I am obsessed with the FIFA academy system. No matter what new features EA may deign to introduce throughout the life of the next-generation consoles and beyond, as long as they don’t faff around with the academy system too much they’ll have a loyal customer in me. Sure, I like playing online with friends or competitively when people are over, but it’s the youth system that keeps me coming back for more. It’s beyond addictive. As a Manchester United fan I’ll never shake the romanticism and nostalgia that came with the class of ’92.
Rather than lead the team forward in their shadow, however, United’s latest manager (me, that is) shares the same stalwart enthusiasm for the youth of today as Sir Alex Ferguson did over a quarter of a century ago when he stormed into Old Trafford and turned the youth academy upside down. As a result, three of the best scouts money can buy have combed the planet for the brightest talents ever to kick a football. Like many people who play offline career a lot, my save is now a good few years on in 2023, and as a result the prodigal sons have graduated from the academy and are some of the greatest football players in history. I feel almost like a proud father.
Allow me to display what £30M worth of scouting and an uncompromising dedication to playing them through rain and hamstring injuries has accomplished:
After countless seasons of consistency from the insurmountable David De Gea, May of 2021 saw him suffer a cruciate ligament injury which ruled him out for 4 months. With only Ben Amos to turn to, the Manchester United staff were left scrambling to find a replacement before the incoming FA Cup and Champions League finals at the tail end of the month. Many goalkeepers had come out of the academy over the years since the rehaul in 2014, but all had gone their separate ways. With little choice left, I made the executive decision to give the only goalkeeper in the youth setup a chance to make himself a legend – Mitsuharu Wallyson Mallmann.
Despite having a name which begs belief, the Brazilian (yes, Brazilian) youngster stepped in without issue to hold the team together for the remainder of the season. At just 16 years of age, he stood strong against a powerful Swansea team in the FA Cup final to lead us to victory, as well as lasting 70 minutes in the Champions League final against Real Madrid before scything Gareth Bale in half in order to keep his clean sheet.
The resulting penalty went high and wide, so he remains a legendary figure in the halls of Old Trafford. A glance at his stats reveals nothing of note, but he’s seldom beaten and came out the academy with a pair of red Nike Flyknits, so I’ve always assumed he means business. Vying for the number one spot when De Gea kicks the bucket.
Having risen through diversity in an unforgiving Dutch youth system, Schokker has proven that he is more than the sum of his name/parts. Despite having the same turn of pace as a cement block, Schokker has shown that his size and positioning can prove deadly in any penalty box. While occasionally prone to delivering career-ending tackles, the hubris of his youth is dissipating and he looks certain to be a future United captain (if the FA don’t ban him first).
The world of football never forgets the volley he scored against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final of 2019, which likely explains why a 21 year old centre back is in possession of 73 volleys and 77 finishing.
Seriously though, it was fucking sensational.
The other half of one of the most deadly defensive pairings in world football, Charlie Barthram struck me as more of a middle-class lad from the south with a wide array of talents. English-born, Barthram is already a capped England international and bizarrely scored a brace in the 2020 European Championship quarter final against Belgium, helping the team to the semi-finals with a 2-1 victory. I didn’t see it first hand, but the FIFA news feed went pretty wild about it.
Unfortunately, I did see him somehow manage to pull his hamstring when trying to challenge Eliaquim Mangala in the air, subsequently ruling him out for 2 weeks prior to the semi-final match against Germany, which ended in defeat for the Three Lions. The jury is still out on whether it was his defensive prowess or frankly distressing lack of positioning that cost England the game, but I like to think it’s a bit of both. His strength lies in his tackling, with legs like an octopus and the reactions of a Jedi. Unfortunately, he also moves the way I would imagine an octopus would move on land – slowly and with great difficulty.
After 3 seasons of loaning him to QPR as a centre back, he’s come back with an even more confusing array of stats than Schokker, but is nonetheless worth his weight in gold.
Despite a lack of convincing offensive stats, this young central midfielder from France is one of the best midfielders to leave my youth system. Playing further back than his midfield companions in a 4-5-1 formation, Gonzalo could tackle anything from Cristiano Ronaldo to a Boeing 747. He has a very deadpan expression which belies his aggressive nature, but of all the players on the pitch he’s the most likely to come out of a challenge with the ball rather than a red card.
The piece de resistance is that he is also blessed with 5 star skill moves which makes quick chops and cutbacks as easy as you like, making him a very valuable addition to the heart of the midfield. Can’t do shit with his left foot though.
One of the greatest footballers in living memory, Benjamin Drinkwater has been through a lot during his rise to fame. Starting out as a promising number 13 at the age of just 16, Drinkwater quickly proved that his proficiency in front of goal was horrendous as he missed chance after chance in his first season. And his second season.
I also had the honour of coaching the England national team during the 2018 World Cup, where I gave Drinkwater a call-up and the number 7 shirt (mostly because I cannot stand Jack Wilshere). We faced a lively Spanish side in the quarter finals who proved difficult to break down, despite several opportunities for young Ben to capitalise. He had the chance to seal it late on with a tap in, but managed to smash it off the post and back into De Gea’s arms. When the inevitable penalties came about, I decided to send him down the roster a bit for the sake of his own confidence. Sufficed to say when the time came he didn’t endear himself any further.
I decided to loan him out to Athletic Bilbao for the next season to get his confidence up, and ended up facing them in the group stages. He scored twice against me across 2 games and was immediately recalled from loan to fill the gap that Wilfried Zaha had left a few months beforehand. I gave him the number 11 shirt and the rest, as they say, is history.
Despite being physically atrocious, his technical stats are without compare. His short frame means his dribbling and balance are naturally pretty crazy, and he’s been banging in about 25 domestic goals per season for the past 3 years.
A living legend. Mart Moro is the first player to be brought out of the new Manchester United youth system, and defines it through his abilities. At just 16 years of age, Moro had 90 ball control and 90 dribbling, which led him straight into a first team position alongside Paul Pogba. Despite playing deeper than a central attacking midfielder, Moro has no problems waltzing through the opposition defence as if people weren’t there. During a time when I was still getting used to the new dribbling mechanics of FIFA 15, Moro made me think they were broken. Could it really be this easy?
Unlike his pal Drinkwater (who I consider best friends, since they came out of the academy within a week of eachother), Mart Moro hasn’t experienced a dip in form for 8 seasons, and has claimed the Premier League golden boot 3 times despite playing as a CM. He’s in charge of penalties, left footed free kicks and the captain’s armband most days, as well as the number 10 shirt. Over the past three FIFAs, such a number has only fallen to Mario Gotze, but Moro has taken the mantle in the German’s absence. I really couldn’t praise him any higher if I changed my name by deed poll.
Newer to the team than most, Brazilian-born Negrão is a beast in the midfield. It took me 2 seasons to realise that he has the ‘bulkier’ player model and looks like he shouldn’t be as dainty as he is, but he moves like a ballerina none-the-less. He excels physically in comparison to a lot of other players that have left the academy in a similar position and has an absurdly powerful shot on him – the kind that hits the keeper square on and somehow sneaks in because the physics engine can’t keep up.
His career defining moment came against Manchester City where he scored from the halfway line after Joe Hart committed to coming up for a corner, and had it kiss the crossbar on the way in just for added finesse. Cheeky bastard. Looks like a South-American car dealer but plays like Nedved in PES 2002. Undecided on his best position so far, but does well wherever he is on the pitch.
I include the incredibly gifted Victor Teixeira in the attacking line-up because, quite frankly, he doesn’t know how to play anywhere else. I didn’t really think much of him when he left my academy at 17 (‘Teixeira’ is a name I see constantly when I scout South America), but this guy is different.
Although I’m led to believe that no academy players can possess the ‘Flair’ trait – and indeed his profile seems to confirm this – running alongside Teixeira makes players look like they’re pedaling through custard. Trying to tackle him is a farce too and, well, he did this in one of the most biblical thrashings of Barcelona ever:
He’s currently enjoying life on the right of midfield at the minute, and is already capped by Brazil. Possible future number 7 if he keeps this up.
Despite the bullying suffered due to his unfortunate second name, Alcock survived the academy setup at Manchester United and loans his expertise on the flanks. With 4 star skills moves and the sort of dribbling that a toddler would be proud of, Alcock has been firing in goals from all over the place for 6 seasons now.
He suffered much the same as Drinkwater did in his first season and was loaned out to Middlesborough who he helped gain automatic promotion with, only to have his breakthrough season with us the next year and knock them straight back down. He has some slightly odd animations when it comes to shooting, especially from distance, which produce some very Beckham-esque finesse shots. He tends to sit in the Del Piero zone and curl them into the top left or faff around on the wing while I spam the only two reliable cut-in moves I’ve committed to memory with the skill stick.
If he didn’t have the same stamina as an asthmatic chimney sweep then he’d be one of the greatest, but he still serves both club and country valiantly.
I’ve been writing this article for months without publishing, and just adding to it as more things happened throughout the save. This has, without a doubt, been the most fascinating youth academy set-up I have ever watched over, and hopefully will continue to impress. With any luck, I’ll keep updating this throughout the year as more things happen and more wonderkids find their way into the squad.