As Manchester United gear up for another globe-spanning preseason tour, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can only hope that the Australian leg proves as successful as the club’s first visit more than fifty years ago. In 1967, Sir Matt Busby led his First Division champions to seven emphatic wins from eight Down Under.
But it’s not the dominant record that made the ‘67 Australia tour something to remember. Instead, the strong play of Brian Kidd caught Sir Matt’s attention and convinced the veteran manager that this youngster was ready to step up to the first team.
Just days after celebrating the club’s seventh league title, the Reds jetted off to Los Angeles en route to Australia. Everywhere the English champs went, crowds flocked to catch a glimpse of famous football heroes like George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton. But, by match’s end, many left the grounds marveling over the relatively unknown teenager who stole the show.
Kidd celebrated his 18th birthday on the tour and left no doubt that the only present on his list was a first-team role in 1967/68. He scored a brace in United’s impressive 3-0 win over Northern New South Wales and then went one better with a hat trick against South Australia. With performances like those, Sir Matt had little choice but to promote Kidd to the senior team.
It worked out pretty well for both player and club. Kidd went on to play 203 matches in a red shirt, including the famous win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. (He also scored an extra-time goal in that one.) After hanging up his boots, Kidd returned to the Reds in 1988 to serve under Sir Alex Ferguson, most notably shepherding the Class of ‘92 into the United first team.
Sadly, it ultimately all went south between Kidd and Sir Alex, but he’s certainly written his name into the club’s history books as a prolific attacker. And it all started Down Under.
Now, more than fifty years later, Manchester United could really use another infusion of young talent. Will any of the club’s current academy stars channel their inner Brian Kidd and stake a first-team claim this summer on tour?
Solskjaer pledged a renewed emphasis on youth players and will likely invite several promising prospects on the trip to Australia. The opening match against Perth Glory, in particular, seems an excellent opportunity to give the youngsters a run-out.
Last season, José Mourinho took seven youth players to preseason in the United States, although that decision was heavily influenced by late-returning World Cup participants and the club’s lackluster transfer activity. It’s hard to say whether any more new signings will join Daniel James before the Reds leave on tour next month, but Ole would be wise to start his youth movement in Australia.
Consider his options:
- Mason Greenwood, the crown jewel of the United academy, announced his arrival with a dazzling performance against Cardiff City on the 2018/19 season’s final day. His finishing still needs a little work, but Greenwood certainly looked the part on his full debut. The 17-year-old should be in the first-team mix from day one.
- Axel Tuanzebe just wrapped up a smashing loan spell at Aston Villa and deserves a serious look ahead of the new season. Happily, Solskjaer agrees. The United boss already expressed his excitement at seeing the 21-year-old center back fight for a first-team place in preseason.
- Tahith Chong made his club debut in an FA Cup victory over Reading and also earned minutes in both the Premier League and Champions League. In fact, that included a ten-minute stint against Paris Saint-Germain with United desperately chasing a winner. Mourinho raved about Chong last summer and Ole seems to be similarly impressed.
- Other than a brief cameo against Crystal Palace, midfielder James Garner spent the vast majority of last season polishing his skills at youth level. The England U17 captain has drawn comparisons to a young Michael Carrick. Not bad.
- Lee O’Connor, an 18-year-old defender, is still waiting to be named in a match-day squad. Solskjaer added him to United’s Champions League list ahead of the Barcelona tie, but O’Connor’s debut will have to wait until 2019/20. Depending on how many defenders are signed this summer, he could get a look on tour.
- Ethan Laird, though, might be out of luck. If Aaron Wan-Bissaka signs (and that’s a big if), the young right back will find himself behind AWB, Diogo Dalot, and Ashley Young in the pecking order. His time will come, but perhaps not this summer.
- Angel Gomes debuted back in 2017, but still awaits a legit breakthrough after only two senior appearances under Solskjaer. He’s still just 18, but risks being passed by the next wave of academy boys.
With Manchester United set to compete in both the Europa League and EFL Cup this season, the coaching staff should have plenty of chances to dole out minutes to the above prospects and others like Brandon Williams and Dylan Levitt. Still, it’s up to them to seize any opportunity and force the issue just like Brian Kidd did back in 1967.