FORMER Manchester United star Callum Gribbin had the world at his feet.
Described as the best youth star to come through the academy since Ryan Giggs and Ravel Morrison, the natural talent was expected to become a superstar at Old Trafford.
However, a reportedly poor attitude towards training saw him released in 2019.
Today, Gribbin, now 23, is playing in the seventh tier for Radcliffe.
ONE TO WATCH
It was only in 2015 that Gribbin featured in The Guardian’s Next Generation list of the best talents at Premier League clubs.
Liverpool did their best to prize the Salford-born wonderkid away, while noisy neighbours Manchester City were also keen.
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But the flying midfielder and his coaches believed he would flourish for the Red Devils, so a move elsewhere was never entertained.
An early glimpse of his ability came in 2011, when playing for United’s U13’s against Ajax at Old Trafford in front of 53,000 fans, as part of Edwin van der Sar’s testimonial.
Gribbin put on a star show, scoring twice in front of esteemed guests past and present from both clubs, including the player he was compared to Ryan Giggs.
For his second goal, he nicked the ball off Ajax’s ‘promising’ de Ligt, ran from the halfway line before rounding the keeper and slotting home.
“He was an unreal talent,” former United academy graduate Charlie Scott told The Athletic.
“I mean, unreal. Gribbo was easily one of the best players I’ve ever played with.
“He would dribble past five players in training and he’d be laughing as he went past you. He was a great lad, full of jokes.”
Despite his indisputable flair with the ball, there were claims attitude issues got in the way of Gribbin’s early development.
There were alleged bust-ups, alongside a belief he could have worked harder and behaved better.
It was under Jose Mourinho’s watch that things really began to unravel.
Back in 2018, United’s then head of academy Nicky Butt told The Times about a player who had “tossed training off a little bit”.
While he didn’t name the perpetrator, the Manchester Evening News alleged Butt was talking about Gribbin.
“I went mad at him,” Butt divulged.
“I said, ‘That training session was more important than any game you’ll play this season, under-23, under-19, under-18. To get in front of the manager and show how good you are is invaluable.’
“The next time he was in front of the manager, the manager was raving about him.”
However, the impressive sessions were few and far between. In the summer of 2019 United released him.
It’s unknown if it was because his coaches hadn’t seen enough progression from him, or felt that he didn’t have the right mentally to make it.
During his final week at the club, Butt delivered it to Callum straight.
“You’ll either end up working at McDonald’s or we’ll buy you back for £100million,” he said.
FALLING DOWN THE PYRAMID
Brighton & Hove Albion were the first club to take an interest in Gribbin. But a move so far away from home didn’t appeal to the Manchester boy.
However, he jumped at the chance to link up with Chris Wilder at Sheffield United, who was a big fan.
He played with the U23 side for a season, but was frustrated by lack of first team action.
Despite the Blades fighting to keep hold of the playmaker, Gribbin decided to make a move to League Two side Barrow in 2020.
Manager David Dunn vowed to make him the heartbeat of his team, but soon discovered he wasn’t the type of player Barrow needed as they fought to stay up.
Gribbin was frozen out, before being told to train with a group of players who weren’t given squad numbers and weren’t included in first team training sessions.
By the summer, he was left looking for another club, keeping up his fitness by training with Salford City.
BUILDING HIMSELF UP AGAIN
Last month, to much fanfare on their social media, Northern Premier League’s Radcliffe announced the acquisition of Gribbin.
They even humorously and perhaps over-excitedly called him the ‘English Messi’.
Instead of running out in front of 75,000 fans at Old Trafford, he’s now playing on a sloped pitch in front of just 300.
So far, he has made a good impression with his new employers.
“The problem is, football is such a cut-throat business, especially at the top level,” club chairman Paul Hilton revealed.
“A lot of players at our level have nine of the ten things that are needed to be a professional footballer.
“It’s about finding that one missing element and trying to fix it. It could be a weak foot, it could be mentality, it could be the friends they keep, it could be lots of things.
“Hopefully we can help Callum find out what his one thing is — and get him back. He’s still got a good chance.
“It can turn round for him as quickly as it went pear-shaped. His attitude is right. He’s a good lad and we have a proud history of giving players a leg-up back into the Football League.”
Time will tell if Gribbin gets the same opportunity.