Football Features

“Better than Pogba by a country mile” – Future first-teamers & forgotten men from Man Utd’s 2011 FA Youth Cup winners

By Squawka News

Published: 16:19, 1 February 2021

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 10 separate occasions, including five times in the 1950s and, you guessed it, in 1992.

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Since the turn of the century, meanwhile, United have won two finals, in 2003 and again in 2011, when a squad packed full of talent beat Sheffield United 6-3 on aggregate.

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: 27
  • Current Club: West Bromwich Albion
  • 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 goalkeepers David De Gea and Sergio Romero 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 is their first-choice goalkeeper in the Premier League.

Right-back: Michael Keane

  • Age: 28
  • 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, though he is a reliable option for Carlo Ancelotti.

Centre-back: Sean McGinty

  • Age: 27
  • Current Club: Greenock Morton
  • 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, but he recently dropped down a division to join Greenock Morton.

Centre-back: Tom Thorpe

  • Age: 28
  • Current Club: Free agent
  • 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 has been without an employer since.

Left-back: Michele Fornasier

  • Age: 26
  • Current Club: Cremonese
  • 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 B with Cremonese.

Right wing: Jesse Lingard

  • Age: 27
  • Current Club: West Ham United (on loan from Manchester United)
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 210

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. He recently sealed a loan move to West Ham United in a bid to revive his international career.

Central midfield: Ryan Tunnicliffe

  • Age: 28
  • Current Club: Luton Town
  • 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 Luton following a spell with Millwall.

Central midfield: Paul Pogba

  • Age: 27
  • Current Club: Manchester United
  • Man United First Team Appearances: 191

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 has been heavily linked with the Old Trafford exit door almost constantly.

Lingard’s departure makes Pogba the only member of this team still plying his trade at Old Trafford.

Left wing: Ravel Morrison

  • Age: 27
  • Current Club: Free agent
  • 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 27-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. The Blades sent him out on loan to Middlesbrough in January 2020. He once again struggled to reach his potential, though, and is now without a club after short-lived spell in Holland with ADO Den Haag.

Wayne Rooney recently wrote of the impression Morrison left on him in the Sunday Times: “I remember watching Ravel Morrison thinking he had everything required for a player in his position.

“He was brilliant. He was confident. He nutmegged Nemanja Vidic three times in the space of a minute in one training game.

“But he struggled with lifestyle and his environment, which was sad for him – because I saw Paul Pogba come through, Jesse Lingard, all these players and Ravel was better than any of them by a country mile.”

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Striker: Will Keane

  • Age: 28
  • 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 in League One with Wigan Athletic.

Striker: Gyliano van Velzen

  • Age: 26
  • Current Club: Telstar
  • 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.


Larnell Cole – Like Tunnicliffe, Cole joined Fulham in January 2014, but he’s made only one league appearance. He now plays for Radcliffe Borough

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 is now at Nottingham Forest.

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 last year to pursue work in coaching.