Faith in youth

August 30, 2010 Tags: Opinion 27 comments

Four matches into the new season and a pattern, to some extent, has emerged in United’s selection and formation. This will, of course, change with the Champions League starting in mid-September but perhaps most startling, despite this summer’s proclamation to the contrary, is Sir Alex Ferguson’s lack of faith in youth to date.

This is not to say Manchester United’s younger first team squad members will not play more frequently as the season wears on. After all, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes cannot compete in the Saturday-Wednesday axis indefinitely. Indeed, last season Giggs started 23 matches in all competitions, Scholes 32, Edwin van der Sar 29, and Gary Neville just 25. None is likely to top that this campaign.

Of Ferguson’s young players – for the sake of argument let’s call first team squad members under the age of 23 ‘young’ – only Fábio da Silva (Community Shield) and Javier Hernández (Fulham) have started for United this season. Neither is expected to be a fixture in the first team just yet.

Jonny Evans, 22, has played in all four matches but with three seasons in the first team its hard to classify the Irishman as a youth.

Of the others Federico Macheda, Chris Smalling, Darron Gibson, Rafael da Silva, Gabriel Obertan, Tom Cleverley and Ben Amos have appeared for a total combined two substitute appearances in the first team this season. Anderson, injured, will not play again until late in September.

Meanwhile Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf have been shipped out on loan to Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers respectively, while Bebé is not expected to feature this side of Christmas, if at all this season.

The pattern was also prevalent in pre-season, with Giggs and Scholes appearing in a surprisingly large number of fixtures in Canada, USA and Mexico as United raked in more than $2 million per match held on tour.

Indeed, the average starting age of United’s team in the four competitive fixtures to date – including the Community Shield – is 28.6, only marginally younger than Chelsea’s pensioners at 28.9.

It is also perhaps surprising, given United’s relatively sedate fixture calendar this side of the international break, that Ferguson has not blooded more of his younger players of whom he spoke so passionately during the summer.

The intensity of United’s games increases markedly in late September, with the trip to Everton preceding emotionally draining matches against Rangers and Liverpool at Old Trafford in which senior players will surely dominate selection.

The strategy, then, is likely to include some of the squad’s younger players see game time in the autumn and winter months, with Ferguson almost certain to rely on experience as the Premier and Champions League reach their dénouement in the Spring.

However, the strategy with some younger players is also confusing. Cleverley’s mooted loan – all but guaranteed as pre-season begun, then ditched as United failed to secure an additional attacking midfielder in the transfer market – is now back on again.

The midfielder today confirmed a loan move to Wigan Athletic, where he’ll certainly play but faces a season-long relegation battle. However, the transfer leaves United overly reliant on Scholes’ continued brilliance and fitness as the club’s sole central midfield playmaker.

Then there is Rafael, whose relegation to the bench in favour of the experienced but essentially limited John O’Shea, 30, is a source of regret for the more romantic of United’s supporter base. After all, it’s hard to envisage Rafael turning genuine promise into fulfilled talent of the very highest order from the seclusion of United’s reserves.

Finally, Macheda, retained despite loan interest from home and abroad, has failed to make even the bench for United’s three Premier League fixtures to date. In his third season with the first team squad, it will surely be impossible for United to retain the Italian’s services next season if he cannot secure 20 matches this campaign.

This is an observation, rather than a criticism. Ferguson, the most pragmatic of managers, is liable to pick whatever side is likely to benefit the club’s cause in only the short to season-long term.

The question is whether the Scot can fulfil United’s many ambitions this season while – as the Scot puts it – ensuring the club’s younger players do not “stagnate” and evntually leave. The fate of Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique looms large.

As yet, it is not at all clear that the two strategies are not mutually exclusive.


Don Pablo - August 30, 2010 Reply

Sad truth is most will be shipped out. Kiko seems the most obvious especially with the lack of a midfield enforcer meaning we’ll play one uptop in most tough games.

redevil_83 - August 30, 2010 Reply

oshea over rafael baffles me

loaning out cleverly when there is no other option but scholes equally so

those were two i was expecting to see get action this yr. not so far. the others are likely to get carling cup run outs and if they shine there, possibly entry into the first team. before the season ends, i expect rafael, anderson, macheda and chicha to be useful players for us. not sure about obertan, smalling, gibson, amos and fabio i’m unsure of this season.

Alfonso Bedoya - August 30, 2010 Reply

The only one that pisses me off is Rafa… why he isn’t picked ahead of O’Shea, is infuriating.

Unless Cleverly is going to be upgraded to regular first team for United, then I’d rather see him on loan where he will be. He’s not going to displace Scholes on current form, and if Fergie has that job in mind for him in the future, then he needs to play every week.

And Macheda isn’t going to displace Roonety or Berbatov either… in fact… none of the young strikers have much chance of playing as long as Rooney and Berbatov are fit and playing well.

Fredster - August 30, 2010 Reply

Every second Michael Owen spends on the pitch for us is a kick in the teeth for Kiko and Chicharito. Owen offers NOTHING. It was so predictable that we would not score another goal after he came on for the brilliant Berbatov on Saturday. 20 minutes that would have done Macheda or Hernandez the world of good were completely wasted.

Top article mate. Keep up the good work. UnitedRant and RepublikOfMancunia are the only good United blogs on the web, the rest are fucking shite – and you can print that!

snaggletooth - August 30, 2010 Reply

i totally agree with you,except when you say its not a critisism of saf. he continually speaks to the supporters as though they are stupid. have faith in the youth and then complains that giggs, not nani, should have taken the penalty at fulham, christ he is a portugal international and took penalty in champions league final. i m sorry to say but we dont have enough this season.

RobDiablo - August 30, 2010 Reply

Good article. Thoughtful observation rather than mindless criticism (or cheerleading) is what I expect to find at this blog. One minor quibble: baring injury, I would expect van der Sar to start more than 29 games in all competitions.

I think it is too early judge whether or not Sir Alex is going to rely on youth. I would guess that he has been using the veterans because he understands the importance of bringing his best players up to peak fitness as quickly as possible, and that is best done by playing in matches.

I wanted Cleverley to stay, but have to accept that he will get more playing time – which is what he needs – at Wigan. The persistence of starting O’Shea, on the other hand, is both puzzling and annoying. I like O’Shea and appreciate what he has given the club down the years, but he is now a defensive liability at right back – as Raphael can sometimes be – without being able to compensate by contributing offensively. Surely Raphael’s time to play regularly at right back has come.

elvido - August 30, 2010 Reply

Would rather have Cleverly than Gibson in the squad, I think we won’t be seeing one of those two or three, depending on how Anderson fares next season and Wellbeck looks destined to become another import to one of Fergie’s fledglings.

D - August 30, 2010 Reply

This was a great article. I agree with most of you. Rafael better be on the bench because he has a knock that they are not disclosing. He needs to be on the pitch so people can stop saying he is a “liability” which will only be removed after he gains experience. He is a great talent.

If Cleverley and Kiko are still here after tomorrow, I have to believe it is because of the Carling Cup, FA Cup and a runout for a Wednesday league match after a Saturday.

Mozza - August 30, 2010 Reply

The whole ‘youth’ issue was a creation of the media and some of the more stupid elements of our fanbase this summer as a response to the equally moronic media assertion that we were a team full of oldies. The reality as everyone with a brain could see was that we only really had one first team outfield player who would get in our first 11, Scholes, and the other so called oldies had adequate replacements already bedded in for them such as O’Shea and Rafael for Neville and Nani for Giggs. As Fergie pointed out ad nauseum we have a big well balanced squad but because the press and some of our fanbase were so obsessed with how much money we were or weren’t spending they seemed to have convinced themselves that we were relying on a bunch of OAP’s and toddlers to win us things when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The likes of Cleverley, Obertan, Macheda were never going to figure regularly this season barring a massive injury crisis akin to what happened at the back last season or horrible losses of form to half our team at the same time.

Take Neville, Scholes and Giggs out of the picture plus the kids who haven’t played much and you’re left with a squad of

VDS, Kuszcack, O’Shea, Brown, Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Rio, Evra, Park, Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Valencia, Gibson, Rooney, Berbatov, Owen, Hernandez.

That’s a 20 man squad right there comprised exclusively of players either in their prime or younger but that have significant playing time at the highest level. When exactly did people expect the likes of Cleverley, Obertan and Macheda to get a run out if not in the Carling Cup or a meaningless CL tie?

Peter - August 30, 2010 Reply

Very interesting and well thought out article, I think Fergie probably wants to play his strongest team at the start of the season to ensure we stay with Chelsea. I suspect he will use more of the younger players as the season progresses. I would also have a strong preference to see Rafael starting while I would permanently transfer Gibson, Owen, and Carrick to make sure Anderson, Cleverly (now on loan), Kiko, and Little Pea all got more game time. However, Fergie generally gets it right and I think he has the nucleus of a very strong young team in development, including a number of players like King, Morrison, Pogba, Keane, and Elkrem who have yet to make any impact at senior level.

captainhormone - August 30, 2010 Reply

face it lads…fergie has beeen talking out of his cunt

uncleknobheadforfucksake - August 30, 2010 Reply

there’s one reserve player who’ll definitely be given loads of chances, gills son

KD - August 31, 2010 Reply

I personally just think he wanted to get some wins under the belt with experienced players and when the form is good and against weaker teams he will experiment and give young people their chance to impress.

This seems pretty reasonable approach to me. In recent times the title has often gone to the team that leads from the front.

Oh Shit - August 31, 2010 Reply

O shea is really O shit ! Its really an eye sore to see him play. He is dumb, stupid,poor skills.What else to say? Bring on young boys and play him regularly then he will improve. Play O shit regularly brings nothing but anger. Please …. Sir Smart Aleck

raj k - August 31, 2010 Reply

great article!
but i think only rafael can feel hard done by. going forward, there is no doubt that he is better than oshea. but his defending is still suspect. more errors in big games like the ones in the city and bayern games could dent his confidence. sir alex is probably waiting for him to get better trained defensively.
the other kids have to wait for the cup games to prove their worth. cleverley’s rumored loan move is giving me mixed feelings. clearly he’ll benefit from more minutes there. but an injury to scholes will be nightmarish given the unreliability of carrick, gibson and anderson for various reasons.

raj k - August 31, 2010 Reply

and how is oshea getting picked ahead of brown? is brown injured? he is not even in the bench these days.

Bill - August 31, 2010 Reply

There are clear signals that Fergie sees Scholes as his primary midfield playmaker, with Carrick as cover. Gibson only likely to play if we go with 3 central midfielders.

I would expect 4-4-2 to be played more than expected pre-season, hence the move to allow Cleverley to gain Premier League experience at Wigan.

Fletcher and Anderson to be the central attacking midfield threat. Giggs and Park can play anywhere across the midfield spelling all the others.

Nani and Valencia obviously the first choice wingers. Playing time for Obertan may be limited, Bebe non-existent – expect a season in the reserves for him or even a loan spell after Xmas.

Ed - August 31, 2010 Reply

Bill – well yes, Fletcher has indeed played further forward than Scholes for the most part. So are we relying on Fletcher 19 goals in 259 appearances and Anderson 1 in 99 appearances for midfield goals and creativity?

Bill - August 31, 2010 Reply

The goals are going to have to come from Nani, Valencia, Berbatov and Rooney in the main. Scholes, Fletcher and Carrick might get 5 each, the rest not that many between them.

I think this season we live in hope rather than expectation. 2nd, CL QF and a cup seems the likely scenario.

The annoying thing is the Glazers seem to think that is ok, for a club like United with the resources we have it is almost the minimum requirement.

eddieTheRed - August 31, 2010 Reply

I’m gutted that Cleverley isn’t going to be playing in red this year; I argued for him to be given a chance on this blog over a week ago, thinking he could turn out to be our secret weapon; instead he’s going to be playing relegation football all season; I didn’t believe it when people were saying he wasn’t going to get a chance; suffice to say I’m feeling a bit stupid and frustrated by it all; I just hope he uses his chance at Wigan to take a point or two off our rivals!

ichiro - August 31, 2010 Reply

How is Evans not a young player? by that logic, if you get in the team, youre not classed as youth, its only if you cant get in the team. Hes the same age as Gibson isnt he?

Anyway, since we have no money to buy players, Fergie’s gona have no choice but to trust his young players soon enough.

Ed - August 31, 2010 Reply

ichiro – more a case of him now having experience. It’s not meant to be a sementic argument over what defines youth. Wayne Rooney still qualifies for the PFA Young Player Award.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - September 7, 2010 Reply

Welbeck scored twice and set up one in a 3-0 for th under21s, berbatov was anonymous

Alfonso Bedoya - September 18, 2010 Reply

Why didn’t Fergie sign Bale?

How much did he go for… 3/4 mill?… summat like that?

Fuckin hell.

sheesh - September 18, 2010 Reply

We did try and sign him but he opted to go to Spurs because he felt that he’d get more first team football there.

Just1n - September 19, 2010 Reply

sheesh said:
We did try and sign him but he opted to go to Spurs because he felt that he’d get more first team football there.

and he was correct in his decision

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