The adage age is just a number could certainly be applied to Manchester United’s latest teen prodigy Shola Shoretire.
He only turned 17 this month but has since signed his first professional contract with the club and has even been tipped to make his first-team debut this season after being promoted to train with the squad on Sunday.
So who is he? Sportsmail takes a look at the latest academy star within Old Trafford’s ranks.
Shola Shoretire (left) is highly-rated at Manchester United and has just signed his first contract
WHO IS HE?
Born on February 2, 2004 – two days before Facebook launched – Shoretire only turned 17 this week but he has been earmarked as a future United star.
Born in Newcastle, with Nigerian ancestry courtesy of his father, Shoretire spent his early childhood in the North East and played for esteemed Wallsend Boys Club – following in the footsteps of Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer, Michael Carrick and Lee Clark (to name a few).
United were quick to recognise his talents, snapping him up at the age of 10 where he has since shone through the age groups.
Born in 2004, Shoretire (pictured in July 2017) has been at the Red Devils since the age of 10
And speaking about his move to Manchester United, Clark expressed his disappointment at local club Newcastle not luring him to St James’ Park instead.
‘I’ve watched Shola Shoretire when my son Bobby has been down at the academy at Newcastle and played against Man United in the years above,’ he wrote in his column for Tribal Football last August.
‘Shola is an unbelievable young talent with fantastic ability. Great pace, great movement. He made his debut this week for the U23s having just turned 16. He’s not the biggest but he’s powerful and I know the people at United are excited.
‘But what they do at United is they don’t go overboard officially about players, they keep it in house and under wraps. But they will know they’ve got a special young talent in their hands without a doubt.
‘At first when I heard about him a couple of years ago, I was initially frustrated that Newcastle lost out on one of their own, but it was a scenario that couldn’t be helped with his parents being offered jobs down in the Manchester area which they had to take. Unfortunately there’s nothing Newcastle could have done about that.’
Lee Clark (left) wishes that his former club Newcastle signed the teen to their academy instead
HOW HIGHLY-RATED IS HE?
The fact he has been playing up in age-group level throughout his time at Old Trafford is the clearest indicator of his talent. This is exemplified by becoming the the youngest-ever player to appear in the UEFA Youth League when, in 2018, he came off the bench against Valencia as a 14-year-old (more on that later). In September too he made his Premier League debut for the Under 23s aged just 16.
Before he signed his professional deal he had a plethora of clubs trying to entice him away from the Theatre of Dreams such as European heavyweights Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
And on Friday night he didn’t do his reputation any harm as he scored a hat-trick as the U23s came from 4-2 behind to beat Blackburn Rovers U23s. That took his tally to five for the season in Premier League 2 – Division 1, while he also has four assists.
The impact below the first-team has clearly caught the eye of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who has rewarded him with a place in their training squad. Solskjaer brought Shoretire into first-team training on Sunday and he will remain there while he continues to improve – beforehand he had been part of the squad on an ad-hoc basis.
European giants PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus all wanted to sign Shoretire
He aided his reputation on Friday night with a fine hat-trick in a 6-4 win over Blackburn U23s
WHERE DOES HE PLAY?
Predominately as a winger but anywhere across the front, really. For United’s Under 23s this season he has been used as a centre forward, on the left and on the right. His ability to play in all of those roles would mesh seamlessly into first-team manager Solskjaer’s plans – with the Norwegian keen on having fluidity along his frontline.
Oh, and if you need some creativity in behind then Shoretire can do that too having performed well in the No 10 position.
The teenager is mainly a winger but can play anywhere across the front and as a No 10 too
WHAT ARE HIS STRENGTHS?
His main qualities are his skillset and his eye for a pass.
Despite playing against older and physically bigger players than him, Shoretire is able to evade them with his array of skills on the ball. This is aided by his low centre of gravity and the fact that he is comfortable with both feet – meaning he can easily unbalance the opposition.
His assist for summer signing Facundo Pellestri’s first goal for the club at Under-23 level is the perfect example of this. Receiving the ball just inside his own half, he left three Southampton defenders in his wake with a quality turn before slipping in the Uruguayan to score.
Shoretire has been compared to Nigeria legend Jay-Jay Okocha and with skills like that it’s hard not to see why.
With his quick feet and eye for a pass, he has been compared to Nigeria legend Jay-Jay Okocha
December 12, 2018. Manchester United are away at Valencia in the UEFA Youth League – a competition which is for players up to the age of 19. Leading 2-1 they made a change in 75th minute as Shoretire replaced Nishan Burkart.
In doing so the winger made history by becoming the youngest-ever player to feature in that competition at just 14 years and 314 days, playing against opposition potentially five years older than him. He also became United’s youngest-ever player at that age level.
The diminutive midfielder helped United see out the rest of the game as they finished 2-1 victors in Spain to top their Group H.
He became the youngest-ever player to feature in the UEFA Youth League, aged 14, in 2018
14 years, 10 months, 10 days ¿¿
Shola Shoretire became the youngest ever Man Utd player to ever appear in a official youth league/cup game. pic.twitter.com/1ySRM9nJBc
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) December 12, 2018
WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING ABOUT HIM?
Speaking in December United coach Neil Wood said he felt the then-16-year-old was already becoming one of the best players in his U23 squad.
‘What impresses me the most is he is a very technical player,’ Wood said about Shoretire after a 2-2 draw with Manchester City U23s.
‘Shola has always played up a year through his whole academy career. I can’t remember him ever playing his own age group. He has always been stretched.
‘He is very mature for his age, the way he plays, he does a lot of work, takes a lot of positions up, and he has played a lot of roles. He’s played No 9, he’s played left, he’s played on the right, he’s played 10 and whatever you ask him to do – on and off the ball – he is going to do it. You can trust him to do that job.
‘He is very young, and doing excellent for the age of him. I am not expecting him to be man of the match or [a] main figure of the team, because he is so young, but he’s not going on that pitch and drowning or anything. He has probably been one of our most consistent outstanding performers throughout the season.’
Shoretire has played above his age-group level throughout his young career – such is his talent
Last season saw Shoretire balance his GCSE studies with his football. Despite the pressures of school he still impressed on the pitch – making 13 appearances for the U18s before the season was curtailed.
His temperament then was best exemplified by the fact he scored in United’s 2-1 FA Youth Cup quarter-final win over Wigan – not long after coming home from school. He played the full duration of that February 28, 2020 tie and earned the plaudits of U18 coach Neil Ryan.
‘He was at school today, all day! Then he came over to Old Trafford to play,’ Ryan said post-match.
‘It’s incredible really. Different day for him compared to other players.
‘Good players can enjoy the big stage. He is a really exciting player. He’s evolving and developing, can play a number of different positions, he showed a great maturity I thought.’
While playing for the Under 18s last season, the winger was also juggling his GCSE studies
Despite not being old enough to remember Ronaldinho in his pomp, Shoretire has named the Barcelona icon as one his idols.
‘He was so confident in himself, he was skillful and had everything,’ he told UMM’s YouTube channel.
‘If you’re not having fun on a pitch then there’s no point. I’m always going into a game thinking I’m going to do well.’
Barcelona legend Ronaldinho is one player Shoretire admires as the Brazilian ‘had everything’
Marcus Rashford (left) is another he admires and could soon be team-mates in the first team
It wasn’t just that legendary No 10 who Shoretire looks up too as he cited United’s Marcus Rashford as another role model.
‘The things that he does on the pitch and off the pitch. He’s a good role model,’ he said of the Red Devils academy graduate.
‘Seeing him do that, it makes me think I can do that too.’
It may not be long that Rashford and Shoretire link-up together at Old Trafford now they are training together in the first team.
Tipped for a bright future it may not be long before we see the academy star in the first team