Top 5 Manchester United academy graduates who found success elsewhere

The Manchester United academy is renowned for bringing to fore some fantastic players over the years. However, some promising academy graduates had to leave the club to establish themselves and here are the top 5 stars who found success elsewhere.

#5. Tom Heaton

Tom Heaton played for the Manchester United’s U-17 team and the reserve side. However, despite being on the club’s books till 2010, he never played for the first team but he was named on the bench a few times.

Heaton went on loan to Swindon Town, Royal Antwerp, Cardiff City, Queens Park Rangers, Rochdale and Wycombe Wanderers when he was at Man Utd before joining Cardiff City on a permanent deal.

In his two seasons at the Welsh club, he helped them to the final of the League Cup but couldn’t establish himself as the undisputed first-choice goalkeeper and thus, he moved to Bristol City.

He only stayed at Bristol City for one season as the club was relegated from the Championship at the end of the season and moved to his present club, Burnley, at the start of the 2013/14 season.

Since joining the Clarets, Heaton has been the undisputed first-choice goalkeeper at the club and has gone on to play 195 games. Even though former England number one, Joe Hart, is at Burnley, Heaton has been starting regularly in goal since returning from a long-term injury.

The 32-year-old’s brilliant form at club level hasn’t gone unnoticed and he’s a regular in the England squad albeit as a backup goalkeeper. However, he has played three times for the Three Lions.

#4. Michael Keane

Like Tom Heaton, Michael Keane is another Manchester United academy product turned England international who rose to fame at Burnley. However, unlike Heaton, Keane played for the first team.

In fact, he made five appearances before leaving for Burnley in 2014 after loan spells with Leicester City, Derby County and Blackburn Rovers.

Keane played 108 games for Burnley with the majority of them coming in the Premier League before joining Everton in 2017 for an initial fee of £25 million that could rise to £30 million. In 2017, he also made his England debut and has gone on to play seven times for the national team while also scoring once.

The 26-year-old’s debut season with Everton was not a great one but he has grown in confidence under Marco Silva and is a regular starter despite tough competition for places.

Before Keane joined Everton, he was linked with a return to Manchester United. A future return to his boyhood club cannot be ruled out as he’s still quite young.

#3. Joshua King

In 2008, when Ole Gunnar Solskjær took charge of the Manchester United reserves team, several players from Norway joined the club’s youth program and one of them was Joshua King.

King made two appearances for the first team and played on loan for Preston North End, Borussia Monchengladbach, Hull City and Blackburn Rovers before joining Blackburn permanently in January 2013.

While playing for Blackburn in the Championship, he only managed to score eight goals in 74 appearances in two and half seasons. However, when Bournemouth got promoted to the Premier League in 2015, he joined the club and has gone on to score 45 goals in 138 games.

The highlight of King’s Premier League career was scoring 16 goals in the 2016/17 Premier League season. His tally was only bettered by seven players and it was also only one fewer than the tally of Manchester United’s top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The 27-year-old has been linked with a return to Manchester United after Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed as manager. Maybe, we could see that happening in the summer.

#2. Gerard Pique

After spending most of his academy days with Barcelona, Gerard Pique moved to Manchester United in 2004 before signing a professional contract with Barcelona.

He made his debut for the club in the same year but only racked up 23 appearances for the club in four years as he was competing for a starting role with the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

Pique spent the 2006/07 season on loan at Real Zaragoza and in 2008, he returned to Barcelona on a permanent deal. He has been a crucial player for the club since and has gone on to play nearly 500 games while scoring 46 goals. 

Today. Pique is one of the most decorated footballers in the world having won 30 trophies at club level including three with Manchester United.

Despite only playing very few games for Manchester United, Pique has a special place in his heart for the club and called it his second home ahead of Barcelona’s Champions League match against his former club.

#1. Paul Pogba

Manchester United signed Paul Pogba from Le Havre in 2009 and the French club accused Man Utd of wrongdoing in the transfer. However, FIFA cleared United of breaking any laws and in 2010, the two clubs reached an agreement for the player’s transfer.

Pogba thrived in the youth and reserves team of United but he was annoyed by his lack of first-team opportunities under Sir Alex Ferguson. After only playing seven times for the club in 2011/12, he left United to sign for Juventus upon the expiry of his contract and this move did not go down well with Ferguson who accused the player of disrespecting the club.

The Frenchman went on to become one of the best midfielders in the world at Juventus and in four seasons, he played 178 games, scored 34 goals, provided 43 assists, won eight trophies, was named the Golden Boy award winner in 2013 and was named in the Serie A Team of the Year thrice. 

He picked up numerous other individual awards for club and country after leaving Manchester United and his rise to fame attracted interested from many top European clubs but it was United that signed him in 2016 for a then world record fee of £89.3 million.

Honourable mentions – Ron Robert-Zieler, Danny Drinkwater, Danny Simpson, Adnan Januzaj, Craig Cathcart and Dwight McNeil.