On Thursday in Turin, if anything goes to plan for Shola Shoretire, then the teenager might add his name to a long list of illustrious Manchester United stars.
As part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, the 17-year-old has traveled for the first time, suggesting he could make his debut against Real Sociedad in the last 32 of the Europa League.
Doing so will see him introduced to the list of superstars that bridged the distance between the academy of the club and the first team while also finishing for the highly talented forward a pretty unforgettable week.
Having celebrated his 17th birthday at the start of February, United announced in the days that followed thatShoretire had signed his first professional contract with the clubdespite interest in him from Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Bayern Munich.
He was immediately promoted to train under the watchful eye of Solskjaer, who must have been suitably impressed given the England youth international’s presence in the group that flew out to Italy on Wednesday.
The bright lights of Juventus’ home ground, the Allianz Stadium, promise to be a world away from the car headlights that used to illuminate Shoretire’s local park in Newcastle as he put in extra training sessions around a decade ago.
Born in the north-east, Shoretire’s first formal footballing education came at the Wallsend Boys Club, whom he joined at the age of six.
Wallsend have a rich history of producing players who go onto make their mark on the professional game, with former United favourites Michael Carrick and Steve Bruce as well as ex-England captain Alan Shearer among their alumni.
Shoretire is on the cusp of becoming the 83rd player with previous links to Wallsend to make their debut at the top level, and it was clear upon his arrival that he had both the ability and personality to make the grade at a big club.
“When someone has that star talent you can just tell,” Ian Riley, who coached Shoretire during his solitary year in the Wallsend Under-8s, tellsGoal. “It’s hard to explain but it’s there already.
“If you throw a ball at them it just happens. You can teach people how to control a ball and work on their touch, but some people just have natural ability, and Shola was one of those.
“Wherever you played him he did alright because he had determination and he always had confidence, though he mostly played on the right wing. He liked to dribble and go past people and he liked to cross the ball and he scored goals. He was an all-round little package.”
He adds of his demeanour: “There’s lots of players who are really talented that don’t make it, they don’t have that drive. Shola had that drive and you could see it from an early age he had it.
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“He was always quiet, always listened, always determined and always wanted to win – you can’t give people that.”
Shoretire spent just 12 months with Wallsend, whom he led to the league title, before joining Newcastle United’s academy and making an instant impression on former coach David Ballantyne.
“When he arrived, he was small but he was strong as an ox, and what really stood out for me was his national athleticism,” Ballantyne tellsGoal. “I’ve coached thousands of kids over the years, and I can count on one hand how many I would say who have a real chance of making it as a pro, even at that young age, but there was something a bit special about him. “He’s so quick, a natural athlete really. Light on his feet which made him even quicker on the ball with his footwork. Hardly anyone could get him off the ball due to his skill and his strength. He reminded me back then of a young Micah Richards, so strong and so fast but technically good as well. “He had a really good attitude – he was almost a perfectionist. He used to get frustrated if he couldn’t do things first time or he was missing the passes or the goals or the shots or if he couldn’t pick up the technique first time.” So determined was Shoretire to be the best that he would work with Ballantyne – who owns the coaching company, Feet4Football – one-on-one at the local park, with their sessions sometimes lasting long into the evening. Ballantyne’s only frustration is that he was not able to keep Shoretire in the north-east, where he believes he would already have made first-team appearances for Newcastle. Instead the young forward departed for Manchester after two years with the Magpies, and having originally been spotted by academy scouts at Manchester City, he eventually found a home with the Red Devils. Ever since joining United he has played above his age-group, and in 2018 he became the youngest player to ever feature in the UEFA Youth League when making his debut in the U19s competition at the age of 14 years and 314 days. Last season he starred for the U18s side at Old Trafford as they reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup, most memorably scoring in the quarter-final victory over Wigan Athletic despite having spent the whole day at school before joining up with his team-mates in the evening.
As Shoretire continues to develop, the most pressing question surrounds his eventual position, given he has played on both wings, as a central striker and as a No.10 over the course of the current campaign, with his versatility having been compared to that of fellow teenage sensation Mason Greenwood.
Regardless of which role he ends up making his own, it is clear that he is ready to be unleashed after largely being kept under wraps in terms of media exposure by United’s staff. “As the season has gone on you have seen his talent. His work rate off the ball is excellent, and you can see in the last couple of minutes he is the one chasing back and getting tight to people,” Wood said recently. “You see the quality in his technique and his touches. He is comfortable receiving it in tight spaces, he can turn so quickly. “It’s been tough for him. He’s just turned 17 and he’s playing against some older lads, so he’s had to find a way of coping and he’s done that really well. “Looking back to the first game to now he’s done brilliant with that. He’s a talent and he’s one you have to be patient with. Don’t expect too much too soon and let him develop and keep working.” So whether Shoretire is next in action on Thursday in Turin or on Monday for United’s U23s against Everton, there is no doubt that in the very near future the next special talent from the club’s famed academy system will be making his mark at the Theatre of Dreams.
There is a reason Europe’s biggest clubs tried to get their hands on Shoretire. Soon United supporters will get to see it for themselves.