Ferguson’s final gift

Adnan Januzaj

There was nothing on when Jesse Lingard picked up the ball 30 yards from goal. No red shirts in sight, just plenty of blue, closing in. What happened next was a mixture of the fearlessness of youth combined with individual skill. A look up, a shimmy, a drag back, and then Lingard shifted his weight to wrap his right foot around the ball, bending it into the far corner.

In many ways, it was fitting that Lingard should wrap up United’s pre-season marketing exercise tour. Whilst United’s jaunt around Australia and Asia had undoubtedly earned some extra money to line the Glazers’ pockets, it also served as an exciting window into the future. Sir Alex Ferguson may have retired, but his final gift to United was on display.

There are two things at the heart of Manchester United, woven deep into the fabric of the club: the pursuit of exciting football, and a preference for developing young players. For all the talk of big summer signings that may or, more likely, may not happen; for all the talk of Thiago, Cesc Fabregas and Mouranne Fellaini, the truth is, for most fans, the greatest thrill is seeing one of ‘our own’ flourish.

There is a special place in the club annals for the Busby Babes, George Best, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. And it’s why there will be extra pleasure at seeing Danny Welbeck flourish into a top class player over the coming years – a favourite moment last season coming when Welbeck scored in the Bernabéu.

United may not have produced another batch of youngsters to match the legendary Babes or Fergie’s Fledglings, but there has been a steady number of youngsters making the grade in recent years. The aforementioned Welbeck and Tom Cleverley played an important role in last season’s title success. Darren Fletcher, John O’Shea and Wes Brown have all won Champions League winners medals. In Brown’s case, two of them.

And as football has become a truly global game,  academy rules have changed, and it has become easier to snap up the best young talent from around the world, the definition of a ‘home grown youngster’ has widened.

Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, the Da Silva twins and David De Gea may not have grown up in United’s youth academy, but they are ‘our’ youngsters. These are players that the club has invested in; players that fans watch as they improve and fulfill their potential. After all, watching youngsters grow into top class performers is far more exciting that spending big money on established stars.

It remains to be seen how successfully David Moyes maintains the tradition of attacking football at United; the side has only periodically excited with great football since Cristiano Ronaldo left. But there are enough encouraging signs that Moyes is committed to continuing developing youth.

The first team squad that visited Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong was shorn of several regulars, but still contained Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Patrice Evra, Robin van Persie and Giggs. Yet, it was three young players who consistently impressed.

The performances of Jesse Lingard, Adnan Januzaj and Wifried Zaha this summer should offer reason to be optimistic for the future. Not just because they are young, nor even because Lingard is a product of United’s academy, but because they are genuinely exciting. Because they produce moments of individual skill. Because they are players who entertain.

Last season was thrilling in many ways. The early season comebacks, the comprehensive title victory after disappointment the previous year, and the joyous finale. But in truth United’s football wasn’t that exciting.

In recent years United have become a functional machine, a team accustomed to gaining results by being greater than the sum of its parts thanks to Ferguson’s brilliance.

It has become a machine embodied by two players on the flanks – traditionally an area of strength – who have just a single trick each, which is more often than not unsuccessful. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are not bad players, but they are not players who set the pulses racing. They do not get fans off their seats. And with one goal between them last season, not ones to worry opposition defenders either.

Yet Lingard, Januzaj and Zaha promise something fresh and exciting. They are players who can play across the forward line; who have excellent technique. Players who can take on a defender with skill and who make football fun to watch. And what is football if it’s not entertainment?

As the post-season drew in and the reality of a post-Ferguson United dawns, fans thoughts turned to the transfer market. Could the new manager prise the cheque-book off Malcolm Glazer’s hands and invest in one or two big signings?

Certainly, a central midfielder is a must. It has been for years. But many fans  also want to see another forward – perhaps not a striker, but an upgrade on the resources available in wide or deeper attacking areas. An advance on the maddening inconsistency of Nani and on the average served up by Young and Valencia. On Rooney’s ‘hands on hips look of frustration despite being unfit’ demeanour.

But watching United this pre-season, and witnessing the growth of three young players, may have prompted a re-think. Why should the club spend big on a new attacking player when there may be a solution already present?

This trio is not alone. Larnell Cole and Nick Powell are big talents in midfield. Will Keane is a gifted forward who will overcome a  serious knee injury. His twin brother Michael, who also played on tour, impressed on loan at Leicester City last season. And Angelo Henriquez may not have appeared for the first team yet, but he has already been capped by – and scored for – his country at full international level.

Promote youth and Young, Nani and Valencia will be kept on their toes. Meanwhile, Januzaj can cover for Shinji Kagawa in the attacking midfield role. Suddenly, Moyes’ attack looks less stodgy and far more exciting. More like a ‘proper’ United side.

These players may not make it as first team regulars. They may or may not prove to be good enough. Premier League football may be a step too far. But maybe, just maybe, some will make it. That they are gifted technically, brave and exciting in possession, ensures United fans want them go all the way.

There’s every chance that a rejuvenated Chelsea and Manchester City will leave Moyes’ outfit in the slipstream this season, with the club adjusting to the post-Ferguson era. But it doesn’t mean that the club’s identity will be lost. Instead, there’s an opportunity to build on it and to build a new, great United side.

And perhaps, with this current batch of youngsters, Ferguson has left Moyes with everything he needs to do just that.

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  • Badejo MAO

    Moye’s should do whatever he. want to do b4 the time go! He is a good manager he needs 2 do it right so that fans can see what is cable of……….. Wishing him Best of luck

  • http://www.cgmufc.blogspot.co.uk Sam

    I agree, a defensive midfielder would be nice, as beyond Carrick none of our central midfielders are particularly accomplished defenders (excluding Fletcher). United have definitely not been slick in theirs performances these last few years, but hopefully the influx of technical players will change that.I’m still waiting for the day United replicate goal number two from the 2011 community shield vs man city. Anyway, the youngsters look promising, I think Lingards 4 goals have earnt him a PL start. Some will disagree, but if your scoring, I think you should be rewarded.

  • MS

    Good article, I enjoyed reading it. Agree about the great prospects Lingard, Januzaj, and Zaha. Lingard seems like a natural striker, so hope he proves good. Not and never was impressed with Welbeck, he misses 9 out of ten opportunities in the box, and most of those are one on ones. We can’t keep making excuses for him, he’s either a striker or he isn’t and I feel he isn’t. So if Moysie can’t find another role for him, and RVP, Chicharito get injured, we will be right up shit creek without a paddle. I am a Nani fan, and I believe he is miles more exciting to watch than Young or Valencia, so I hope he stays fit and Moysie backs him and gets the best out of him next season. ,

  • Adebola

    Lovely post. I’ve always shared this sentiment.

    The team didn’t lose any player save Scholesy, why panic buying? Yeah I know we need some additions but we can’t force the clubs to sell to us if they are not willing.

    Watching the trio of Danuzaj, Lingaard and Zaha gives me great delight and the assistance that we will surely compete with anyone.

    Note that other players too will step up in order to please DM, so be rest assured that we are in for an exciting season.

    #GGMU

  • Epicurean

    (frustrated) Gooner here, great article. Its great to read someone else who realises that it is a better feeling to produce your own than just capture 8 hyped up mediocre players from the continent. From what I can see Januzaj and Lingard look like they might have what it takes, even if I kept thinking you had put a keeper upfront (Lindegard). Keep you eye out for Gnarby and Eisfeld in the Arsenal side, I expect these two German Youth players to really break through this season XD

  • John

    After watching Zaha this preseason he is much faster and stronger than I realized. Moyes cannot justify starting Nani over Zaha. Nani should be lining up a new club.

  • Arnold Danthi

    you made my day :) .BELIEVE. UNITED FOREVER

  • Minilev

    Spot on article. I’ve watched all of United’s pre-season games and have been highly impressed by the the young trio. Januzaj is something extra special though, I hope he gets a chance to shine under Moyes. I don’t think we need Fabregas either. Moyes just needs to play Kagawa in a central attacking midfield role with RVP and Rooney (if he stays) up top. Moyes and United fans need to give the youngsters a chance and not worry about big name signings. I’m really hopeful about the new crop of young stars coming through the ranks.

  • john

    Fergie last gift? I respect the god of managers that is Ferguson but his last gift was leaving us in turmoil with Rooney moyes has got a hard enough job to do as it is and the last thing he needed was this Rooney mess that fergie left behind he should of kept his mouth shut and left it alone for moyes to deal with. As for a defensive midfield we don’t need on i think jones has the power defensive mind and passing ability to make the DM his position yes he wants to b a centre back but as fergie said had he been fit the real madid game last season would hve been a totally different game. I don’t think we need to spend money for that position. and as for attacking midfielder we have Kagawa who for mi os just as good as fabregas if just given the game time and with cleverly and one of the best talents to come through in januzej we have enough cover. I also think even if Wayne leaves we have enough up front give chito 40 to 50 games this season and he will score 30 goals i totally believe. For mi i would see how this season goes bring in the 3 young lads i know that tour football is totally different to league matches and champs league but united don’t have the attraction of the other big clubs and r not willing to slap the big money and wages on top talent that’s why city and Chelsea will always nick players from under r noses. The hounding of cesc is embarrassing leave it alonehe ain’t coming to united hes at his boyhood club and only been there 2 seasons not fucking realistic. And while we r pissing around with that the transfer windows closure draws ever near. And with Chelsea and city already bringing in the new transfers and bedding them into the squad they r gonna have the jump on us big time u mark my words this season is gonna b the wake up call united have needed for a long time. But i just hope zaha januzej and lingard get there chance cause i believe with a season of first team football they gonna save us a lot of money and become the future of united

  • steggo

    Talented as these youngsters undoubtedly are the question is-will they be given the chance? To be honest, Moyes is going to have enough pressure on him this season without blooding young players.Personally I would put them all in and see what happens but the way the game is run these days it does not allow for such extravagance. Lets hope none of these youngsters go the way of Pogba (news that Juventus want to “steal” Januzaj comes as no surprise given their unsavoury recent history).
    As regards to this pre-seasons pathetic efforts. What is the point of “chasing” players that obviously don’t want to sign? Is it a fob to the suckers that actually support the team (we tried to sign him but……….)? The type of player, maybe not world class at present,we should be signig (the likes of Strootman, Eriksen and Alcantara) we miss out on.We’ll end up signing both Fellaini and Baines, neither of who are needed, and how is Fellaini going to enhance the team?
    Disturbingly Moyes says the squad is “good enough”. Good enough for what? Is qualification for the knock-out stages of the Champions League the limit of our ambitions? Is that really good enough? No-we should be winning the CL and building a team for both domestic and European dominance-second place is not good enough for Manchester United.

  • john

    As much as i would like to agree the last 20 years has spoilt you and made you greedy this is good for the club and players as it gives them drive but we have no define right to win anything or exspect to win anything were r behind 2 English teams and 4 European ive been a united fan since 1982 and im telling ya 100% Chelsea will wn league and city 2nd we will b battleing spurs for 3rd if we don’t sign at least 2 top players i also think Liverpool will b pushing 4th place

  • barry

    wasnt macheda socring for fun in pre season not that long ago…

  • The_Philosopher

    These three are the best news we could have received in this transfer window.

    Zaha being the most prepared to secure a first team berth. Januzaj is a little way off the first team. And Lingard might not making it into the training squad. He might be shipped off on loan. . .

    Either way. These three are the best news we’ve gotten this whole season.

    I hope Moyes plays them.

    Adnan Januzaj is so technically gifted that I even think he is worth a gamble at a central midfield spot.

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