In-form Manchester United host Leicester City on Saturday evening. While the Red Devils are unlikely to give the Foxes any favours on the pitch, the East Midlands club have enjoyed plenty of benefit from United’s youth policy in recent years.
Many a player has come through the Old Trafford youth ranks before going on to enjoy major success with the Foxes later in their career. Here are four who’ve done just that in recent times, starting with a tireless midfielder…
Richie Wellens (Leicester: 2009-13)
A talented product of United’s late-nineties youth side, the Moston-born midfielder found opportunities hard to come by in a side which had just lifted the treble. His only appearance in the first-team came in October 1999, as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men endured a humiliating 3-0 League Cup loss to Aston Villa.
The local lad exited for Blackpool in 2000, moving twice more before arriving at Leicester in 2009 with a reputation for his tough tackling, dynamic play in the centre of the park.
A successful first season at Leicester saw Wellens rack up six assists, quickly becoming one of the Foxes’ most reliable performers. However, it was the following season – where the classy player managed 12 assists, as well a couple of memorable goals, which will go down as the best year of his career.
Wellens stayed in Leicestershire for another two seasons after that, eventually saying farewell in Summer 2013, after chalking up 147 games and plenty of fond memories.
Ritchie de Laet (Leicester: 2012-16)
The second Ri(t)chie to make this list, the Belgian arrived at Old Trafford from Stoke City as a fresh-faced 20-year-old.
While not technically a youth product, the right-back was a key part of United’s reserve side, as well as chalking up six first-team appearances – three of which came in the club’s triumphant 2009-10 League Cup run.
After four loan spells scattered across the Football League, the nomadic defender finally found a new home at the King Power Stadium in 2012. From there, he helped propel the club into the top-flight, and then to the Premier League title.
Following a heartbreaking play-off defeat to Watford in 2013, the Foxes and De Laet came back stronger the following season, with the former Potters man playing 36 times as Leicester won the Championship title.
While less prominent in the club’s 5000/1 Premier League title triumph in 2015-16, the Antwerp native was still a useful squad player, featuring 12 times, and netting in a 3-2 defeat of Aston Villa. Speaking of the Villans, they’re the Belgian’s current club, having joined last summer.
Danny Drinkwater (Leicester: 2012-present)
Unlike the previous pair, the 27-year-old never got a taste of first-team game-time for Man United, with appearances in the Reserve League as good as it got in the North-West. A quartet of loan spells followed, before Leicester snapped up the Mancunian for just £810k.
That modest investment turned into a major coup, with the midfielder’s third season at Leicester (2014-15) producing seven goals and four assists. He dominated one game after another, eventually helping the club lift the Championship title on the final day.
After a middling first year in the Premier League, the former Barnsley loanee showed just how good he could be in 2015-16, producing eight assists en route to the Foxes’ shock title-winning campaign.
While it’s unlikely he’ll ever enjoy a year of better form than that one, the experienced midfielder remains one of the club’s most important players. Manager Craig Shakespeare now faces a battle to keep a hold of the highly-regarded Drinkwater in the final days of this window.
Danny Simpson (Leicester: 2014-present)
The first half of the 2007-08 season seemed to signal a breakthrough at Old Trafford for the local lad, who impressed in his eight outings during the campaign. That included keeping the likes of Francesco Totti and Mirko Vucinic quiet in a Champions League clash away to Roma.
However, he was loaned out to Ipswich Town later that season, and surprisingly never got another minute in the United first-team. The young right-back finally said his goodbyes to Manchester in 2010, going on to win promotion to the Premier League with Newcastle United, and later, Queens Park Rangers.
Simpson arrived at Leicester in 2014 with the hopes that he could make an impression in the top-flight itself. The answer resoundingly proved to be a resounding ‘yes’.
After a decent first season at the club, under Nigel Pearson’s stewardship, the Eccles-born ace went on to enjoy a sensational 2015-16, with Claudio Ranieri at the helm. The right-back featured 30 times in the league-winning season, helping the Foxes chalk up 13 clean sheets in the process.
He’s continued to be a key man for the club ever since, and now finds himself just five games away from a century not out for the former Premier League winners…
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing