“If they’re good enough, they’re old enough.”
– Sir Matt Busby
Those famous words from the late, great Sir Matt Busby have influenced the ethos of Manchester United and shaped the club’s DNA for decades.
The Red Devils have a long-running tradition that has seen an academy graduate included in every matchday squad since 1937. Shola Shoretire’s debut in their 3-1 victory against Newcastle extends the feat to 4,075 games, but also made him the 240th graduate to reach the first team.
With Shoretire’s debut in mind, here is a list of the youngest players to make their Manchester United debut throughout the 21st century.
Nick Powell signed for United in 2012 after breaking through at Crewe Alexandra and made his debut that September as a 71st-minute substitute, scoring 11 minutes later.
Louis van Gaal pulled him out of the gutter in December 2015 in a bid to save United from exiting the Champions League. No prizes for guessing how that panned out.
Scottish full-back David Gray made his first and only appearance for United’s first team in October 2006, playing 77 minutes against Crewe Alexandra.
He left in 2010.
Goalkeeper Ben Amos made his debut for United in September 2008 and made seven appearances for the club, one being a Champions League start against Valencia in 2010.
Several loans later, though, he never developed beyond a third choice and left in 2015.
An American with a German father, Spector impressed United scouts in a 2003 tournament and was signed as a result.
He won the club’s young player of the year award that year and made his debut in the 2004 Community Shield, but left in 2006.
Before gaining a reputation for floating around the lower-end Premier League sides, Bardsley was on the books at United as a youngster and debuted for the Red Devils in December 2003 against West Brom.
He also accidentally knocked out Wayne Rooney in a drunken play fight in 2015.
When he scored a brace on his debut under interim boss Ryan Giggs in March 2014, fans expected big things from James Wilson’s career.
It never materialised, however, and he now plies his trade with Salford City in League Two.
Remember David Gray from earlier? Kieran Lee made his debut in the same fixture, replacing Gray late on.
With the sides locked at 1-1 late in extra time, Lee scored the winner at the death to help United through to the League Cup’s next round with a 2-1 win.
A winger by trade, Barnes made his United debut as an 18-year-old in October 2006.
Following his release in 2008, Barnes has largely played non-league football.
A late inclusion following an injury crisis that saw Anthony Martial ruled out in the pre-match warm up, a young Marcus Rashford was thrown into the starting XI at the death by Louis van Gaal against FC Midtjylland in February 2016.
He bagged twice in a 5-1 victory, followed by another two goals in his Premier League debut three days later against Arsenal.
Still only 23, the sky truly is the limit for United’s electric number ten.
The first person in this list to be born in the 21st century, Ethan Laird made his debut in the Europa League in November 2019.
He has joined MK Dons on loan for the second half of the 2020/21 season and hopes remain high for the young right-back.
Teden Mengi was an unused substitute when Laird made his debut, but finally made a debut of his own in August 2020 against LASK.
He has joined Derby County on loan for the remainder of the 2020/21 season, managed by Wayne Rooney.
The Red Devils’ versatile Dutchman enjoyed a solid five years with the club before leaving in 2021 for pastures new.
Fosu-Mensah’s time at Old Trafford was dampened by injuries, but he still managed to contribute to FA Cup and Europa League wins.
One half of everyone’s favourite Brazilian duo at United, Rafael signed for the club with twin brother Fabio in 2008.
The more successful of the duo, Rafael left in 2015 with a fine trophy haul and remains a fan favourite among the Red Devils faithful.
Richardson signed for United from West Ham as a teenager and made his debut against Olympiacos in 2002.
Used largely as a utility man, he never quite nailed down his spot and eventually left for Sunderland in 2007.
As a youngster, Darron Gibson developed a knack for only scoring worldies during his time at Manchester United. He racked up ten goals as a senior, before leaving in 2012.
Things have since gone somewhat sour for the Northern Ireland international, but nobody can ever take away that strike against Bayern Munich in the 2009 Champions League quarter-final.
No matter who you are, to make your debut for Manchester United before even turning 18 means you’re doing something right.
Mads Timm couldn’t capitalise on the hype, though, and made just one appearance against Maccabi Haifa in 2002, before leaving in 2006 following a dangerous driving incident.
Garner won the 2019/20 reserve player of the year award at United and remains a midfielder that is highly rated by club staff and fans alike.
He is currently plying his trade on loan at Nottingham Forest in the Championship in a bid for consistent, senior minutes.
The tricky winger made his United debut in October 2003, but had to wait until April 2007 to get his first goal for the Red Devils.
His strike was one of lasting impact, putting a game against Everton to bed as United finished 4-2 winners and went five points clear in the 2006/07 Premier League title race – one that they would end up winning.
‘Dat Guy Welbz’ as he affectionately became known as stuck around at United for some time following a goalscoring debut in 2008.
We can’t help but shake the thought that life for Welbeck – and humanity – would’ve been vastly different had he not tried to dink Manuel Neuer in 2014.
Born in New Jersey to Italian parents, Giuseppe Rossi made his Manchester United debut aged 17 in 2004.
It never quite worked out at United, which still hurts fans to this day for such an exciting talent. He was welcomed back to train at Carrington in early 2019 in a bid to maintain fitness.
Signing Gerard Pique from Barcelona’s La Masia academy looked a huge coup for United in 2004. He made his senior debut that October, but timing was never in his favour.
The young Spaniard never found a way in as, eventually, a partnership was formed between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, and he returned to Barcelona in 2008.
He’s not done badly since.
This one hurts.
Ravel Morrison had the world at his feet. We’ve all heard just how immensely talented he was as a teenager, but life and its inconsistencies stopped us from seeing him in full stride.
Here’s hoping the 28-year-old can enjoy some happiness and a good run of games in the not-too-distant future.
Despite not managing to make it on his first crack of the whip as a youngster at Manchester United and leaving in 2013, King’s efforts in the Premier League with Bournemouth almost earned him a move back to Old Trafford.
With United desperate for an emergency striker at the start of 2020, the Cherries slapped a price on his head that the Red Devils deemed too high, ruling out a potential reunion.
Regan Poole’s only appearance for United’s first team came under Louis van Gaal as a substitute in their 5-1 victory against FC Midtjylland in 2016.
He was released in 2019 as one that slipped under the radar somewhat, despite signing with what seemed to be a lot of promise.
No matter how unfortunately Federico Macheda’s career may have fizzled out after its start, nobody can ever take away that debut goal.
Drawing 2-2 with Aston Villa, he popped up with a sublime finish outside the box to win United the game and send them on the way to the 2008/09 Premier League title.
Mason Greenwood’s debut capped off an unforgettable night for United as they overturned a seemingly impossible first leg deficit against Paris Saint-Germain, away in Paris.
He’s since shown the world that he has the potential to lead the line for the Red Devils for years to come with unrelenting finishing ability. Star boy.
The name on everybody’s lips, Shola Shoretire has already agreed to professional terms and joined United’s first-team setup having already ripped up the Under-23s at just 17 years old.
His debut against Newcastle is a moment he will cherish forever.
The one that got away.
It still feels strange that it went wrong for Angel Gomes at Manchester United, having made his debut for the club at 16 years old in 2017. Sixteen.
Now turning out for Boavista in Portugal, the midfielder has four goals and six assists to his name this season.
This one could turn out to be another Paul Pogba situation.