In 2006 Darron Gibson won Manchester United's coveted Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award, following in the footsteps of some illustrious youth team graduates, including Ryan Giggs ('91, '92) and Paul Scholes ('93). Yet six years later, with Man United short on quality in midfield, an ageing Scholes has come out of retirement to help his old team out, while 24-year-old Gibson has joined Everton for an undisclosed fee, after spending years on the fringes of Sir Alex Ferguson's squad. At the same time, another United academy graduate Danny Welbeck has begun to emerge as a first-team player, but how successful have other Old Trafford prodigies been in recent years?
talkSPORT takes a look at six recent winners of United's Young Player of the Year award and how they've progressed since…
2004 WINNER: JONATHAN SPECTOR
United signed the American defender from Chicago Fire after a scout had spotted his potential during an U17 USA national team match. In his first season with the United academy, Spector received the award and was duly given his first team debut against Arsenal in the 2004 Community Shield. That season Spector made eight appearances for United, mainly as a substitute. The following year he was sent on loan to Charlton, before being sold to West Ham a year later for £500,000. After spending five years with the Hammers, Spector joined fellow Championship side Birmingham City last summer on a free and has now become an integral part of Chris Hughton's promising side. Still only 25, Spector came through the United youth academy at the same time as fellow defender Gerard Pique, who left for Barcelona, where he is now lauded as one of the best centre-backs in Europe.
VERDICT: FOOTBALL LEAGUE HIT
2005 WINNER: GIUSEPPE ROSSI
One of the few that got away from United is Italian/American striker Rossi. Signed from Parma in 2004, the quick-footed forward scored 41 in 51 games for United's reserves, before making 14 first team appearances for the Red Devils, scoring four. He was sent on loan deals to Newcastle and Parma, before signing for Villarreal in 2007 in a £6.7million deal. Alex Ferguson said he tried to convince the striker to stay, but couldn't keep hold of the player he once dubbed "the future of the club". Since his move, Rossi has become one of the hottest properties in European football. Prior to picking up injury in October, he had scored 38 goals in 76 appearances for the Spanish club.
VERDICT: LA LIGA HIT
WINNER 2007: CRAIG CATHCART
Signed by United as a schoolboy, centre-back Cathcart was billed as potentially the next great defender at United, but failed to make a senior appearance during his three years at Old Trafford. Captaining the youth team to the FA Youth Cup final in 2007 led to Cathcart picking up the Jimmy Murphy award that same season, despite suffering a serious injury. The Northern Ireland international was then loaned to United's feeder club Royal Antwerp for half a season, before spending a year with Plymouth and then Watford. In the summer of 2010 he signed with Blackpool for an undisclosed fee, being a part of their season in the Premier League and even scored against his former club in the Seasiders 3-2 defeat to United last January. Only 22 years old, Cathcart has been played 20 times this season in the Championship, as Blackpool push for a play-off place.
WINNER 2008: Danny Welbeck
First spotted by United scouts as a precocious six-year-old, 21-year-old forward Welbeck has worked his way through the ranks with Manchester United and England. Welbeck made his first-team debut in 2008, during a League Cup match against Middlesbrough, before scoring on his Premier League debut against Stoke three weeks later. The next two seasons were spent on loan at Preston North End and Sunderland, before Fergie made him a first team regular this season, pushing the more experienced Dimitar Berbatov and last season's sensation Javier Hernandez out of the line-up. Already this season Welbeck has scored seven goals and received his senior England debut against Montenegro in October. Welbeck is still very much a work in progress, but he appears to be a favourite with Fergie at the moment.
VERDICT: LOOKING LIKE A PREMIER LEAGUE HIT
WINNER 2009: Federico Macheda
The Italian signed for United as a 16-year-old, but inconsistent form has meant the striker has found his chances limited with competition for a place up-front rife at Old Trafford. It's therefore no surprise that Macheda finds himself on loan with QPR for the rest of the season. Scoring a crucial match-winner against Aston Villa on his debut in 2009, Macheda has since spent six months on loan with Sampdoria, where he couldn't find the back of the net. At present, Macheda has failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him as a youngster, but could this spell with QPR help kick-start his striking career with United, or compound his fall down the slippery slope of football? We shall see.
VERDICT: MISS SO FAR
WINNER 2010: William Keane
United's young striker is the next in a long line of promising youth academy forwards to try and make it in the senior team. Part of the (Youth) Milk Cup-winning squad of 2009, the 19-year-old has now signed a professional contract and made his first team debut in United's 3-2 defeat Blackburn in the Premier League last month. An England U21 international, it's impossible to judge whether Keane will make it, but Paul Scholes has expressed his admiration of the nifty striker, saying: "He's just got a presence about him, he's a strong lad and has great feet – the ability to strike a ball. The kind of things Ruud van Nistelrooy had.” Keep your eye on this one…
VERDICT: COULD WELL BE THE NEW KEANO!
Why do you think none of these players have come nowhere near to living up to their illustrious predecessors, Scholes and Giggs? Let us know by commenting below…