It’s very rare that a youth level player comes with as much fanfare and hype as Charlie Mcneill did in the 2020 summer transfer window. The striker was part of Manchester United’s youth acquisition spree over the summer and made the switch from rivals Manchester City after turning heads all over Europe with some exceptional displays at many youth brackets for the Citizens. We uncover the content beyond the hype to figure out what the ‘Next Sergio Aguero’ – as he was called during his time at City – is all about.
Charlie was born on September 9, 2003 which means he celebrated his 17th birthday when his United career began last month. Unknown to many, McNeill actually began his career at United, working his way up through the ranks alongside the likes of Mason Greenwood. But he opted to make the controversial switch to cross-town rivals Manchester City in 2013 for around £12,000 as he looked to take his career to the next stage. Departing United to join City would have been hard enough for the fans in red to take, but to make matters worse, McNeill is actually a United fan himself. All said and done though, it’s safe to say the switch has worked out reasonably well for him so far.
A youngster’s goalscoring record at youth level doesn’t tell the complete story. But when a player scores over 600 goals across different age groups, then it’s clear just how special a talent he is. Yes, you read that correctly! Charlie has scored about 600 goals in his career already. To give you an idea, McNeill netted 110 goals and contributed 38 assists in just 72 matches during his time playing City’s Under-15s side. That’s just the 148 goal contributions in 72 matches. He has been scoring at a similar rate throughout his youth career.
The teenager has developed into a pretty complete striker, while his performances have also seen him called up to the England Under-16s squad a number of times already. International recognition with England has led to 4 appearances so far for the U16s. His one goal for the Young Lions came in a 5-1 win over Moldova at the Aegean Cup last year. The goals come with trophies too making Charlie a Runner-up in the FA Youth Cup (18/19) and two-time winner of the U18 Premier League Cup (18/19 and 19/20). From his Instagram account, it’s easy to capture many other achievements of Charlie. He stands at the forefront of a group photo after City won the Premier League Under-15 International Tournament, held at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, when they beat Arsenal 1-0 in the final. There’s also a picture of McNeill holding two trophies with a medal round his neck at the equivalent under-14 tournament a year earlier.
It’s an interesting narrative that McNeill was actually the player tipped to step up and replace City’s departing Jadon Sancho – whom United chased to a dead end this summer – in 2017. Goal.com reported in an article titled, ‘Brahim and Sancho gone – but Man City have other teenage sensations’: “McNeill is just 14 but has been making a name for himself in the City academy for the past few years. Those familiar with the City youth set-up believe he is one of the best prospects of any age group and is definitely one to keep an eye on in the coming years.”
The variety of the goals McNeill has scored in U16 and U17 games is the most striking aspect. There are true highlights reel hits from 30 or 40 yards like this similar to those Paul Scholes used to produce while McNeill also enjoys cutting inside and bending shots across the keeper reminiscent of Wayne Rooney like this, and there are also confident traps, exquisite chips and casual bangers in the vein of Eric Cantona like these. He also appears to be an assured penalty taker with a cheeky Panenka slipped in for good measure at times. McNeill’s assist record from the U15s also suggests he’s more than happy to pass or cross when team-mates are present in better positions.
One of his U16 goals against Manchester United saw him pick up the ball wide on the left, cut inside and unleash a beautifully curled effort into the top right corner. A natural born finisher, McNeill knows where the goal is without needing to look up. Instead he ruthlessly fires home armed with two-footedness, technical prowess and a natural eye for goal most strikers crave for. Sure, he’s clinical in and around the box, but he’s also more than capable of the spectacular. Goals from the halfway line are made to seem almost easy by McNeill having scored a couple from that range at the youth level. He is a complete attacker who is more than capable of linking attacks and darting into space, while many comparisons have also been made with Wayne Rooney in regards to the way he drops deep to collect the ball at times.
But perhaps what is one of his most promising traits is his mental strength and desire to never be completely satisfied with what he already has. As a result, it won’t come as much of a surprise to see the Times report that McNeill idolises Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski. His insane goal tally speaks of a player who never rests on his laurels. Always searching for more and looking at ways to improve, McNeill has the talent with the ball at his feet – but also the mentality to become a top footballer.
Transfer saga & settling in
After six years with the club, McNeill opted not to sign a new deal with City as he was said to be growing frustrated with his lack of opportunities at a higher level. He found games hard to come by in the U18s, managing just 8 appearances. In 18/19, he made just 3 substitute appearances in the U18 Premier League and that remained the case in 19/20 with just 4 substitute outings and 1 start before the season was curtailed because of the pandemic. McNeill did prove a point by scoring his first goal for the U18s in a 2-1 win over Blackburn back in February, but it was clear his time for the Sky Blues was coming to an end. The Manchester Evening News reported that McNeill saw a clearer pathway to the first team with United than at City. Italian giants Juventus and Red Bull Leipzig were also heavily linked to McNeill. But for the childhood United fan in Mcneill a chance to get back to his club was too good to turn down. With the Red Devils having built up a famous reputation with regards to first team opportunities for academy graduates and overseeing a youth revamp under Nicky Butt, the choice was obvious. McNeill returned to the United academy for an initial fee of £750,000 that could rise to £1.35million after he rejected the offer of a new contract at City in the summer. United sources say McNeill would represent an ‘absolute bargain’ even if he costs the full amount as he would have to play in a significant amount of first-team games and record noteworthy achievements to trigger the clauses. After a highly successful 6 years at City, Mcneill made the switch in September.
In true Charlie Mcneill fashion, the striker needed no time to start doing what he does best for the Red devils. His first appearance came in a pre-season friendly earlier this month against West Brom where the striker finished off a cool chance to get on the scoresheet. Last weekend, Charlie made his first official start for the U18 side against Derby U18 and – surprise, surprise! – smashed 2 goals in succession in an impressive 4-0 win. A timely dribble latching onto a through ball followed by a far-post finish and a poacher’s first time shot from a cut-back cross were enough to excite United fans about what’s to come. “First 2 of 600 goals for us” – an enthusiastic fan on social media chimed.
McNeill is expected to play with the United’s U18s side for a while rather than the Under-23s, partially due to the long-term injury suffered by D’Mani Mellor. However, should he settle quickly and continue his progression, he could soon make the step up. If he keeps scoring at the rate he does, a U23 call-up is possible in the near future. Having just turned 17, Charlie has time on his side to make a mark at both levels before eyeing a main team debut. With Edinson Cavani and Ighalo, the Red devils are clearly looking at stop-gap solutions for the striker role to compete with Martial. Mcneill made the switch back to his boyhood club for a reason and if he keeps doing what he does he might just get the chance to impress the Old Trafford faithful sooner than later.
(Image & Video Credits: Getty images & Charlie McNeill’s official Instagram account)