With all of the excitement of the senior squad taking shape and the Football League return looming large, it might seem like a side-story to have Manchester United Under- 17s coming to Sincil Bank. In reality we should perhaps be putting a little more importance on the friendly, because getting a United side of any age to the Bank is an achievement for the club.
At one point the ‘Class of 92’ will have played together at this level, and amongst the players appearing on Wednesday could be the next world superstar. Paul Pogba played for the Under-17s at some point too, this might be a youth team fixture but for our lads it is the biggest match of their careers. One minute they’re representing the first team at Gainsborough, the next they’re playing the Under-17 side of arguably the biggest football club in England.
The United team should be coached by Kieran McKenna, a man who spent seven years at Tottenham before injury forced him to end his playing career. In their ranks are some of the very finest young players in England today, and despite them being a ‘youth’ team, they are illustrious opponents.
One player to watch out for is Salford born Aidan Barlow (pictured right), whose name is a Mancunian as they come, although I’m assured he is not related to Deirdre. He’s made startling progress recently, finishing as the joint top scorer last season with Angel Gomes. He made his international debut for England under 17s during the European Championship finals, and scored within a matter of minutes against Ukraine in the group stages. He was also the only England man to successfully score his spot-kick in the shoot-out defeat to Spain in the final. Barlow may not feature Wednesday night as he has been off with the under 18s recently, the same as highly rated forward Nishan Burkat, a Swiss-born player recently signed from FC Zurich.
Di’Shon Bernard will almost certainly feature, he is a highly rated defender previously with Chelsea. The baby-faced centre-half won the FA Youth cup whilst with the West Londoners, and now he has switched blue for red. How talented must you be as a kid to move from Chelsea to Man United?
There are other players you won’t be familiar with now, but in the future they could be household names. Englishmen such as James Garner, a robust midfielder originally from Birkenhead. There is Ethan Laird too, a full back that has worked his way up through the ranks at United. He’s known for his immense pace and ability to get up and down the line with ease. Dion McGhee is a winger that has featured for the Under 18s, but is likely to been seen at Sincil Bank. He’s also comfortable operating in the space behind the front two, and offer versatility to the squad.
What about young James Thompson as well? He’s likely to start in the sticks having played most of last season for the Under-16s, but the Warrington-born stopper is another that looks to have a bright future ahead of him. D’Mani Bughail-Mellor, a Manchester-born player who has been with United all of his career, is also expected to be grace the hallowed turf of Sincil Bank. He’s highly rated by Keiran McKenna, and there is talk of him perhaps following in Marcus Rashford’s footsteps in knocking on the first team squad’s door.
Maybe we’ll see Welsh Under-17 international Dylan Levitt, or Ethan Galbraith who has represented Northern Ireland at the same level? Lee O’Connor would complete a hat trick of international if he started, he’s captained Eire and is rated as one of the hottest prospects hailing from the Republic of Ireland.
With the Imps back in the Football League the funding for our academy increases, and that will add to the superb work done by those at the club during the National League days. A friendly of this magnitude is a great opportunity to not only see some future stars in action, but also for our academy to measure itself against much bigger opposition. Roger Bates has worked tirelessly to provide money whilst we were in the National League, and you can help on Wednesday if you want, by ensuring you’re down at Sincil Bank watching some of the countries finest young players take on Manchester United.
All joking aside this is an excellent chance not just to see the stars of tomorrow, but also for our younger players to pit themselves against some of the very best in their age group. It is a friendly like no other, and despite it not being the Manchester United you recognise today, it is highly likely some of the names you’ll recognise tomorrow. I imagine our under 18s are desperate to get out on the pitch to try to match their top-flight opponents, and I sincerely hope there is a big crowd there to cheer them on in the biggest game of their young careers.
Admission prices for this prestige friendly are just £5 for adults and £2 for juniors and concessions, and both the Co-op and Selenity Stands will both be open. Disabled supporters will be located in the Bridge McFarland stand. The club have said parking will be available in the Stacey West car park on a first-come, first-served basis with entry for all stadium parking via Cross Street. The South Common will also be open for supporter parking.