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Man Utd academy extremes: Why Williams & Lingard can both inspire D'Shon Bernard

COMMENT: 'That's another one'. Surely Neil Bath, Chelsea's academy boss, will be saying as much to his staff when they sit down to watch Manchester United tonight...

And they will be watching. How could they miss it? Yet another one of their own, having come through the system at Cobham, is now about to make a first team debut - only this time it will be in a United shirt.

Two years ago, D'Shon Bernard left Chelsea reluctantly. And staff at the academy were disappointed to see him leave. But we've seen it this season. With the likes of Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi ahead of him, no-one could blame the then 16 year-old backing himself and moving up north for a new shot at a pro career.

And tonight, that gamble will prove justified - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the United manager, announcing Bernard would be making his first team debut at the Astana Arena in Kazakhstan.

Also in tonight's starting XI will be two of Bernard's U23 teammates Ethan Laird and Dylan Levitt. Like the ex-Blue, both Laird and Levitt will be making their first team debuts. And significantly, also like Bernard, Laird and Levitt are British born and raised.

There's no bias from Solskjaer. Why should there be? But as we've already mentioned this season, it can't go unnoticed that the kids making their way into the manager's first team are all local. Mason Greenwood has been outstanding. Brandon Williams a revelation. Axel Tuanzebe looks every bit a 10-year Manchester United player. And among many common traits, they're all British and were all identified by United's local scouts.

There has to be something in that. For all the work done by United on the continent. For all the foreign talent that has been signed to the academy - the best of Belgium, France and the Netherlands. The players managing to reach United's first team are British made. Only Tahith Chong, United's U21 Holland winger, has broken the mould in recent seasons. But this term, he's failed to match the strides made by Greenwood and Williams. Indeed with his contract running down, the only headlines Chong's been making are the threats from he and his agent about walking out on the club in June.

In the meantime, Williams has stepped in at left-back. With no fanfare and no outside expectations, another homespun product hasn't looked out of place at senior level. Williams carrying on the tradition of right-sided left-backs at United, following the path of Denis Irwin and Phil Neville. Significantly, the 19 year-old has been left at home to prepare for the game with Aston Villa.

And it's the example of Williams - more so than the 'pre-destined' Greenwood - which does make tonight worth watching. Solskjaer has shown he can pick 'em. And if he's handing a chance to Bernard, Laird and Levitt, it's being done with the club's future in mind. This is no token selection. As with Williams earlier this season, there's now a chance for this trio to make their mark. Williams is proof of that.

That's not to say the club's foreign youth teamers should be written off. Far from it. For this column, there'll be interest in seeing Largie Ramazani get on the pitch in Astana. The Belgium youth international has steadily progressed through the United system since arriving - significantly - from Charlton Athletic. Perhaps having those extra years in London has helped the former Anderlecht junior, as form has basically forced him into tonight's squad. With nine goals in 13 starts for the U23s, Ramazani has a big ally at the club in assistant manager Mike Phelan. Inside Carrington, there's a lot of hope around the 5ft 4in winger.

Further back, on the bench tonight will be 16 year-old Deji Sotona. The Waterford lad made headlines last month when it was confirmed he was the fastest player on United's books. Which is no surprise given his sprint background. Indeed, when we talk about the traditions Williams is upholding, Sotona has the potential to do the same. Just like Kevin Moran before him, Sotona is a late comer to the sport, Gaelic football was his game before catching the soccer bug just four years ago.

But for all the promise and expectation that tonight offers, there's also the other end of the scale - and it involves another Carrington graduate.

A year ago, Jesse Lingard was a World Cup veteran. He'd helped his nation to the final four, enjoying a big influence on that successful England campaign in Russia. Tonight, the soon-to-be 27 year-old, will line-up alongside players eight and nine years his junior. For Luke Shaw, it's understandable. The left-back will be making a first appearance since being forced from the pitch in August. It's a comeback game.

But no such excuse can be offered to Lingard. This should be humiliation for the midfielder. At the peak of his powers. Still regarded as a leader in the dressing room. Yet he's now making up the numbers in a dead rubber in Eastern Europe? This can't have been in the career plan.

Just like Williams, Lingard offers an example to those youngsters making their debuts tonight. And it's an example worth heeding. There's no breaks in this industry. No respite. If you're treading water, you're going backwards.

It's a culture that took Bernard away from London. And it's one that now has him on the brink of a first team debut. Bath and co will be delighted. Thanks to Solskjaer and his youth policy, another one of theirs is set to make it.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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