The 15 academy exits from Manchester United highlight Erik ten Hag’s ruthless approach – Steven Railston

Iqbal became a trailblazer for British Asians when making his first-team debut in the Champions League in December 2021 and he was well-regarded in the academy, so his departure for just 1million seemed like value for Utrecht.

“The time is right to go and take a new challenge,” Iqbal said upon his sale. “It&aposs one that I cannot wait for and I&aposll be applying myself with the same level of desire, determination and dedication that has taken me this far in my career.”

Some questioned why Iqbal was allowed to leave for such a nominal fee, but the player had signed with an agency that promised him a move to the Eredivisie in the spring and he wanted regular starts at this stage of his career.

The move was logical for everyone involved because although Iqbal was named in the matchday squad 17 times last season, he didn&apost make a single appearance under Erik ten Hag and Kobbie Mainoo was considered ahead of him.

Iqbal is two years older than Mainoo, yet it was the Stockport-born lad who had been given meaningful opportunities, which was a clear indication that he needed to leave his boyhood club for the next chapter of his development.

There have long been high hopes for Mainoo in the academy and his performances in pre-season vindicated the trust in him. The youngster was told ahead of the USA tour he&aposd be part of the first-team and his potential is obvious.

Ten Hag has made it clear only the best youth prospects will stay at the club and Mainoo is considered the leading light of his age group, but he&aposs had to watch this summer as his classmates have left to continue their dedication elsewhere.

Iqbal&aposs departure was just one of 15 from the academy this summer, with the Under-21 set up receiving a shake-up. Travis Binnion is now in total control of the team and he&aposs working with different personnel than his predecessor Mark Dempsey.

There are naturally multiple players who have been retained beyond the window, like Willy Kambwala, Dan Gore, Isak Hansen-Aaren, Mateo Mejia and Joe Hugill, but the U21 side is bound to have a youthful feel in most games this season.

That might sound bizarre considering it&aposs a U21 side, but three players aged just 17 years old – Elyh Harrison, Habeeb Ogunneye and James Nolan – played against a senior Stockport County team in the EFL Trophy last week.

The EFL Trophy has been used to give elite young players, who are usually ahead in their development, the platform to perform against higher opposition under more pressure, but the starting team against Stockport didn&apost follow that rule.

The competition has been used for players close to the first-team in the past and although some players were kept back to play Everton in a behind-closed-doors friendly, a notably youthful side was fielded at Edgeley Park.

The average age of the U21s in the league was just 19.1 last season, which was the second youngest in the division. The average age of the opposition when playing United was 19.7 and that disparity is expected to be seen again this term.

Sources have stressed &aposindividual player development is always key&apos in the academy and the club have moved multiple players on this summer because that was deemed as the best step for those particular youngsters.

It&aposs a remarkable achievement to make a first-team debut at Old Trafford and the majority won&apost be given that chance, but the club&aposs staff still take pride in following their progress when they leave in search of fulfilling careers elsewhere.

United are responsible for developing many players currently in the English football pyramid and beyond. The only gripe from supporters is they would like academy products to be sold for more when they leave.

United have received mostly nominal fees for academy sales this summer, whilst others&apos contracts have expired. The highest fee raised in the window from those players was Bayer Leverkusen paying 7.78million for Matej Kovar.

There is a new era of talent coming through and the aforementioned Nolan has trained with the first-team. Amir Ibragimov has also trained with the first-team at just 15 years old, while Shea Lacey, 16, might just have something special.

Lacey has already drawn comparisons to Phil Foden with his excellent feet and he recently signed a scholarship deal at the club, with an agreement in principle to sign professional terms when he turns 17 next April.