit Pescara a year later. Venezia signed him on loan but he went on to sign for Parma permanently, subsequently going out on loan again to Trapani.

He’s still in Italy to this day, but he now plays in Serie C with Monopoli after a spell with Cremonese.

Right wing: Jesse Lingard

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: Free transfer
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 232

At the relatively late age of 22, Jesse Lingard finally forced himself into first-team contention at his boyhood club to become a key man under former manager Louis van Gaal.

Lingard’s versatility, pace and energy became heavily relied upon by the Red Devils as the season progressed and he fulfilled every aspiring United youngster’s dream by scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace.

Following the appointment of Jose Mourinho, Lingard remained an important member of the first-team squad at Old Trafford and was rewarded with a new contract.

However, a difficult 2019 saw him lose his regular place for both United and England. Lingard did revive his career on loan at West Ham United in 2020/21 but failed to secure a permanent move away from Old Trafford, again playing a fringe role under Ralf Rangnick last season.

He eventually left last summer, opting to join Nottingham Forest over West Ham for a lucrative one-year deal, but it ended in disaster as he started just 12 Premier League games and failed to provide a goal or an assist. He was released from the club earlier this week and is now a free agent.

Central midfield: Ryan Tunnicliffe

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: Portsmouth
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 2

Former Manchester United first-team coach Rene Meulensteen brought Tunnicliffe to Craven Cottage during his brief spell in charge of Fulham in 2014, but he struggled to make an impression in West London.

After spending time on loan with Ipswich Town and Blackburn Rovers last term, Tunnicliffe was reunited with former youth team mentor Warren Joyce temporarily at Wigan Athletic. Both have since been ushered on by the Latics, however, and Tunnicliffe is now playing for Portsmouth following spells with Millwall and Luton.

Central midfield: Paul Pogba

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: Juventus
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 233

The one that got away for United, and surely one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest regrets in his time in charge of the club is seeing Pogba depart on a free transfer to join Juventus.

During his four years in Turin, Pogba developed into one of the finest central midfielders in world football, an opinion supported by his inclusion in the 2015 Fifpro Team of the Year.

After winning four successive Scudettos with Juve, Pogba elected to return to Manchester joining in a world-record £89m deal. He won the World Cup with France in 2018 but failed to replicated that form with Man Utd and eventually left last summer for a free transfer, re-joining Juve — though an injury hit 2022/23 has scuppered his reunion so far.

Left wing: Ravel Morrison

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: D.C. United
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 3

Another prodigious talent who departed Old Trafford too soon, but for markedly different reasons to Pogba. Ferguson regarded Morrison as one of the most naturally gifted talents to ever come through the youth ranks at the club, but his application was, sadly, where the Wythenshawe-born winger fell short.

His star briefly sparkled at West Ham in the 2013-14 campaign. But, much in the same way, his career in east London came to an acrimonious end last summer and he, like Pogba, moved to Italy, joining Lazio.

Following an indifferent spell in Rome, Morrison was loaned back to England, signing for QPR, where he previously had a temporary stint, before making a less conventional switch to Liga MX’s Club Atlas. In doing so, Morrison became only the second Englishman to play in Mexico’s top division.

The 29-year-old made a remarkable return to English football, joining newly-promoted Sheffield United on a one-year contract in 2019 after a short spell with Ostersund in Sweden but again struggled, even when sent on loan to Middlesbrough.

After another short-lived spell, this time in the Netherlands with ADO Den Haag, Morrison has found some consistency and stability in recent years. He flourished at Derby Count in 2021/22 under Wayne Rooney, and joined the Man Utd legend to D.C. United last summer.

Striker: Will Keane

  • Age: 30
  • Current Club: Wigan Athletic
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 3

Michael’s twin brother stuck around slightly longer at Old Trafford and was even briefly involved in the first-team under Louis van Gaal before being allowed to move on by Jose Mourinho.

Will Keane joined Hull City after their promotion to link up with former United assistant, Mike Phelan, but his season was ended prematurely by a serious knee injury. Keane made a handful of Championship appearances for the Tigers before leaving for Ipswich initially on loan and then permanently.

Keane is back in the North West and firing goals for Wigan Athletic. He topped the League One scoring charts in 2021/22 as Wigan gained promotion to the Championship, though his tally of 12 was not enough to prevent the club from finishing dead last this term and dropping straight back down.

Striker: Gyliano van Velzen

  • Age: 29
  • Current Club: Peyia 2014
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 0

A former Ajax youth prospect, Van Velzen moved to Old Trafford in 2010, winning the Youth Cup at the end of that season. He moved to Royal Antwerp in the 2012-13 campaign, where he worked under former Netherlands international Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

After failing to set the world alight in Belgium, Van Velzen was allowed to leave United at the end of that season, moving to FC Utrecht where he played for two years before moving to FC Volendam and Roda JC in the Dutch second tier.

He returned to England in 2019 with Crawley but after a loan spell at Aldershot, moved back to his homeland again with Telstar. He relocated to Cyprus last summer with Peyia 2014.


Larnell Cole – Like Tunnicliffe, Cole joined Fulham in January 2014, but he made only one league appearance. He’s now turning out for Warrington Town.

Tyler Blackett – Featured 11 times in the Premier League in 2014-15 but moved on to play under former Red Devil Jaap Stam at Reading and helped them to the Championship play-off final in 2017. Blackett moved to the MLS in 2021 with FC Cincinnati, but returned to England with Rotherham United earlier this year.

John Cofie – Joined United for £1 million as a 14-year-old from Burnley. Having moved on to Southport in non-league, he has spent the last few years in Ireland, Australia and the Philippines but decided to call time on his career in 2020 to pursue work in coaching.