This weekend brought with it not just the start of the new Premier League season but also the return of academy football, and with another summer spending spree prompting a somewhat hypocritical Arsene Wenger to question Manchester United's continued commitment to youth development and even seasoned observers melodramatically decrying the state of the club's academy, you could be forgiven for wondering if the long-standing tradition of bringing through young players is under serious threat at Old Trafford.
There are definitely question marks regarding the club's strategy at formative level, and the fact remains that for all the talented players that roll off the Carrington production line (and well over 100 are currently playing professional football), you still have to go back to the Class of '92 to find the last academy product to truly establish themselves as a long-term fixture in the side. Nevertheless, the healthy homegrown contingent on the pre-season tour of the US, and the exciting performances of Andreas Pereira in particular, show that there's no lack of talent on the fringes of the first team, and even further down the ranks, there are a handful of prospects whose early progress suggests that any prediction of the United academy's demise may soon prove to be greatly exaggerated.
Not content with raiding former club Ajax for their best player in Daley Blind, another of Louis van Gaal's first acts as United manager was to bring the Amsterdam club's most exciting prospect to Manchester as well. Timothy Fosu-Mensah had long been on the club's radar and rejected overtures from Manchester City and Inter to join his compatriot at Old Trafford, where he immediately caught the eye with a series of dynamic displays in midfield. The 17 year-old was equally impressive when utilised at centre-back, exhibiting the sort of versatility so coveted by Van Gaal.
Captain of the Netherlands' Under 17 side at this year's European Championships, Fosu-Mensah may stand out at first glance due to his pace and imposing physique, but it's his composure on the ball and football intelligence that really mark him out as already too good for academy football. The coaching staff at United seem to agree, handing him an Under 21 debut towards the end of 2014/15 and naming him in the starting lineup for the all five pre-season games this term. Arguably the most impressive player on display in the first of those, against a battling Salford City side in atrocious conditions, the physical side of the step up to senior football is unlikely to trouble him unduly - first team involvement this season in a low-key cup game or Champions League dead rubber shouldn't be ruled out.
Axel Tuanzebe is a player from a similar mould, both in terms of maturity and physicality, although whilst Fosu-Mensah's eventual position may take some time to be determined, the DRC-born Tuanzebe is an out-and-out centre-back, another to emerge in a position that has been a real strong point for the United academy in recent years (indeed, his central defensive partner for most of last season, 16 year-old RoShaun Williams, is another prospect to keep a keen eye on). 6 foot-plus and with an impressive turn of speed, the 17 year-old is rarely beaten in the air or on the deck, and was deservedly named Academy Player of the Year for 2014/15 after marshalling arguably the best defensive unit in the country at that level last term.
Leadership is another string to Tuanzebe's bow, prompting Paul McGuinness to take the unprecedented step of appointing him as skipper of the Under 18s whilst still a first-year scholar, a role he excelled in whilst establishing himself as the rock at the heart of a remarkably stingy Reds rearguard. The only thing that stopped him playing every minute of the Under-18s' league campaign was a late-season promotion to Warren Joyce's Under-21 group, a move expected to be made permanent this season. Having already trained with the first team, and with constant whispers emerging from Carrington of the high esteem the teenage defender is held in by the club's coaching staff, further progress may not to be too long in coming.
Even younger than both of those is Callum Gribbin, or 'Callum Gribbin - dubbed the new Ryan Giggs' to give him the full title inevitably bestowed upon him by the English media on account of him being an exciting left-footed attacker emerging from United's academy. Gribbin featured regularly for the Under-18s last season whilst still a schoolboy, not an uncommon feat these days but one that typically sees clubs tread carefully with media coverage, so it raised eyebrows - and showed how highly-rated the 16 year-old is - when United's official Facebook page published an individual highlights compilation after a particularly impressive display against Aston Villa in March.
Persistent social media murmurs of a possible switch to Liverpool and some particularly teenage tweets from Gribbin himself only served to increase the hype around the youngster, and that went into overdrive when Van Gaal invited him to train with the first team squad in the first week of pre-season amid widespread speculation that a place on the US tour was a real possibility. That ultimately didn't materialise but the gifted young playmaker certainly made an impression on United's senior pros and has all the attributes to suggest he won't have too wait long for further experience in that company.
Gribbin's game bears little resemblance to the exhilirating wingplay that talk of a 'new Giggs' generally brings to mind, although to humour the comparison a little there are some similarities to the player that the Welshman eventually became, albeit a sprightlier, more forward-thinking version. Most at home as a number ten, the England youth international beats opponents with trickery and phenomenal close control rather than express pace, and possesses both an outstanding range of passing and the vision to put it to full use. A set-piece specialist with a definite eye for goal, the young Mancunian wants for little technically. Doubts persist about Gribbin's maturity and application (bringing to mind Ravel Morrison, another local product whose immense talent wasn't realised at Old Trafford) but with a four year contract now under his belt, the stage seems to be set for him to be fast-tracked, with regular Under 21 appearances the least we should expect this term.
With forward Marcus Rashford, winger Zak Dearnley and the aforementioned Williams also catching the eye, a good Youth Cup run should be the very least expected from this crop, and looking further ahead, if Van Gaal is as unenthused by those emerging from the current Under-21 setup as reports suggest, it could be to this group of young prospects that he - or his eventual successor - turns to infuse the first team squad with that vital homegrown contingent. With Jonny Evans clinging on as the last remaining senior pro to have come through the ranks, that has never been more important.
You can follow Nick on Twitter on @ManUnitedYouth