Garner, Levitt & the Man Utd youngsters tipped to join the first team next season

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James Garner Ethan Galbraith Dylan Levitt Man UtdGetty/Goal

While Manchester United remain hopeful of completing the current season, the Red Devils are continuing to look to the future as they evaluate the latest crop of players set to graduate from their academy.

United have a rich history of promoting homegrown talent. Indeed, it is now more than 1,000 matches since a first-team manager picked a squad without a single academy player.

The likes of Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, who only made his debut in September, have all played key roles under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season.

The good news is that United's Under-23s manager, Neil Wood, is confident that even more youngsters will make the step up to the first team over the next 12 months.

“A lot of them have moved forward significantly in their development and they’re now ready for the next stage,” Wood tells Goal . “I think there’s talent in there that’s kind of gone unnoticed as well.

"Jimmy Garner has scored loads of goals and he’s added that extra attacking edge to his game, which is brilliant. Dylan Levitt has fantastic vision, creativity and a great range of passing, which he showed when he played against Astana in the Europa League.

"And then you’ve got Ethan Galbraith, who has done excellently this season, as well as Di’Shon Bernard and Teden Mengi too. There are five or six doing really well and a few have already made their debuts. We will keep pushing those guys forward to try and get them to the first team.”

Of course, football at under-age level has also been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving United awaiting clarification on whether they will be promoted to the top tier of U23s football.

When the decision was made to end the season, Wood’s side were second in the Premier League 2 Division Two standings – a position which would normally secure qualification for the play-offs to determine promotion.

However, United were also just three points behind West Ham and had a game in hand on the leaders, making the premature conclusion of the campaign all the more frustrating for Wood and his players.

He insists, though, that no matter what happens regarding promotion, he is happy with the progress the team has made since he succeeded Ricky Sbragia as U23s boss last summer.

“The objective from the start wasn’t solely to get promoted; it was to get players as close as possible to the first team and get our team playing as close to Manchester United's style as possible,” he explained.

“As the season went on, we were doing well and really pushing West Ham. Once we got to February, we started to think about really going for promotion. The lads were confident of catching West Ham and that they could get the automatic spot. I was confident they could do that as well.

“It was disappointing for the season to finish like it did and, at the moment, we’re not sure what’s going to happen. But there’s still been plenty to be proud of, whatever the outcome.”

As a player, Wood joined United at the age of eight before leaving as a 22-year-old after a series of loan spells. He then spent time at Blackpool and Oldham Athletic before joining Bosnian side Zeljeznicar in 2008.

Given he also had a previous stint at Royal Antwerp in Belgium, Wood believes his experiences overseas have helped mould him as a coach.

As such, he has been keen to instil a modern approach into his players since returning to United as U23s boss, while at the same time recognising the club's proud tradition of attacking football.

Wood is, therefore, delighted that a United side that had been struggling following their relegation from Premier League 2 in 2018 propelled themselves into promotion contention this year by scoring the second-highest amount of goals across the two U23s divisions.

“For myself, the development has been massive this season," he admitted. "Learning lessons and decision-making – it’s all part of being a manager and, ultimately, you’re making the right decisions for your players to help them progress.

“I think my playing career has shaped me as a manager, When I look back the teams that I went to in the lower leagues in England, I didn’t learn that much. It was so rigid playing 4-4-2 and teams were playing long, direct balls, playing off second balls and managers were happy keeping possession and scoring from a set-piece.

"One of the reasons I wanted to go abroad is because I didn’t enjoy that part of playing. That definitely benefitted me, and I learned a lot.

“We want to dominate possession and be a fast, attacking team who can break quickly, create chances and score goals, while being strong defensively – and that’s what we have done.

“The season has gone well, the lads have played some good football, they’ve been challenged and we’ve tried to push them as much as we can.

"I’ve enjoyed working with the players, they’ve trained hard and pushed each other on and I’m proud of the way they’ve taken on board the way we want them to play.”

For now, at least, it is back to the drawing board for Wood as he begins planning for his second season in charge, though he will have to wait to learn which players he will have at his disposal and which will be either sent out on loan or be promoted to the first team.

“We’re constantly having conversations with the first-team staff about players coming up, coming down, what’s the plan and how we can improve certain individuals,” Wood adds.

“With loan moves, there’s not much movement from clubs at the moment in terms of next season, but we will sit down and discuss who might benefit from a move and to where, and work out a pathway for each player.

“Everyone understands the main goal is to get players to the first team. So, I’ll keep planning for next season and when we get the go-ahead to return, we can go and hit the ground running.”