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Where Are They Now? 10 Former Manchester United Wonderkids & Their Unexpected Career Paths

Manchester United has a long history of developing young academy prospects who have gone on to become superstars. However, for every David Beckham and Marcus Rashford, there are promising youngsters who fail to reach their full potential at the club. In this article, we will look at ten Manchester United youngsters who were once destined for greatness but have since faded from view. Let’s look into their backstories and see where they’re currently playing.

1. Tyler Blackett

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Tyler Blackett was a promising youngster for Manchester United who cemented his place in the first team under Louis van Gaal’s management. The Dutchman rated him highly and started him in his first 5 games at the club. Blackett was born in Manchester and began his career in the Manchester United youth system in 2002. The club rated him highly, and he made his debut in August 2014. Blackett was lauded for his assured and confident performances, which are not typically associated with young players, and Louis van Gaal rated him highly. After a bright start to his career, he was eventually sold to Reading in 2016 after failing to establish himself in the first team.

After leaving Manchester United, Blackett’s career has been rocky. In the 2016–17 season, he made 11 Premier League appearances for Reading but was unable to prevent the club from being relegated to the Championship. In 2019, Blackett joined Nottingham Forest, where he made 20 appearances in his debut season. However, he had trouble getting playing time in the 2020–21 season, and the team released him at the end of the campaign. Blackett then signed a short-term contract with Rotherham United until the end of the season in March 2023. After a decent short spell, he was renewed for another year with the Millers, who play their football in the Championship.

Blackett’s failure to make the team disappointed Manchester United and its supporters after his bright start. Former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal once said of Blackett, “Tyler Blackett is a big talent with a bright future ahead of him.” However, Blackett’s inconsistency and lack of experience at the highest level prevented him from reaching his full potential at the club. Despite his difficulties, Blackett remains a talented player with the potential to make it back to the Premier League one day, even if he never reaches his potential.

2. Federico Macheda

Federico ‘Kiko’ Macheda is a name that most Manchester United fans will never forget. The Italian was born in Rome and joined Manchester United when he turned 16 in 2007. Kiko Macheda’s name is etched into the history of the club, and his debut goal against Aston Villa in 2009 is something that will probably never be forgotten. It was a stunning last-minute winner that helped Manchester United win the Premier League title. Macheda was hailed as the next big thing at the club after this, and his goal was seen as a sign of what was to come.

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Macheda, though, was unable to capitalise on his success and struggled to establish himself in the first squad. He only appeared in 19 Premier League games for Manchester United before being transferred to Cardiff City in 2014. Macheda has since played for several Italian and Greek clubs, including Novara, Bari, Panathinaikos, and Reggina.

Macheda’s failure to make it at Old Trafford disappointed Manchester United and its supporters. Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, previously praised Macheda, saying, “He’s got a wonderful talent, and he’s got a great future.” Macheda’s raw ability got him to where he initially was at United, but the instant success probably went to his head. His work ethic was questioned, and the pressure and poor loan decisions stopped him from reaching his full potential at the club.

My life changed that day and it has never been the same since. Nobody gave a f— who I was before that goal but the day after I would go to the Trafford Centre and have 100 people around me. I enjoyed it at the start.

Kiko Macheda’s interview with Andy Mitten for ESPN FC

In an interview with The Guardian in 2009, Macheda’s father stated that his son made the right choice by leaving Lazio as a 16-year-old to join Manchester United. Macheda himself still regrets ignoring Sir Alex Ferguson’s instruction to join another English club on loan rather than return to his native Italy. Macheda is currently playing in Turkey after returning from a loan spell in Cyprus. It is safe to say his career did not reach the top, but for a lot of fans, he will go down in United folklore forever.

3. Adnan Januzaj

Adnan Januzaj, a talented Belgian footballer, was once a promising youngster for Manchester United but failed to fulfil his potential at the club. Born in Brussels to Kosovar-Albanian parents, Januzaj joined Manchester United’s youth system at the age of 16, having impressed scouts with his skills and natural grace on the pitch. In his youth, Januzaj rejected call-ups to play for Belgium a number of times stating that he would prefer to play for Albania, as he grew up idolising Albanian legend Cana and respected his parent’s roots. He broke into the Manchester United first team during the 2013–14 season under manager David Moyes as a rare bright spark in a poor season.

Januzaj’s rise to prominence was swift, and his performances caught the attention of fans and managers alike. Moyes hailed him as the best player in his age group since Wayne Rooney, and there was a sense of excitement around his potential. Januzaj’s technical ability and ability to take on opponents made him an ideal fit for Manchester United and their fanbase. Januzaj played similarly to Alejandro Garnacho; he was a direct winger with good skill and feared no defender.

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However, despite the initial promise, Januzaj struggled to maintain his form and secure regular playing time under subsequent managers, including Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho. He had loan spells at Borussia Dortmund and Sunderland, which did not provide the breakthrough he had hoped for. Eventually, Januzaj left Manchester United and joined Real Sociedad in 2017.

Januzaj’s career at Real Sociedad had shown signs of revival, but he was since signed by Sevilla as a free agent and loaned to Turkey. He initially became a key player for Sociedad and helped them qualify for the Europa League in the 2019–20 season.

The reasons behind Januzaj’s failure to make it at Manchester United are multifaceted. There were reports of him becoming defensive and feeling that other players were jealous of the attention he received from fans. Additionally, changes in management and tactical approaches may have impacted his opportunities and development at the club.

Januzaj’s story serves as a reminder that the path to success in football is not always straightforward, even for highly-rated youngsters. Talent alone is not enough to guarantee a successful career, and factors such as consistency, adaptability, and the right environment play crucial roles in a player’s development. Sometimes, too much can come too soon, and without patience, you can find yourself taking too many steps back without taking the same steps forward.

4. Nick Powell

Nick Powell was once a highly rated youngster at Manchester United, but he failed to make it to the top. Powell was born in Crewe, England, and joined his hometown club Crewe Alexandra at the age of five. He made his professional debut for the club in 2010 and quickly established himself as one of the most promising young players in the country. In 2012, Manchester United signed him for a reported fee of up to £6 million.

Sir Alex Ferguson was so sure of Powell’s talent that he tipped him to take over from Paul Scholes and described the teenager as ‘an absolute certainty to be in the England team one day.’

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Powell made his debut for Manchester United in a pre-season friendly against Ajax Cape Town in July 2012. He scored on his competitive debut for the club in a League Cup tie against Wigan Athletic in September 2012. However, Powell struggled to establish himself in the first team and was sent out on loan to Wigan Athletic, Leicester City, and Hull City. He eventually left Manchester United in 2016 and joined Wigan Athletic on a permanent basis.

Powell’s failure to make it at Manchester United was a disappointment for the club and its fans. Patrice Evra explained where he believed Powell got things wrong at the club:

“He (Powell) didn’t integrate; he wasn’t part of the group, and you had no idea what he was thinking as he looked through you,” Evra wrote.

“He was only a young lad, but you’re not too young to be judged at United.”

When asked about his own failure at United, Powell blamed his own self-doubt and lack of self-belief:

“I found it hard to believe I should be there. ‘I don’t want to do this,’ I’d think. ‘I didn’t come to Man United not to play.’ And yes, it did segregate me a bit because I was thinking, ‘What the f*** am I doing here?’ That was probably my biggest issue.

“I’d go home and try to forget it all. That’s part of the reason why people get the perception that I don’t care. I didn’t want to bring it home because it would annoy me even more. So I’d play Call of Duty, PlayStation, things like that, just to forget about the fact I was not playing football.”

Powell is now 29 years old playing for League Two club Stockport County, which, in all honesty, it a bit of a travesty for a player who should be playing in the top flight for an elite club given his ability.

5. Ravel Morrison

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Ravel Morrison was once considered one of the most talented young players of his generation while in Manchester United’s academy. When Morrison was eight years old and playing for Fletcher Moss Rangers, a team that also produced Danny Welbeck and Wes Brown, United’s academy coach Phil Brogan noticed him. Morrison’s talent was evident from a young age, and he was once seen as the future of Manchester United. However, he failed to establish himself in the first team and had to leave the club to revive his career.

Morrison’s story is one of unfulfilled potential and missed opportunities. He was highly rated by Sir Alex Ferguson, who described him as having “as much natural talent as any youngster we ever signed”. Rio Ferdinand also praised Morrison, calling him “the best young kid I have ever seen in my life”. However, Morrison’s off-field issues prevented him from fulfilling his potential at the club. He struggled with personal problems and was involved in several incidents that led to disciplinary action. With rumours of Rio Ferdinand’s watch being stolen by Morrison, it was felt that he was a bad egg, and he was surrounded by friends who were also bad eggs.

Morrison later admitted on the 5ive Podcast with Rio Ferdinand that he did steal boots from players like Wayne Rooney:

“You used to get like £250 for a pair of boots. You take two pairs of boots, you get £500 and you go home and buy your family a Chinese or something. 

“You guys used to get like 30 pairs of boots. I didn’t mean it to cause so much harm but when I used to see yours or [Wayne] Rooney’s deliveries, you’d get 20-30 pairs at a time, I was thinking one pair to put some food on the table at home, I didn’t think it would be a big problem but obviously now I know.”

5ive Podcast with Rio Ferdinand

Morrison’s career after leaving Manchester United was ultimately a disappointment. He played for several clubs, including West Ham United, Lazio, and Sheffield United, but has struggled to maintain consistency and establish himself as a top-level player. Morrison’s talent has never been in doubt, but his lack of discipline and focus have prevented him from fulfilling his potential.

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Sir Alex Ferguson said about Morrison: “My first and lasting impression of Ravel as a young lad is that he always had time and space, always available to be on the ball, so unusual for a young lad of his age.

“Another thing about Ravel that I will always treasure, because no other young player ever did it, after the first game for the first team that he played, the next morning he came to my office and gave me a letter thanking me for giving him his debut. I was gobsmacked. The boy had a good heart, he was just beaten by his background.”

Morrison’s story is a cautionary tale of how talent alone is not enough to guarantee success in football. The right environment, discipline, and focus are crucial for a player’s development and career. Despite his struggles, Morrison remains a talented player who has the potential to succeed at a high level if he can overcome his personal issues.

As Sir Alex Ferguson said:

“Sadly, there are examples of players who have similar backgrounds to Ryan Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo who, despite enormous natural talent, just aren’t emotionally or mentally strong enough to overcome the hurts of their childhood and their inner demons”

Sir Alex Ferguson on Ravel Morrison

6. Angelo Henriquez

Angelo Henriquez was once a promising youngster for Manchester United, but he failed to make it to the top. Born in Santiago, Chile, Henriquez joined Universidad de Chile’s youth system at the age of 12. He made his professional debut for the club in 2011 and quickly established himself as one of the most promising young players in the country. In 2012, Manchester United signed him for an undisclosed fee believed to be around £1,5 million.

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Despite scoring during United’s 2013/14 pre-season and staying at the club for two years after Ferguson’s retirement, the Chilean never played a competitive minute for Manchester United. He struggled to establish himself in the first team and was loaned out to Wigan Athletic and Real Zaragoza. He eventually left Manchester United in 2015 and joined Dinamo Zagreb.

Henriquez’s failure to make it to Manchester United was a disappointment for the club and its fans. Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson once praised Henriquez, saying,

“He’s a good young player and has a future with us. Angelo fits the profile of a United player – skilful, attacking and someone who plays the game with real flair,”

However, Henriquez’s lack of consistency and experience at the highest level prevented him from fulfilling his potential at the club, but he has had a decent career and has played multiple times for the Chilean national team, playing 14 times. He is currently playing in the Russian Premier League for FC Baltika Kaliningrad after spending some time in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Poland.

7. John Cofie

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John Cofie was once described as a prodigy, and by the age of 14, he was a £1 million player. Born in Aboso, Ghana, Cofie began his football career as a youth player with Burnley. After Burnley rejected a £250,000 bid from Liverpool for Cofie in November 2007, he refused to return to training with the club. At the age of 14, Manchester United signed Cofie for a fee of £1 million.

Cofie struggled to establish himself in the first team at Manchester United and was loaned out to Royal Antwerp in Belgium in 2012 to gain valuable first-team experience. He eventually left Manchester United in 2013 and joined Barnsley on a free transfer. Cofie’s career after leaving Manchester United has been that of a journeyman. He has played for several clubs, including Wrexham, AFC Telford United, and Southport, before finishing his career in the Philippine Football League with Global FC. Cofie retired from football at the age of 27. When asked about his retirement, he had the following to say:

“I wasn’t debating it for years, I just fell out of love with the game, I didn’t enjoy it anymore.”

John Cofie

He now works as a football coach at a Lancashire school.

8. James Wilson

James Wilson was once considered the Wonderkid. Not only at Manchester United, but globally.

Wilson’s career never quite met the hype and heights many had anticipated. Wilson was born in Staffordshire, England. He joined Manchester United’s youth system at the age of seven. He showed immense talent and drew comparisons to players like Javier Hernandez and his hero, Wayne Rooney.

Lionel Messi rated Wilson, and in a campaign launched by Adidas called the “Backed By Messi” campaign, Messi endorsed 10 young players from around the world with new Messi15 football boots, and Wilson was one of the 10.

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Wilson’s breakthrough moment came on May 6, 2014, when he made his first-team debut for Manchester United against Hull City. In that match, the 18-year-old striker scored twice, showcasing his clinical finishing ability and announcing himself to the football world. His performance earned him praise and raised expectations for his future at the club. He was no longer a prospect; there was expectation.

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However, despite the promising start, Wilson struggled to establish himself in the first team at Manchester United. He had limited opportunities and was often sent out on loan to gain more playing time and experience. Wilson had loan spells at clubs like Brighton & Hove Albion, Derby County, and Sheffield United, but he couldn’t quite replicate his debut form consistently.

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Some will say that he didn’t have the talent, but Wilson certainly did. I believe it was a combination of two things that derailed Wilson’s career. Injuries, including a year out from a cruciate ligament tear and a multimillion-pound contract at 18 years old. He went from £1,500 a week to £30,000 a week in 2015 to stave off interest from the prodigious talent at the time. Too much, too soon.

Wilson now plies his trade at League One’s Port Vale. He will always have the memory and feeling of scoring twice on his debut for one of the biggest clubs in the world, but we can’t help but wonder, what could have been.

9. Davide Petrucci

Davide Petrucci dazzled in the reserves for Manchester United, but he failed to make it to the top due to injuries. Petrucci had everything he needed to make it at the club except for one key thing: luck.

14 years ago, the ‘Daily Mail’ headlined an article regarding the club’s latest transfer coup (yes, at the time it really seemed to be one) by the Red Devils.

“United grab new Totti and give his dad a job too”.

When Manchester United won the race to sign him in 2008, it looked like they were onto a winner. In 2008, the Giallorossi newspaper ‘Il Romanista’ defined Petrucci as “probably the best product of our youth team. In three or four years, he will be worth 100 times more”. A jewel “stolen from under the nose” by Manchester United. The Italian youth international was held in high regard after coming through the ranks at his hometown club, AS Roma, but left without playing a minute for the first team.

Petrucci spoke about his Manchester United experience, saying,

“It was incredible… I would not have swapped my United experience for anything”.

Despite the initial promise, Petrucci struggled to break into the Manchester United first team. He was loaned out to clubs like Royal Antwerp and Charlton Athletic. When Ferguson left, Petrucci was already 21 years old, and David Moyes’ decision to loan him out seemed to suggest the end was near. After temporary stints at Royal Antwerp and Charlton Athletic, he opted to leave permanently in the summer of 2014 and began the start of his nomadic journeyman career.

Petrucci’s career took him to different countries and clubs, including Turkey, Romania, and Israel, but at 32 years old, he finds himself back in Italy in the Serie C Group C with Brindisi FC. He was part of a talented generation at Manchester United that included players like Jesse Lingard, Larnell Cole, Will Keane, Michael Keane, and Paul Pogba (with whom he lived) that won trophies at Old Trafford. Despite not making a breakthrough at Manchester United, he looks back on his time at United fondly.

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10. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson

Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was a unique footballer. He gave off the sort of vibe that nothing would ever phase him, even from an early age. Born in Manchester, England, Borthwick-Jackson joined Manchester United’s academy at the age of six. He made his professional debut for the club in November 2015 and quickly established himself as a prospect for Louis Van Gaal’s side.

CBJ as he was affectionately known by the Manchester United fanbase, was known for his exceptional crossing but lacked some other key defensive attributes to make it at Manchester United.

After 14 games for Manchester United in his debut season, he was perpetually loaned out until his contract expired in 2020. Since then, he has found a new home in Poland, moving to Ekstraklasa side Śląsk Wrocław on a two-year deal with an optional one-year extension in 2023.

When asked about the reason why he feels he didn’t make it at Man United he partially blamed the loans he had away from the club.

For me the loan system doesn’t work properly. When I went out on loan, I had an average of three coaches per season. So it was difficult to maintain consistency of work – you know, one trainer likes you, the other doesn’t necessarily like you. 

On my first loan the coach was fired after a month, then I had an interim coach for three games and then another one. In October I already had three coaches – on my first loan! It wasn’t easy, I was young. That’s what football is like. Sometimes you work, but it doesn’t always work.

These ten Manchester United youngsters were once seen as the future of the club but have since disappeared from the spotlight. While some have found success at other clubs, others are still trying to revive their careers. It serves as a reminder that the path to success in football is not always straightforward nor linear, and talent alone is not enough to guarantee a successful career.

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