As Louis van Gaal prepared his side to take on Ipswich Town, some United supporters were left puzzled by the Dutchman’s decision to again omit James Wilson from the squad. The 19 year old has not started a first team game since featuring against Cambridge United in January, with many fans perceiving van Gaal’s insistence that Wilson not be sent on loan as indication that he would be given opportunities in the senior side – but as has been the case so far this season, Wilson was again left out of United’s 3-0 win.
In its current “Capital One” incarnation, the League Cup has long been the least glamorous competition in the English football calendar – as even lesser Premier League sides now use it as an opportunity to rotate their squads. Yet for United, a club which has been synonymous with youth development for decades, it has often provided a platform for young players to showcase their talents in the first team.
As such, Wilson’s involvement in Monday’s U21 fixture vs. Everton (along with compatriot Jesse Lingard) provoked considerable ire among sections of the United support – it was clear indication that Wilson would remain out of the first team setup for the time being. Louis van Gaal later confirmed the pair’s exclusion by stating that he “didn’t need” them for the third round victory.
Van Gaal is often blunt in his use of English and his statement provoked some knee jerk reactions regarding Wilson’s future at the club. The disappointment surrounding his absence is understandable but the Dutchman’s record in moulding young players suggests that United fans should be patient. Having been spoiled in the past by the success of the “Class of ‘92”, there is a slight tendency among the support to set unrealistic expectations regarding young players.
Adnan Januzaj was thrust into the first team at 19 and despite enjoying a spectacular start to his senior career, his development has stalled and he has since been loaned out to Borussia Dortmund. Januzaj retains the potential to be a future star for United but the hype which was inevitably generated around him on social media does not appear to have helped his progress.
Anthony Martial, born four days apart from Wilson, has already been compared to Thierry Henry despite having only played two Premier League games. There has been some concern that his arrival is blocking Wilson’s path into the first team, however competition for places at a club such as United is commonplace and should not be perceived as negative. The composure and confidence shown thus far by Martial suggests a maturity beyond his years, but at such a tender age there will likely come a time where he will find himself out of the side as well.
Circumstances can change remarkably quickly in football, and setbacks in a young player’s career are to be expected, as was tragically demonstrated by Luke Shaw’s recent injury. Wilson’s current exile from the first team setup should not be cause for panic – van Gaal has remarked publicly that he rates the young striker, and Ryan Giggs is a known admirer of his talents. Whilst he will have been disappointed not to make the first team squad, a goal and an assist for the U21s was the perfect way to remind his manager that despite the fanfare surrounding the undoubtedly excellent Martial, United have more than one promising 19 year old at the club.
Such an assured display suggests Wilson is not worried by the current situation, and neither should United fans.