You know the meme about Christian Grey’s unconventional tastes? It could well be due an update following Louis van Gaal’s revealing interview in the aftermath of Manchester United’s draw with Leicester City at the weekend. Pulling hair, says the Dutchman, is allowed in “sex masochism” but not on the pitch – this despite Robert Huth’s best efforts to put Marouane Fellaini off his A-game. Fellaini hit the Leicester defender where it hurts, though nobody was sure whether Huth actually likes that sort of thing. Either way, it was hardly a lover’s touch.
It has been a disastrous second season at Manchester United – one that has seen support for the Iron Tulip evaporate at an alarming rate. After spending millions in the transfer market, coupled with some exuberant predictions of success, fans have been incensed by humiliating in defeats to Norwich City, Bournemouth and more recently Sunderland. It is a run that threatens to a ruin a third season in a row. Read More
Four goals in two starts, a pair of braces no less, represents a fairytale start to life in Manchester United’s first team for Marcus Rashford. The 18-year old enjoyed a dream Premier League début against Arsenal, to quote an oft-used cliché. Rashford’s strikes were predatory; his movement sharp, while his hold-up play and awareness to set-up Ander Herrera displayed maturity beyond his years. The Fletcher Moss Rangers graduate deservedly picked up the man of the match award for a sensational performance at Old Trafford. What happens next is up to him, but Rashford could become a key player should his progress continue. Read More
It was a moment of purest theatre. The sharp crack of a bulging net; the roar of an otherwise subdued crowd; the birth of a new star. Marcus Rashford’s neatly taken goal against Danish side Midtjylland in the Europa League last week was a moment that epitomised so much of Manchester United’s 138 years. The club of the Babes, Fledglings and Class of ’92, now perhaps on the cusp of a fresh, youthfully inspired regeneration. Amid increasing frustration, an early goal for the visiting team, and a missed penalty, Rashford’s side-footed finish meant more than most.
Legendary Italian player Paolo Maldini was 35-years-old when asked if he still got nervous ahead of matches. “It’s much worse now”, he replied, “when you’re young, you don’t really care about all the fuss, you just want to prove yourself.” There’s probably a lot to learn from Maldini, and even more so when last Saturday’s game against Sunderland and subsequent goals from youngster Adnan Januzaj are put in to context.
Unlike many senior Manchester United players, the young Belgian-Albanian seemed to enjoy his football, looking eager to prove himself. There was no stress as Januzaj took two beautiful goals. The first a fine pass out to Patrice Evra on the left, with Sunderland hardman Lee Cattermole snipping at the young attacker’s heels, followed by a well-timed run in to the box and nice finish with his right. Januzaj’s second was even better when a poor John O’Shea clearance was hammered into the corner with a volley even Robin van Persie would have been proud of.
There’s no denying Januzaj a run in the first team now, not after Saturday’s display, especially if David Moyes considers Ashley Young to be the youngster’s main competitor on United’s left! England international Young hasn’t performed well in the United shirt since the Reds beat Manchester City at Ethiad in December, almost a year ago. Moyes probably realises this too, which perhaps is why Young was nowhere to be seen last weekend.
The soon-to-be-out-of-contract Januzaj actually became the youngest ever to score two goals in a Premier League game Saturday evening, so if Moyes and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward know a bit about what they’re doing – and the jury is still definitely out – they’ll make sure the youngster signs a lengthy, and profitable, contract extension. The club can ill afford another Paul Pogba situation.
Can you actually win something with kids; perhaps Moyes should look to Januzaj and other United starlets to save this so far dismal season? It’s not as if blame can be attached to any of the squad’s younger players for United’s tepid season start.
Take Rio Ferdinand, for example, who was omitted from the squad against Sunderland with a groin strain. The England international has been at fault for much that’s been going on in United’s defence this season. Both of Bayern Leverkusen’s goals in the Champions League came from Rio’s mistakes, and the same argument can be made of West Bromwich Albion’s goals at Old Trafford.
Which begs the question: where’s Johnny Evans? Thoroughly solid two seasons on the trot, the Northern Irishman seems to be another of United’s forgotten men after his comfortable display in his first game this season against Liverpool in the league cup. Maybe Moyes blames the international for United’s shock defeat against WBA?
Phil Jones should perhaps have done better when Sunderland scored the opening goal last Saturday, but United captain Nemanja Vidic won’t be pleased with the way he handed Craig Gardner the opening goal. And hasn’t Chris Smalling been pretty much outstanding when given the chance this campaign? Perhaps a little more faith in youth at the back is the way forward, while playing with some enthusiasm like Rafael Da Silva would be nice.
Januzaj might not be the sole bright young spot on offer for United this season. It was, after all, a masterclass save from ‘keeper David De Gea with the score still at 1-0 to the home side that kept United in the game.
And Tom ‘TC23’ Cleverley might deserve a few more games next to Michael Carrick in the centre of the park after two decent performances against Shaktar Donetsk and the second half against Sunderland. At least the Englishman brings a bit more energy than Marouane Fellaini, who so far seems to only be very good at passing the ball back to Carrick, or even further back towards one of United’s defenders.
Perhaps another one to claim a future place next to Carrick could be the attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard, who’s on loan to Birmingham City in the Championship until the end of October. Lingard proved during this summer’s marketing tour – formerly known as “preseason” – that he knows how to shoot, so there seems little to lose in offering the youngster time when the loan deal expires. Four goals in his first game for the Brummies prompted the experienced Birmingham assistant manager Terry McDermott to say it was the best debut he had ever seen.
Then there is Nick Powell, the first player to ever have scored a goal for Wigan Athletic in Europe – a player that was hailed by Crewe Alexandra legend Dario Gradi as one of the finest to emerge from the club’s acknowledged academy.
It is not too much to ask that talents such as Januzaj, Lingard and Powell are given a chance ahead of those that have been given many, but failed to impress. If only to make sure the senior players know that their places are under threat. After all, the aforementioned Pogba went from United’s bench to star at Juventus – it should never happen again.
It also might not be a bad idea to give Wilfried Zaha a first team debut sometime soon. The youngster could show a tad more creative spark than the ultra boring Antonio Valencia, a player that Patrice Evra once described by saying “I think he ate a motor!” Some how the Ecuadorian who has “eaten a motor” now fails to track back, pass opposition defenders or properly cross the ball. Maybe the motor is depleted?
Meanwhile, many seem to think that want-away star Wayne Rooney has been United’s finest so far, but his form is surely vastly overrated. The Scouser’s touch doesn’t look good – always a barometer – and running around like a very rich man’s Carlos Tevez isn’t going to win United enough matches, nor trophies, unless is for appreciating “effort” above all else.
Sadly, Rooney’s new-found striking partner Robin van Persie doesn’t look all that fit either, not after fluffing the chance he had to score United’s third goal against Sunderland when the Dutchman was through one on one with the home side’s ‘keeper. van Persie in good form would score in a position like that. Possibly even in his sleep.
There is even an argument – a brutal one – that a younger guard in Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernández have earned a chance during the coming run of ‘favourable fixtures.’
“Manchester United has always relied hugely on young players and my priority will always be to promote these talents”, Moyes said this summer. Now is the time to prove it, David, and play your darlings!
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.
Following Jesse Lingard’s spectacular second strike against the A-League All Stars on Saturday the youngster was embraced by three other products of Manchester United’s Academy: Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Ryan Giggs. Each of the quartet in the huddle represents a different era in a famous production line – and the latest graduates could make it into David Moyes’ first team.
Ryan Giggs is the club’s greatest achiever, having earned 13 top flight league winners’ medals and amassed almost as many personal records in two decades at the club. He isn’t finished either, playing into his 40th year and beginning a new career as a coach.
Giggs graduated into the first team picture just as Alex Ferguson was forging the club in his image during the early 1990s – rebuilding the foundations of youth that Sir Matt Busby first laid down with Jimmy Murphy four decades earlier.
The Welshman was the first of Eric Harrison’s spectacular crop, but a decade later the production line had seemingly slowed, with Wes Brown and John O’Shea the only first team regulars to have graduated from United’s academy in the early 2000s. Each had high levels of talent and enthusiasm, but neither was as outstanding as Ferguson’s first set of ‘fledglings’.
Indeed, it took Dutchman Rene Meulensteen – a disciple of Wiel Coerver’s coaching philosophy – to inject new life into the academy, producing a crop of hyper-technical players over the next decade and revolutionising training methods at every level of the club.
Cleverley and Danny Welbeck are the most notable graduates of Meulensteen time at United. Each was schooled in the importance of first touch, technique, close control and teamwork from a young age.
The Basingstoke-born player joined United at 13 while Welbeck was just eight. In fact there is a sense when watching the pair play that those skills learned over hours on the training pitch might outweigh natural talent – certainly in Cleverley’s case.
And the next graduate could be Lingard, who was part of the cohort that won the 2011 FA Youth Cup and then four trophies when promoted to Warren Joyce’s reserve squad in the next season.
There were several ‘stars’ in that Under-18 team managed by Paul McGuinness, most notably Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba, but they were well aided by Larnel Cole, Zeki Fryers, Ryan Tunnicliffe, brothers Michael and Will Keane, and of course Lingard. This was a highly technical young team, which looked every inch as if Meulensteen’s coaching methods had been put into practice by McGuinness.
Over the next two years several youngsters left the club, but the current crop of young players pushing for a place in Moyes’ first team must be taken seriously.
Michael Keane handled the pressure of playing against Newcastle United at Old Trafford last season, and a strong Chelsea line-up at Stamford Bridge with surprising confidence. Keane went on to play a significant role in the second half of the season at Leicester City in the Championship.
Keane could make it into the first team picture this season. After all, Nemenja Vidic’s triple knee injury leaves the Serbian susceptible to forwards who attack at speed, while some clumsy performances have come at David de Gea’s cost.
True, Rio Ferdinand’s reemergence as one of the world’s finest defenders, Jonny Evans’ progression and Chris Smalling’s promise leave United’s well stocked at centre-half.
But add Phil Jones’ obvious abilities into the mix and there is even an argument that Vidić should be sold while the veteran retains some value. This would allow Keane to join a strong group of central defenders at the club, even if the youngster heads out on loan for part of the season, while Smalling and Jones deputise for Ferdinand and Evans.
Yet, it is the club’s young attacking midfielders that are perhaps the most exciting reference point on this summer’s money-making tour of the universe. The entertaining performances by Lingard and Adnan Januzaj to date have been highly impressive. Each operates with maturity when making decisions – certainly more so than the 26-year-old Nani – and each has more natural talent than Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia.
Include Larnel Cole, who missed the tour due to Under 20 international duties, together with new acquisition Wilfried Zaha, and United’s problem on the wings last season could be solved by youth.
If the aforementioned quartet is promoted this season, with the incumbents offloaded, United will rapidly acquire an upgrade on the wings. Zaha, Januzaj, Lingard, Cole, together with Giggs and sporadic appearances in wide areas from Welbeck, Shinji Kagawa, Fabio da Silva and even Alexander Buttner should suffice Moyes in the season ahead.
It is a strategy for the future rather than one that is ready to take on European champions Bayern Munich, of course, but it is also a group that is not far off being collectively superior to United’s current resources.
There is an argument that Lingard and Cole should be afforded loan spells this season, but the new crop’s professionalism is a breath of fresh air when compared to the frustration that Morrison and Pogba caused, not to mention Nani’s decision making or Young’s mediocrity.
It is a far fetched hope perhaps. Yet, when Moyes first joined the club in July the Scot made a point of declaring his belief in United’s tradition of producing young players that perform at the highest level. It may even work in the manager’s favour – introducing youth now is both in that tradition and popular with supporters. After all, it might even appease demanding fans when Moyes’ United team loses its first games, as it inevitably will.
What is the world coming to? Not only was Stuart Pearce positively defiant in the face of England’s humiliating exit at the European Under-21 Championships, but he confidently assured the waiting press that he expects to remain in charge of the country’s primary development team. It is a “long-term plan,” said the former Manchester City manager. “I’ve been very impressed with him, absolutely,” said FA chairman David Bernstein. Neither, it seems, has a sense of irony.
Indeed, Pearce’s continuance as Under-21’s manager might be laughable but for the FA’s propensity to thoroughly, and repeatedly, botch youth development over the past 30 years. After all, Howard Wilkinson’s ‘Charter for Quality’, published in 1997, followed the FA’s ‘Blueprint for the Future of Football’ in 1991. If Pearce’s England Under-21 side is any evidence, neither did much for the technical or tactical nous of the country’s young stars.
The latest course of action – dubbed the Elite Player Performance Plan – will allow academies to increase coaching hours, while the artificially restricted geographical remit is now loosened. Controversially, EPPP will also lead to many youth development programmes closing at smaller clubs.
Comprehensive defeat on Saturday against Norway followed England’s loss to Italy in the opening round of games, leaving the Young Lions out of the U21 tournament before the group stage concluded and yet another inquiry into quite how badly youth development has stalled in the country in the offing.
Worse still, not only did 51-year-old Pearce’s team lose twice in Israel over the past week, but his side’s direct approach was eerily reminiscent of Charles Hughes’ destructive long-ball folly, to a nation’s eternal embarrassment.
Meanwhile, Pearce blamed anybody else but himself for the failure: his players for their performances and the FA for allowing Jack Rodwell, Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck to travel with the full team for a friendly against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.
“If you don’t bring your best then you have to take your chance,” said the England Under-21 coach ahead of Norway’s 3-1 victory on Saturday. “To be successful at senior level you have to qualify with the best team, you have to take your best team to the tournament and you have to give young players as much tournament experience as possible.”
The challenge of development isn’t England’s alone – Manchester United, so famed for bringing young players through to the first team under Sir Alex Ferguson, boasts just three players – Wes Brown, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck – who have graduated to full England international colours since the early 1990s.
In an increasingly globalised market United’s search for talent has progressed ever farther overseas. Indeed, the Reds’ under 21 and academy sides now boasts a dozen players not qualified to play for England. Last season United triumphed in the Under 21 Premier League but of the nine players used during the 16 game campaign do not qualify for England. Building on the theme, United’s reserve team player of the year was the outstanding young Belgian Adnan Januzaj.
The club isn’t alone in the policy of recruiting from all markets. According to widely report data released by the Swiss-based CIES Football Observatory only 35 England-qualified players younger than 21 made appearances in the Premier League last season, the lowest figure since 2005. There is little reason to believe that the trend will reverse in the coming seasons.
Youth development in England mirrors the Premier League as a whole with 62.3 per cent of players in the division not qualified to play for the English national team. By contrast the Bundesliga, which can boast two Champions League finalists this season, is 22.6 per cent non-German. In Spain 37.3 per cent of players are from overseas; France it is 42.2 per cent and Italy 53.8 per cent. There are, on average, 17 overseas players at each Premier League club.
But in that observation comes a question: what incentive is in place to alter the policy, with millions in television and sponsorship revenue on the line driving the insatiable demand for immediate success? Or, indeed, why should there be. After all, the Premier League product has suffered not for the internationalisation of talent over the past two decades. Nor, one suspects, do club supporters genuinely care where the players representing ‘their’ club hail from.
At United the relative failure to blood English talent since David Beckham, the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes broke into Sir Alex Ferguson’s team is supplemented by young talent from further afield. Jonny Evans, Rafael da Silva, Anderson and David de Gea each debuted as teenagers. Meanwhile, England defenders Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were acquired for a fee totalling around £30 million, and Wilfried Zaha joins for £15 million this summer.
There is hope though for those English fans of the more optimistic bent – a potential Under 21 front six of Welbeck, Zaha, Oxlade-Chamberlain, together with Raheem Sterling, Tom Ince and Jack Wilshere bodes well for future national success. Add Walker, Smalling and Jones into the mix and England might field a talented side come the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Pearce, on this evidence, is unlikely to be anywhere near the top job, with former United trainee Michael Appleton reportedly the favourite to take over at Under 21 level. The 37-year-old worked as assistant manager for Roy Hodgson at West Bromwich Albion.
United, meanwhile, will continue to recruit youth from all markets, including David Moyes’ first signing the Uruguayan right-back Guillermo Varela. The 20-year-old joins from Atlético Peñarol in a deal worth up to £2.4 million and will feature at the Under-20 world championships, which take place in Turkey from 21 June to 13 July this summer.
Time will tell if he is another da Silva or another Bebe. Either way, he won’t be turning out for England.
It could hardly be rosier at Manchester United’s academy. Despite the extensive building work taking place at Carrington, academy players enjoy some of the finest facilities in England, a large coaching staff, education and medical programmes second to few, and a manager whom professes dedication to youth. Indeed, United – culturally, historically, and financially – is set up to deliver high quality from the academy and under-21 sides into Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team.
On Wednesday four more youngsters made first team débuts for the club, this time against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup – long a route from youth to Ferguson’s principal side. This brings to 206 the number of players brought from youth and academy sides into the first team in the club’s history – 94 having also played for their respective international sides. It is, by any measure, a remarkable statistic.
Yet, the road for Wednesday’s début four – Marnick Vermijl, Robbie Brady, Scott Wootton and Ryan Tunnicliffe – is long and comes with no guarantees of success. After all, not since the famous class of ’92 has the club consistently brought players through age-group sides to regular places in the first team. At least not in batches.
On Wednesday, in addition to the four youngsters, former youth team player Darren Fletcher started for the club, while Ryan Giggs played his 912th game for United at Anfield last Sunday. Paul Scholes, still going at 36, has 702 appearances for the club. Into his sixth season with the club, Jonny Evans, at 24, is no longer a ‘youth’.
Elsewhere Danny Welbeck could yet enjoy a fine career with United, although at this stage there are few guarantees quite how fine, while Tom Cleverley holds the hopes and hearts of millions. Cleverley’s game number 19 brought a first goal for the club against Newcastle United on Wednesday, but the player’s ‘brand value’ to date eclipses performances from the Basingstoke-born 23-year-old.
Indeed, over the past two decades there has been mixed success in the path from youth to Sir Alex’ side. For every Scholes, a John O’Shea; for every O’Shea, a Ravel Morrison. Failure is far more common than success at all clubs, and none bar modern Barcelona has matched ’92’s transition from youth to the international stage.
Yet, there are signs that a new wave of high quality youngsters is on the cusp of a breakthrough at Old Trafford, although only time will tell how many make it at United, let alone on the international front. Talent, as ever with youth, is only part of a far greater picture.
On Wednesday each of the quartet can be proud of bows taken in front of a lively if sparse Old Trafford crowd. Performances were understandably mixed. At right back Vermijl, who has impressed at reserve level with tireless running and attacking intent, suffered from début nerves, although the Belgian’s quality in the attacking third was reminiscent of positive displays for the reserve side over the past year. Aged just 20, time is still on the former Standard Liège player’s side.
Meanwhile, Wootton, 21, will take no embarrassment from a display that kept Shola Ameobi quiet for large portions of the game, while far more experienced defenders will also struggle with Papiss Cisse’s quality.
Yet, it is key season for Wootton who has spent time away from the club at Tranmere Rovers, Peterborough United and Nottingham Forrest in recent seasons. With five central defenders ahead of the youngster in the pecking order it is hard to envision a breakthrough for the Birkenhead-born defender.
Wootton’s defensive partner, Michael Keane, was the stand out youngster on Wednesday in only his second start for the club, demonstrating the poise that has become so evident in recent times. The Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year was thought by many little more than an average right-back 18 months ago, but has made more progress than almost any other young player at Old Trafford.
In this Ferguson has reason to be satisfied – not least victory over a more experienced Newcastle outfit that should have exploited United’s fledgling back-four with more purpose.
“I’m very pleased,” claimed Ferguson after United’s 2-1 victory.
“First of all, given the tie was an all-Premier League one and Newcastle are probably a stronger team than us physically, we played some fantastic football. We kept on playing our football and persevered with that and had good composure in our game. I was really pleased with that and I think we deserved to win. Newcastle are a very powerful team so it’s good to get through that one.”
United’s next Capital One fixture, away at Chelsea on Halloween, is unlikely to be as forgiving, with Roberto di Matteo having deployed an experienced side against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Tuesday. Tempted though Ferguson may find the opportunity to further blood his youngsters, it is unthinkable that the Scot will once again deploy a back-five, including David de Gea, whose average age was just 20.8 years.
Yet, there are others still waiting for an opportunity. Late substitute Tunnicliffe, deployed out of position at right-back, will surely get more chances this season – and the Heywood-born youngster at least earned his old man a nice bonus for the night’s work.
Besides Tunnicliffe, Brady is also seeking more playing time this season, appearing for a few short minutes on his début against the Magpies. Brady scored one and made one when making his Republic of Ireland bow against Oman earlier this month. There is much more to come from the left-sided midfielder.
There are plenty more who did not make it into Ferguson’s Capital One side – Larnell Cole, Jesse Lindgard, Davide Petrucci, Tyler Blackett, Joshua King and many more. And for many the newly formed Professional Development League simply won’t be test enough this season.
In that there is a warning; competition for the right to get a shot at the first team is equal to the fight for places in Ferguson’s main side itself. History may may spin a positive tale when it comes to United’s dalliance with youth, but the modern game is less forgiving. As the last of ’92’s class heads into the winters of their careers, the new generation unveiled on Wednesday has a tough road ahead.
Whatever happens in the Premier League title race over the coming four weeks Manchester United fans can celebrate silverware once again after Warren Joyce’s reserve side secured the Premier Reserve League North title on Tuesday night. Facing Newcastle reserves at Whitley Park, Joyce’s outfit came from three goals down inside 30 minutes to win 6-3 in truly spectacular style, with striker Will Keane scoring four.
On the night striker Keane grabbed all the headlines as the young Geordies capitulated, before the outstanding Italian midfielder Davide Petrucci and Belgian defender Ritchie De Laet also found the net. With four fixtures remaining United’s reserves are now seven clear of Liverpool – which has played twice more – and will face the Southern champions Aston Villa in an end-of-season play-off.
“It’s always nice to get on the scoresheet but the main objective was getting the win which meant we won the league,” Keane told MUTV.
“That was the main aim going into the game and we managed to do that so it was good. The defence played quite a high line at Newcastle so I was always looking to get through and, in the end, I should’ve scored six but I’ll take four as I’m happy with that.
“We usually play 4-3-3 so, most of the time, I’ve been on my own up front and it’s been quite tough so when Ritchie [De Laet] came up, it helped. He’s a big, physical presence and his pace helped me get a bit more time and he assisted me as well so it was good. I’ve had a good run in the team and scored quite a lot of goals, which I’ve been pleased with. Overall, the team have done well and the team spirit has been good, we’ve all got on well.”
Tuesday’s result, and the title confirmation, is ample reward for a fine campaign, which has seen Joyce’s men rack up 13 wins in 18 league games this season, scoring 50 goals in the process.
And if progress in the reserves is measured not solely by victories and silverware, but also by the conveyor belt to Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team, then Joyce can be very proud of his achievements this season. Will and Michael Keane, Ezekiel Fryers, Paul Pogba and Larnell Cole have each made their competitive first team débuts in the current season.
Indeed, the talent pool is so deep that Petrucci would surely have found more first team opportunities in the cup competitions had it not been for injury problems in previous seasons, while Jesse Lindgard has been outstanding.
On Thursday the youngsters visit Liverpool, with the Scousers likely to finish above Sunderland as runners-up, before concluding the season with games against Chelsea, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the aforementioned Sunderland.
Then on to the play-off with Villa, which is likely to be held at Old Trafford in May. If it is any omen, Joyce’s men recently beat the young Villa side 3-1 at Moss Lane, Altrincham.
(Inman 16, Airey 26pen, Taylor 32)
(W.Keane 40,40,54,73 Petrucci 64, De Laet 76)
Newcastle: Alnwick, Nzuzi, Moyo, Logan, J.Henderson, Folan (Nicholson 68), Maddison (Kitchen 55), Richardson, Airey, D.Taylor, Inman (McGorrigan 68).
United: Johnstone, Vermijl, M.Keane, Fryers, De Laet (Fornasier 79), Cole (Thorpe 51), Tunnicliffe, Petrucci, Pogba, Lingard (Blackett 87), W.Keane.
The Key Men
Will Keane – striker Keane will either find himself away from Old Trafford on loan next season, or in Ferguson’s first team squad such is the talent on offer. Keane possess an excellent first touch and a genuine eye for goal, with 17 goals in 23 appearances and another eight assists
Michael Keane – many reserves watchers have been genuinely surprised by Michael’s progress this season, where the defender has appeared in 24 fixtures in the campaign and made his first team debut. The 19-year-old Stockport-born defender has a shot at making it with the club if the rate of progress is replicated next season.
Ezekiel Fryers – defender Fryers impressed many supporters in Carling Cup appearances with the first team this season. Indeed, after frustrating years of injury problems Fryers has surprised many with his composure and progress at both left-back and central defence this season. However, with the youngster out of contract in the summer his United future is in doubt.
Paul Pogba – the man on so many supporters’ lips is seemingly set on a move to Juventus, which will earn the young Frenchman more than €1 million per season and his agent a small fortune. There is plenty of talent, but it has not always been applied at reserve level this season. However, if Pogba stays, Ferguson is sure to promote the midfielder to the first team squad.
Davide Petrucci – the stylish Italian midfielder is another out of contract this summer and may not start the new campaign with United. After two years of injury problems Petrucci has done very well to accelerate his progress this season, with a series of inventive central midfield displays and nine assists. Many supporters would like to see more from the Italian, but at 21 he needs to play at a higher level than the reserves.
Larnell Cole – the diminutive midfielder, who operates predominantly from the right, but also in a variety of attacking positions, has been outstanding in the campaign. Blessed with an outstanding first touch, and the ability to perform in a number of positions, Cole made his first team debut in the Carling Cup victory at Leeds United.
Jesse Lingard – the Yin to Cole’s Yang, 19-year-old Lingard received a first team squad number this season as reward for a superb reserve campaign, which included 21 appearances. A utility attacking midfielder likened to Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez by Danny Welbeck, who will benefit from first team football on loan next season.
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Data courtesy of Doron Salomon.