Nothing energises Manchester United fans like seeing a bunch of academy graduates step up to the senior team. Since the time of the heroic Busby Babes, the Red Devils have been famed for blooding youngsters with confidence when most would be apprehensive.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Class of ‘92 was another generation of starlets that went on to become United legends. Last year, we saw the unfurling of Marcus Rashford's talent.
Jose Mourinho hasn’t always been one for rushing the untimely graduation of youth players. But circumstances presented him that opportunity this year.
Manchester United had another game at home to play, against Crystal Palace, before the all-important Europa League final next week against Ajax. For the last few weeks, Mourinho has been resting his key players and testing the bench strength.
In the last game of the season, the gaffer put up United’s youngest ever team in Premier League history – an average age of 22 years and 284 days. And that included the relatively elderly 31-year-old Wayne Rooney.
The injection of youthfulness brought a spark to the team and they went on to beat Palace 2-0 at Old Trafford. There was fluidity of movement, but the youngsters impressed most with their speed. And there was an element that has steadily been clouded over by the pressures of the modern game – ‘fun’ was back in football.
Rooney himself, who has been struggling with form all season, was back to his usual menacing self. But it seemed fitting that opening goal would come off the boots of a youngster – 21-year-old Josh Harrop. The 15th minute strike inspired United into putting up an entertaining performance, which was a mixture of practiced composure and carefree flair.
Paul Pogba was among the few ‘older’ players on the team-sheet. At 24, he’s imposed himself as one of the world’s best central midfielders. Yet his return to Old Trafford hasn’t been as on point. The Frenchman has been burdened with trying to lift the team singlehandedly on occasion, leading to a drop in confidence.
But on the night when his young teammates were putting on an irresistible show, he made his way into the box once gain and lashed home United’s second. Looking forward to the Europa League final, the strike was perhaps that boost of confidence Pogba needed all along.
Meanwhile, the likes of Axel Tuanzebe, Demi Mitchell, Scott McTominay, Josh Harrop and Joel Castro Perreira all acquitted themselves well. Even, the young Angel Gomes created ripples of excitement in the crowd for the few moments that he was on the field, because Sunday was a party atmosphere at Old Trafford.