When he made it onto the field against Crystal Palace on Sunday, Angel Gomes fell just 78 days short of Duncan Edwards’ mark of 16 years and 185 days at the time of making his league debut for Manchester United.
It might well be one hell of a burden for a player so young to be mentioned in such company, but it does say a lot about the English youth star’s potential that Jose Mourinho was ready to call him up at such a tender age. As the Portuguese boss made it clear he was ready to shuffle his pack extensively just three days ahead of United's Europa League final against Ajax, it was Gomes’ name which courted the greatest attention among the youngsters who jostled for position in the matchday squad.
While Joel Pereira, Scott McTominay, Matty Willock, Joshua Harrop, Zak Dearnley and Kieran O’Hara have all served apprenticeships in the reserves over the past couple of years, the 16-year-old has blasted his way straight from Kieran McKenna’s Under-18s side into the first-team squad. His five-minute runout as a replacement for Wayne Rooney was a worthy reward for the young man who last Thursday became the youngest player ever to receive the Jimmy Murphy Award as United’s Youth Team Player of the Year.
Angel’s father, Gil, was born in Angola but moved to Portugal as a youngster and came through Benfica’s academy before spending the end of a nomadic playing career with the likes of Hendon, Salford City and Hyde United. It was during his spell with Hendon that his son was born, and Angel has gone on to captain his country of birth at U16 and U17 level. The footballing family connection runs deeper than the father-son combination, too, since his cousin is former United winger Nani, who now plies his trade in Spain with Valencia.
Gomes’ potential has built himself a phenomenal reputation at Carrington and while his diminutive frame is the first thing many will have noticed at first sight on Sunday, his majestic ball control and quick feet have the ability to mesmerise onlookers. In a group of very talented U18s, which includes superb attacking talents such as Tahith Chong, Indy Boonen, DJ Buffonge, Aidan Barlow, Josh Bohui and Nishan Burkart, Gomes has regularly stolen the show this season. His 12 goals in 19 games have helped lead United to a decent finish in the top group of the end-of-season play-off system at U18 level.
His ability to work in tight spaces sets him out from other players of his age, and with the hope that he will eventually grow in physical stature comes the belief that he can only become an even better player in time, too. His phenomenal talent is certainly deserving of having a footballing stature to match.
"Obviously, it's a dream come true," Gomes told MUTV after the 2-0 win on Sunday. "I've been here since the age of six, working my way up and it's what everyone dreams about.
"I just want to thank the manager for putting me on the bench and playing me today, and all the staff back at the club and everyone who has helped me. I'm from Manchester, Salford and it's literally down the road. It's just unbelievable."
This could just be the start though for Gomes, with his first-team debut now under his belt and a raft of opportunities lying on the road ahead. He might only have made it onto the Old Trafford pitch for the final few minutes of the league season, but Angel Gomes has already announced himself as one of Manchester United’s stars of the future.