By James Cooper, Sky Sports News’ North West reporter
The first place to start when discussing just how and why Angel Gomes left Manchester United is to make it clear that people at the club, including Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, wanted him to remain at Old Trafford.
United wanted Gomes to continue his development and fulfil the potential that saw him win the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year Award in 2017 and become the first player born in the 21st century to play for the club in the Premier League.
I guess that begs the question, then, why a career that started at United for Gomes as a five-year-old in 2006 has come to an end this week? The answer probably has many strands to it.
Solskjaer became irked at the frequency of questions about Gomes’ future in recent days, partly because no progress had been made on agreeing a deal and also because he wanted to retain the player in his first-team squad.
I know some Manchester United fans are gnashing their teeth at the departure of a player who was lauded throughout his academy years and was someone they had high hopes for but, his time on the pitch perhaps didn’t add up either.
We’re talking about a player who’s spent 14 years in the system at Carrington, who celebrates his 20th birthday on August 31, yet hasn’t made a Premier League start with just five appearances from the bench.
Of course, United themselves are aware that perhaps it doesn’t send out the right message that someone spoken of in such glowing terms and steeped in the club’s DNA has walked away. Especially when the foundations are built on young, exciting talent. But it’s also true that other players have properly grasped the opportunities given to them.
Look at Brandon Williams (aged 19) and Mason Greenwood (18) – fully fledged members of the first-team squad, alongside other academy products such as Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay. These players are all flourishing and have followed the same pathway as Gomes.
It’s fair to say a long drawn-out contract dispute wouldn’t have helped the midfielder’s case for selection with Solskjaer demanding commitment and loyalty from members of his squad but that doesn’t mean to say that Gomes’ pedigree and the achievement of captaining England’s U17s to the World Cup in 2017 weren’t appreciated, they were.
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Gomes leaving the club
The other problem Gomes has faced is simply getting into Manchester United’s midfield reckoning. There’s an argument to say that, since Sir Alex Ferguson departed, the battle has never been fiercer.
I’ve been saying for many months I expect Paul Pogba to stay at Old Trafford, again for a variety of factors – many of them economic – but he and Bruno Fernandes, who’s a candidate for every award going, are clearly the first two choices.
Nemanja Matic is rejuvenated too and speaking to him this week, he knows and welcomes the responsibility of helping to develop Scott McTominay to become another lynchpin, while Fred is also playing the best football of his time in Manchester.
So with that spelt out, Gomes may have wondered with his lack of playing time and the increased competition for places, “where do I fit in?” – especially when Solskjaer could well go out this summer and strengthen his midfield options again with someone like Jack Grealish.
Perhaps then it’s best that the two sides have gone their separate ways but it doesn’t mean there isn’t disappointment that this has happened, that someone who’s had years of coaching in ‘the Manchester United way’ is set to take those habits elsewhere.
Gomes struggled to establish himself in the Man Utd first-team squad like fellow academy graduates Mason Greenwood or Brandon Williams
It’s going to be really intriguing to see where Gomes decides to take his skills, be that home or abroad, but the brutal fact is that the Carrington conveyor belt doesn’t stop with the midfielder.
Over the past three years the Manchester United academy has been revamped and revolutionised under the leadership of Nick Cox but it’s one game this season that, perhaps, represents the clearest barometer as to where things are with young talent at the club.
Funnily enough it was the first competitive start for Gomes in the first team as United made a 6000 mile round-trip to Kazakhstan to play Astana in the Europa League in September.
The average age of the team was 22 years and 26 days and while United lost the game 2-1, they managed to give debuts to six youngsters on the night. Alongside Gomes in a four-man midfield, also consisting of another academy graduate in Jesse Lingard, were two other players who have recently committed their futures to Manchester United in James Garner (19) and Tahith Chong (20). Both have yet to make their Premier League debuts but both have opted to stay.
Tahith Chong signed a new deal with Manchester United in March
OK, so those are two names that people outside of Manchester United might be familiar with as well but what about two that coaches inside Carrington are talking about and who are making an impression when they train with the first team?
Teden Mengi is an 18-year-old centre-back from Manchester who was an unused substitute in Kazakhstan but whose pace and leadership have caught the eye. One of the six debutants against Astana was another defender, this time a full-back, Ethan Laird, who’s made two Europa League appearances and has been training regularly with the first-team squad.
The pair may have done enough already to be in Solskjaer’s plans for next season and there are others from the Astana game who’ll be sent out on loan to aid their development.
So, undeniably it’s a disappointment that Gomes didn’t get to establish himself as a midfield option for Manchester United, but what’s happened this week might end up being the best course of action for a player whose next move will be very closely scrutinised.