Loaning away the future



Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Wes Brown, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt – each is or was an established Manchester United player that came through the club’s academy. The group also shares another similarity; none of them ever left the club on loan, remaining at Old Trafford throughout their youthful years.

There seems  a common myth floating around the United ranks these days that to play for the side, previous first team experience is needed. Sir Alex Ferguson spoke recently about players seeing action and not stagnating.

But in fact, the only players under Sir Alex Ferguson that have become first team regulars after going out on loan are David Beckham and John O’Shea, with Johnny Evans also breaking into that exclusive club considering his recent performances with the United first team.

Beckham and O’Shea spent just one spell on loan once, while Evans played for both Antwerp and Sunderland. While the benefits of first team football has worked for that group, many of United’s more recent academy prospects wasted away on loan.

Take these recent examples.

Danny Simpson was once a very highly rated right back but after loan spells at five different clubs he was eventually deemed surplus and left for Newcastle United. Similarly, Fabien Brandy was England’s next great hope up front, scoring the winning goal in the 2007 Youth Championship Cup against Juventus and leading United to the FA Youth Cup Final in the same year.

In 2008 Brandy went out on loan for the first time. Four loans later and not only is the striker no longer a United player but the club did not receive a transfer fee for the once highly regarded forward. Just two of several examples where recent United youngsters have spent time on loan only to be released by the club.

Contrary to popular opinion, perhaps first team matches are no substitute for quality coaching and learning to play football the United way? United’s coaching staff from academy to reserve team is run by top class talent after all, including director Brian McClair to current reserve team coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

There is an argument that players training five a week, with the single match, miss out at the development stage if they spend time away from the club.

Is Championship football a ‘better experience’ for the young players when the FA Youth Cup is still one of the highest quality youth competitions in the world? Then there is the academy and reserve league games, which are often played at a quicker pace than Premier League matches. The experience is still a United experience.

One of the compliments given to the United youth system over the years has been how easy it is for youth players can make the jump to the first team to cover an injured, out of form or suspended player. After all these players are familiar with the United system, often training with first team players and can fill in the gap seamlessly.

There might be a perfect example of the theory in the current United squad. Tom Cleverley is one of the most sought after players in United’s academy, with press reports suggesting that he may be on his way to Newcastle for a season long loan.

There is an issue with this though. Newcastle will most likely see very little of the ball in the club’s Premier League matches this season. It means when Cleverley plays, which he may often not given Newcastle requires a more defensive player, the midfielder may be forced into a deeper role than he’s accustomed to. Is this the experience United requires when the 20-year-old returns?

Then there are the academy’s recent results in producing players for the first team. United’s academy has long been the envy of clubs across the country but in the past decade it has produced very few first team quality players.

Even Manchester City has won the FA Youth Cup more recently than United – last victorious in 2003 – as the club still recalls fond memories of the 1992 Youth Cup winning side that went on to win so many more substantial trophies for the first team.

Is then the club’s reliance on the loan system to blame? Maybe, maybe not, but the evidence says that first team match experience is no substitute to training with United’s best.


Based in Canada, Sam Gregory writes The Canadian Stretford End in addition to his contributions here.

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  • Josh Ewing

    I think it’s a slightly different scenario now than it was for the class of 92.

    I don’t think anyone can argue that Hewson and Brandy are United class. Neither really pushed on from good youth prospects.

    Think Evans is a good example that if you’re good enough and flourish on loan you’ll get your chance. Don’t forget Evans had two spells at Sunderland. The first in the Championship and the second after spending the first half of the next season at United, was injured for quite a bit of it but still played in Carling Cup and Champions League, when Sunderland we’re in Premier League.

    Hopefully Cleverley and Welbeck will have good loan spells to Premier League clubs this season and then be a proper part of the first team squad for next season. Out of those two I think Welbeck needs the regular football more as still raw but undoubtedly talented as pre-season is proving.

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/admin/ Ed

    It’s an interesting take that I hadn’t considered.But there is a worry with the youth system – United has produced just four first team regulars in the last decade – O’Shea, Fletcher, Evans, Brown. Gibson is on the cusp, although I personally don’t think he’s good enough. Is that a good enough return for the millions invested?

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    the point of our youth setup is so we can find young players to loan out, then we loan them out so they can gain a reputation and be sold on, we put a million into the youth setup a year, make five, quids in.

    the nevilles and butt and probably becks would be laughed off by fergie as potential first teamers now, maybe not gary since hes a gobby little scummy wanker, fergie loves that

    scholes and giggs would be maybes

    thank fuck for evans, the only one of the lot fergie has allowed to break through since the fledglings thats genuinely good enough

    cleverley and welbeck are but will be loaned to newcastle and sunderland then sold

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    gills son will be the next one allowed to step up for obvious reasons

  • eddieTheRed

    Interesting blog; do Barca loan out their young players in the same way? (to Arsenal maybe? lol); I personally want to see Tom Cleverley win a squad place and fight for his right to a start; I think he might be the genuine article.

  • http://www.redforcerising.net RFR

    I’m quite sure the coaching staff at Old Trafford make decisions to loan players on a case by case basis. Some players are ready for regular first team action at a very young age like Scholes, Rooney and Ronaldo and some blossom slightly later.
    I personally feel United should hold off on sending Cleverley out on loan. Let him train with the first team for half a season and give him some games when possible. The guy has real determination and I’d love to see him make it.
    Selecting the right club for the lads to go on loan to is equally important. At a more established club, the lads might not be used often enough ie Sunderland. At a newly-promoted side, they are unlikely to see much of the ball and if they end up in a relegation battle are not going to play expressive football. Having signed Martin Petrov, I think Bolton will try to play football this season. If they can’t get Wilshere maybe they’ll try for Cleverley.

  • captainhormone

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    gills son will be the next one allowed to step up for obvious reasons

    posh cunt…went to Manchester Grammar School

    Our academy is a money making machine……

  • RobDiablo

    Interesting article, Sam. I have recently been entertaining thoughts along a similar line and wondered if anyone else noticed (found it strange) that in the last twenty years, United have failed to produce top quality players in positions other than defense and midfield–no strikers, no goalkeepers. Macheda and Welbeck might change that, but I doubt it; Macheda doesn’t have the character to be a United player, and loaning Welbeck out while he’s going through a growth spurt (I’m well over six feet tall and remember what those are like) doesn’t seem like the most nurturing course of action to take. My guess is that if either player is with the first team in three years time, it will be because United have given up even pretending to be able to purchase top quality players.

    As for Cleverly going out on loan, the only way I can make sense of this (Gibson is clearly not good enough, Anderson and Hargreaves are finished at United) is to suspect that Fergie intends to buy a quality midfielder before the current transfer window closes. If no such purchase is made and Cleverly goes out on loan, that will signal that Fergie has talked up the youth in an effort to allay the concerns of supporters, but when push comes to shove, he will put his faith in Giggs and Scholes and hope that they can do the job one more time.

  • captainhormone

    Please explain why Macheda doesn’t have the character to make it at United. Have you personally ever met the lad or do you know him….i’m intrigued by such a bold statement.

  • Ella Patterson

    I think that this comment comes from someone who is quite young and cannot really remember how things were back in the early 90s and previously. I feel that this is more of a problem for the likes of England than foreign players in the Premiership is. The truth is that there is a growing gulf between Reserve football and pPremiership football. Even as recently as the 90s there were fewer subs in Premiership/First Division matches abd there fore more people to play in the reserves. Nowadays reserve football is like glorified youth team football and prepares nobody for the first team. In 1992 reserve footbal the class of 92 would have played against holder more experienced hardened professionals and therfore prepared for life in the first team. Nowadays the only way they can get this experience is to go out on loan. England have ubder 17 European Champions, under 19 quarterfinalists and under 21 finalists. These players should eventually make a good senior team if only they can develop. Thrrowing out all foreigners and putting them in the first teams is not a good way of doing it. Something needs to be done about the quality of the Reserve League. Perhaps the FA should look at this rather than ensuring that top teams take even fewer British youngsters and bring in more, younger foreigners so that they make the three years under 21 ruling
    Ella

  • ja

    Ed, I agree with your assessment of Gibson, who also has a disastrous season with Mick McCarthy on loan at Wolves! I wonder how that affected his development.

  • ja

    With regard to youthful promise not being fulfilled, I can recommend a book by Colin Shindler (no, not United ruined my life) but ‘George Best and 21 others’ about the 1994 United and City youth teams who contested the Youth Cup Final, one of my earliest memories of OT. Most of the 21 drifted into obscurity for various reasons, including injury and loss of interest. There were a handful of household names, incluing perhaps Rimmer, Sadler, Noble and for City, the utterly obnoxious Mike Doyle.

  • gazno77

    Very interesting piece, thanks Sam.

    I don’t think the sheer number of games up-and-comers get in a season is all that important, but the quality of games certainly is. I’d rather see Cleverly play 5 or 6 games for United in his favoured position, than go to Newcastle and get a bag full of games playing deep, uncreative football. The quality of games and quality of coaching will improve the player’s technique, not solely first team action.

  • RobDiablo

    @captainhormone
    No, I have never met Macheda or any other United player. Fortunately, that is not a requirement for forming and expressing an opinion based on what I have seen and read. I may very well be proved wrong; it’s happened before and will, undoubtedly happen again.

  • sukhy5

    Hi Rob.

    Are you basing your opinion on the rumours that Kiko like to spend the majority of his afternoons / evenings in the local casinos?

    • Fwenchy

      I think the importance one way or the other is overstated.
      If you are good enough it wont matter either way. If Cleverley is UTD class he will show it at Newcastle, you have to remember though that the only reason these players go out on loan in the first place is because the manager is not certain they are indeed UTD certainties. Whether you agree or not (and i’m not sure i do!) it seems that Fergy considers Macheda a near certainty and hence is going no where whereas Wellbeck for example comes into the ‘maybe’ category.

  • Just1n

    Kiko’s attitude matters little unless he gets a chance and then fucks it up.

    Give him a spot in the team ffs.

  • captainhormone

    but i want to know why he wont make it…in fact, no i fucking dont…i know why he wont make it and its fuck all to do with his character

    he won’t make it because he won’t stay around waiting for a chance, only to be not given one.

    he’ll go back to Italy and become a phenomenal centre forward in the mould of vierri and toni, and we’ll all feel like twats for seeing another great young lad slip away.

  • Just1n

    yeah that seems to be the way we do things these days.

    Great youth break through when they are 19-20 years old , but our youth need to wait until they are 24 before been given an extended chance , no fucking wonder they fuck off.

  • uncleknobheadforfucksake

    owen needs games to gain his sharpness back

  • Just1n

    sad but true

  • captainhormone

    He (owen) won’t get them..he never got them last year when he was fit, Berbatov did get a run (sort of) but he was shite. This season i can see Hernandez getting a run in the side….a run of 1 game then going the same way as every fucker else.

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
    owen needs games to gain his sharpness back

    Good one.

    • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/admin/ Ed

      Isn’t that the perpetual story – Owen always needs games to get his sharpness back because he’s always coming back from injury.

  • http://canadianstretty.com/ Sam Gregory

    Yes part of the academy is really their to finance itself by sending players out on loan and making a profit out of them, but as Ed said earlier United’s academy really has started to dry up. We don’t want to become an Arsenal where we only poach youngsters from other clubs instead of developing them ourselves. And the forward point is interesting as well. I’d like to think Welbeck could be the first one to break through because I rate him very highly, but Sir Alex once again seems set on sending him out on loan.

    As for the Barcelona comment. Barcelona rarely sends players out on loan, but they and the rest of Spain have a fantastic set up where their reserve teams play in the lower leagues. So really the youngsters there get the best of both worlds. They can play “first team football” with Barcelona B in the second or third division while still training with the Barcelona first team. I don’t forsee something like that happening in England, but if it did I think United would see huge gains.

  • http://www.newhallmedialtd.com Calvino

    Sir Alex has lost his nerve. I could not believe that we lost Simpson to Newcastle and keep a washed up Gary Neville. We keep Scholes and play Giggs uptop and then loan out Welbeck and keep Macheda in the reserves or the bench. It is frankly amazing. When Rooney was injured it was crying out for Kiko to play alone upfront. Torres started out upfront alone at 18 for Madrid!! So let no one tell me about age here. A player can learn something from an early age and get better with years. Not at United again these days.

  • http://www.visual-intrusion.com Robbo

    Sam Gregory said:
    Yes part of the academy is really their to finance itself by sending players out on loan and making a profit out of them, but as Ed said earlier United’s academy really has started to dry up. We don’t want to become an Arsenal where we only poach youngsters from other clubs instead of developing them ourselves. And the forward point is interesting as well. I’d like to think Welbeck could be the first one to break through because I rate him very highly, but Sir Alex once again seems set on sending him out on loan.

    As for the Barcelona comment. Barcelona rarely sends players out on loan, but they and the rest of Spain have a fantastic set up where their reserve teams play in the lower leagues. So really the youngsters there get the best of both worlds. They can play “first team football” with Barcelona B in the second or third division while still training with the Barcelona first team. I don’t forsee something like that happening in England, but if it did I think United would see huge gains.

    Similar in Germany as well most of the top Bundesliga clubs have a second team that plays in the Regionalliga they cant get promoted but young players or players coming back from injury usually then play these matches which are a full season competitive because small clubs can get promoted in to the Dritte Liga so they make the effort.

    As Sam says it isn’t going to happen in England because the Jobworthys at the FA don’t see a problem.

  • RobDiablo

    @Sukhy and captainhormone
    Sorry for the delayed response, but I went to bed shortly after my last post. I can understand your frustration in trying to discover the source of my apparent antipathy toward Macheda, but I cannot provide a time-line of the impressions that have helped me to form my opinion. It’s like this: my best friend and I talk football all the time, so, while he does not always agree with me (he supports Arsenal), he knows why I feel the way I do. I have not interacted with the readers of this blog enough for the same kind of understanding to have developed between us.

    In any case, I don’t dislike Macheda; I think he has plenty of potential, but I never expected that ten years from now supporters would be singing, “our Macheda is a red, is a red…” I believe it has always been his intention to do a “Renaldo” – learn what he can at United, get near the top of his game, and then leave for warmer climes – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I believe, like captainhormone seems to, that a lack of first team play will act to bring the day of Macheda’s departure that much closer.

  • sukhy5

    Cheers for the response Rob.

    Hopefully Kiko gets a sustained run in the first team and establishes himself.

    We have done alot for him and his family – did we get his Dad a job?

    He could be our Vieri…

  • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/jaff/ Liam

    I seriously wonder whether any of the youth players will get a genuine stab at the first team this year. I can’t see it tbh, with reliance on the old guard the continuing order of the day.

  • sheesh

    captainhormone said:
    went to Manchester Grammar School

    You know MGS?

    I nearly went there. Was pretty gutted I didn’t.

  • captainhormone

    sheesh said:
    You know MGS?

    I nearly went there. Was pretty gutted I didn’t.

    yeah, i put their leased line in there…. got on well with the IT manager too…hes a big red too

  • Ian

    some interesting points raised in this article and in the comments.
    agree that its very disappointing to see these young reds sent out on loan. cleverley has shown more than most already and looks to be the one with a real chance. is he definately going on loan? personally i think wellbeck will join the long list of those who have nearly made it at United but will eventually move on and be a talented player at a mediocre club… like Greening, Eagles, Richardson… etc.

  • Ian

    few people saying darren gibson is ‘clearly not good enough’ for United…. but how many were saying that about darren fletcher a couple of season ago… and now big game fletch is the backbone of the midfield!! Give the kids a chance FFS he hasnt even played 5 games in a row yet!! i think we may well be relying on him sooner than you think. looks like hes been practising the free kicks anyway.. god knows we need someone who can hit them.

    • http://www.unitedrant.co.uk/members/admin/ Ed

      @Ian that’s a perfectly fair point. My personal argument is that Fletcher turned himself from a technical attacking midfielder at 16, that basically wasn’t good enough when it came to playing with the big boys, into a hard working grafting player by the age of 24.

      Gibson has a pretension at being an attacking midfielder, a technical player that he simply isn’t. I don’t see how he can learn that now – he’ll be 23 soon. He’s a one trick pony. Not that there’s any harm having him around, just when compared with the very best in Europe he’s nowhere close and isn’t that the level United should be competing at?

  • RobDiablo

    @ian You’re right about the possibility of Gibson coming good in time, but, more worrying, you might also be right about our relying on him sooner than we think. I must say that he is only the second player I have seen get that Jabulani ball up over a wall and down under the crossbar. NASA needs to study that ball’s design; it goes up higher and faster than the force imparted to it says it should and only come down when gravity absolutely insists upon it.

    The reason I write Gibson off is that he is neither a Scholes or a Keane, and those are the kind of players we need in a midfield that wins the big trophies.

  • RobDiablo

    RobDiablo said:
    @ian You’re right about the possibility of Gibson coming good in time, but, more worrying, you might also be right about our relying on him sooner than we think. I must say that he is only the second player I have seen get that Jabulani ball up over a wall and down under the crossbar. NASA needs to study that ball’s design; it goes up higher and faster than the force imparted to it says it should and only comes down when gravity absolutely insists upon it.

    The reason I write Gibson off is that he is neither a Scholes or a Keane, and those are the kind of midfielders we need in a side that wins the big trophies.

  • kramer

    gibson looks too slow, and completely short of ideas. i forget which match it was, but there was a counterattack when he had the ball near the half way line and rooney was along side him with just one defender between them and the goal. and gibson tried to shoot from fucking 35 yards.
    he seems to have no confidence in his touch, and turns like the titanic. his passing is decent, and his shooting is superb, but he doesn’t offer enough attacking wise or defensively. he might improve a little bit, but i don’t think he’ll ever be good enough.

    about the comparisons with fletcher: when fletcher came through, the midfield was far stronger. also, fletcher had had serious injuries and fergie insisted on playing him on the wing even though he was clearly not a winger. besides, fletcher always exhibited the basic intelligence to make the correct decision and not shoot like a cunt from 50 yards every time he got the chance.

  • captainhormone

    everytime gibson plays shirt sales go up, as people with downs love him

  • Pikey McScum

    captainhormone said:
    everytime gibson plays shirt sales go up, as people with downs love him

    I swear, I nearly fell off my seat reading that!!!!

  • cantilever_moaner

    I’m quicker and harder than Gibson and I’m a short, fat, old git !

  • http://www.visual-intrusion.com Robbo

    cantilever_moaner said:
    I’m quicker and harder than Gibson and I’m a short, fat, old git !

    Related to Hormone by any chance then