With the Carling Cup underway a new generation of young players will be on view to those fans that can’t make it down to Carrington or Gigg Lane. Fabio da Silva, Ritchie de Laet, Danny Welbeck, Joshua King and Federico Macheda played in Wednesday night’s match against Wolves. More are likely to feature but who will make it?
The Carling Cup has become Sir Alex Ferguson’s preferred route to blooding younger players. Despite opposition when Ferguson first employed the tactic nearly 15 years ago, it is a pattern now followed by most of the leading Premier League clubs. Understandable too – as the club’s lowest priority competition there is value in offering younger players vital competitive action they are unlikely to see in the Premier or Champions Leagues.
Why then did Wednesday’s starting team to face Wolverhampton Wanderers contain just four such players? Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Fabio da Silva and Darron Gibson, joined another seven senior players to face the newly promoted midlands club. Ritchie de Laet, who came on to replace Macheda following Fabio’s red card, and then the Norwegian Joshua King made it on the pitch as substitutes.
But this was one of the stronger – most experienced – Carling Cup sides that Ferguson has fielded this early in the competition. King aside, all the younger players had started a Premier League match before. Indeed, Macheda, Welbeck and Gibson have been in the first team squad for some time; the Irishman mentioned in dispatches by Ferguson last week.
Ever the realist Ferguson chose to give minutes to Gary Neville, Wes Brown, Michael Owen and Michael Carrick. None has seen significant competitive action this season. But each may now be wondering what demotion to the Carling Cup side means. Nani, who had a difficult night, had already started six games this season.
But the decision to include established players seeking match time also meant that some of the better reserve players, not out on loan, missed out. Febian Brandy, Zoran Tosic, Corey Evans, Magnus Eikrem and Robert Brady will be disappointed. The Serbian left-winger Tosic should probably pack his bags now if he can’t make the Carling Cup third round side.
On the pitch Fabio’s red card not only cut short his own game but Macheda’s too. The Italian sacrificed for the greater cause, with de Laet benefiting from an hour’s action. Macheda will have been hugely disappointed after failing to make the bench for any of United’s Premier League matches this season.
But it was Welbeck who was the star attraction. The striker took his goal superbly – underlining the technical qualities that prompted Sir Alex to nominate the Manchester-born player for England’s World Cup 2010 squad. He was also a tireless worker after being consigned to the left-wing for the last hour of the night.
“It was great playing alongside Michael Owen. It’s Michael Owen at the end of the day,” said Welbeck after the match.
“You can always learn from his movement, it’s unbelievable. I just knew he was round the corner and I knew where he was going next.
“We went one up front after the sending-off, so I was kind of playing as a left winger. I just had to get used to it but then the goal came, so I was pleased with that.”
The striker’s composure on the pitch matched his level-headedness off it. A character trait that will impress his manager – and the fans.
“I didn’t know Sir Alex had said that about England but it doesn’t drive me on,” he said.
“It’s a great plus to hear it but I’m really just concentrating on Manchester United at the moment. I suppose I’m just like any other normal Manc boy, really. To be given the chance to play for United is a dream.”
As we all know United > England.
Chelsea today received one of the stiffest penalties ever sanctioned by world governing body FIFA after it lost a case heard by the body’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC). The London club, which has been banned from buying any players for the next two transfer windows, was punished by FIFA’s following a contractual dispute between French club Lens, Chelsea and the player Gael Kakuta. But while many rival supporters will find humour in Chelsea’s punishment, the issue of transferring under-18 players internationally is a red hot one. One that could end up impacting on United too.
“The French club had lodged a claim with FIFA seeking compensation for breach of contract from the player and requesting also sporting sanctions to be imposed on the player and the English club for breach of contract and inducement to breach of contract respectively,” said FIFA in a statement on its website today.
“The DRC found that the player had indeed breached a contract signed with the French club. Equally, the DRC deemed it to be established that the English club induced the player to such a breach.
“As a result the player was condemned to pay compensation in the amount of €780,000, for which the club, Chelsea, are jointly and severally liable, and sporting sanctions were imposed on both the player and Chelsea,” it concluded.
In addition to Chelsea’s punishment, Kakuta was personally banned from playing for four months. Chelsea, has also been forced to pay Lens “training compensation” of €130,000. The London club has already said that it will appeal the decision.
But Chelsea, who were fined £300,000 over the Ashley Cole ‘tapping up’ affair four years ago, is not the only club to engage in the shady practice of signing kids from abroad. Arsenal, Liverpool and United too have manipulated the international transfer market to pick up players when they are younger and cheaper. Although the London club is the only English side to have been punished for ‘inducing’ a player to break his contract.
In recent seasons United has signed Giuseppe Rossi, Gerrard Piqué, Federico Macheda, Davide Petrucci and Paul Pogba amid a storm of protest and recrimination from each of the players’ parent clubs. Indeed, United has made millions from the re-sale of Rossi and Piqué – and potentially saved millions in transfer fees on the others.
To date there is nothing to stop English clubs signing up under-18 players from continental Europe – or indeed further abroad in the case of United’s da Silva twins and Rodrigo Possebon. And while there is absolutely no proof that United has acted illegally in the case of the aforementioned kids, the club’s reputation and actions have repeatedly been questioned.
“We are still pursuing our case,” Le Havre managing director Alain Belsoeur told The Times in the case of Pogba.
“It is a very serious case. We are confident that we’ll win because it is in the best interests not just of our club but of sport.
“We spend five million euros on our academy every year out of a turnover of 12 million euros. It is a huge investment. We do that to give a chance to our players to develop for our first team, not to be an academy for others. What is the point of investing in an academy if the players leave at 16? This is clearly a message from FIFA to protect the education system.”
Indeed, FIFA seems determined to act, and the Chelsea case may be the first shot across the bows in a wider battle. Smaller European clubs, like Lens, are willing FIFA on.
“We expected this kind of decision,” Lens president Gervais Martel said today.
“The player was under contract with us and they came and stole him away from us. Chelsea didn’t follow the rules. They contacted the player when he wasn’t even 16 and while he had been contracted to our training group from the age of eight.
“It’s an important message given that protecting up and coming youth players who are contracted to clubs is an issue being followed closely by Uefa president Michel Platini.”
Chelsea’s guilt may be a clear breach of contract on the player’s part but the issue of youth transfers is very closely linked in the corridors of power. Platini, together with his counterpart at FIFA Sepp Blatter, would like to see a wholesale ban on the transfer of under-18 players and heavy compensation payable in cases where young players are taken from their parent clubs. Indeed, training compensation payments are already being demanded by parent clubs for players transferred for a second time or third time. This happened in the case of Dimitar Berbatov when the Bulgarian moved from Tottenham Hotspur to United last summer and CSKA Sofia demanded hundreds of thousands from United in compensation.
United, together with their Premier League rivals, will be looking at the Chelsea case with increased interest tonight. FIFA, it seems, is on the the lookout.
While fans and media await United’s first moves in this summer’s transfer market, supporters can be secure in the knowledge that United are in rude health at youth level. United may have only the single player – Frazier Campbell – in the England under-21 squad that reached the final of the European Championships on Monday, but the announcement last week of England’s under-20 squad was more promising. With four United players in the squad, plus a smattering of hugely talented yougsters on the fringe of the first team, the Reds’ long-term future looks promising.
The United quartet of Ben Amos, Danny Drinkwater, Matt James and Danny Welbeck were named in the 18 man party travelling to Ukraine next month to take part in the European under-20 championships. While history says that all four face an uphill struggle to establish themselves at Old Trafford, the call-up is ample reward for excellent performances at reserve level last seaon.
For Welbeck in particular the under-20 championships present a second opportunity to shine on the international stage this summer. The Manchester born striker was forced to withdraw from Stuart Pearce’s under-21 group following an injury. The tournament could also give Welbeck a springboard into the new season where he will push to become an ever more important member of the first team. He’s unlikely to fulfill Sir Alex Ferguson’s prediction of a place in England’s World Cup 2010 team in South Africa, but 2009-10 could be Welbeck’s breakthrough season, especialy given United’s continued frustration in the transfer market.
Amos, Drinkwater and James may be less well known having yet to appear in the United first team, but each has plenty of talent. ‘Keeper Amos had an excellent season in the reserve team for United, forcing his way into both the England under-20 and under-21 squads on occasion. Many youth-team watchers also rate defensive midfielder James just as highly. But while Welbeck will get game time in the Carling and FA Cup at least, with selected Premiership outings, the same is far from true for the rest of the quartet.
United’s strength in depth at youth level is not based on English talent alone. Indeed, the Jimmy Young young player of the year was the Italian Federico Macheda, who scored two crucial goals for the first team against Aston Villa and Sunderland last season. Add Fabio da Silva, Rodrigo Possebon, Davide Petrucci, and Corry Evans – Johnny’s younger brother – into the reserve team mix and United have talent to spare.
Will any of them make it? History says that at best one of the current youth group will play regularly for the first team in the coming years. Indeed, of the past 20 Jimmy Young award winners only Lee Martin, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and Wes Brown ever established themselves as first teamers.