Tag Youth team

Tag Youth team

Fans’ Forum February – youth football

February 3, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment

Manchester United’s academy and reserves sides have rarely garnered so much attention, with blanket MUTV coverage, blogs focused on the youth teams, and Twitter offering fans instant access to scores, players and opinion. Rant talks to three experts on United youth and reserve football to discover their favourite players, memories and hopes for the future.

Joining Rant on the virtual round table this month is Tony Park @mrmujac, Ian Brunton @manutdreserves, and Nick Poole @manunitedyouth.

Rant – How did you get into watching youth football and what’s the appeal?

TP: I was 16, living in Australia and used to read all the youth reports in the Pink Final, which I had posted to me each week. On returning to England I started watching the Youth games at Old Trafford. Then I met Ian and he got me going down to Carrington. Having my own career cut short at 17 through a car accident and reading all about the youth players at United during that period. Seeing Whiteside, Hughes, Hogg, Garton, Blackmore, Wood, McGarvey all coming through at the same time. Andy Ritchie and then Mike Duxbury were big heroes of mine in those days.

Nick: It’s only since I moved to Manchester about a decade ago that I’ve really been able to follow it closely, but I guess I got into it because my early United heroes all (to an extent) came through the ranks – Sharpe, Giggs, Beckham. That more than anything probably brought home just how important the youth side has been for United, something reinforced the more I learnt about the club and its history. With so many of the club’s greatest ever players having been homegrown, and arguably the three greatest sides in the club’s history having such a strong core of homegrown talent, it’s always seemed like a side of the club worthy of real attention and affection.

As for the appeal – there are many aspects to it. At the heart of it probably lies the thought you’re potentially seeing stars of the future, and the enjoyment you get from seeing them develop, as well as the thrill of watching MUFC in genuinely entertaining and attractive games. More and more though it’s also about it being almost the antithesis of modern football at senior level – no ridiculous ticket prices, the chance to stand, to get to away games, to enjoy the game alongside your mates, to enjoy all that without all the media bullshit, sanitised stadia or depressing emphasis on money. It’s like football stripped down to just the enjoyable things about it.

Ian: I got into watching youth football as a natural progression from watching the Reserves. As players were being introduced into reserve football, I wanted to know more about them and their style of play so I decided I would go and watch a couple of games. I’ve been a regular ever since that first match. As for the appeal, without a doubt it is to see players progress through various levels and into the first team. I find it very satisfying to see a boy of 16-17 and know within a few games he will make the grade.
The ‘class of 92’ – will we ever see its like again?

TP:Why not? We have done it so many times before. In 1947 we had seven players, 1956 with nine players, 1966 with seven players, 1983 with six players and then 1994-1996 so if anyone can get another crop coming through together then it’s United.

NX: I certainly can’t see it in the near future. The stakes are so high at the top level now that clubs seem a lot more reluctant to blood one or two youngsters, let alone several at a time. Patience doesn’t seem to exist in football these days, and while we’re relatively fortunate that Ferguson has the job security to take more risks than his peers, he’s obviously not going to be around forever. The pressure on his successor will be extreme.

There was something freakish about that set of players coming through at the same time – in many ways it set an unrealistically high bar and many fans seem to judge our youth system harshly these days because we’re not producing on that scale. You’d struggle to find too many ‘crops’ of that quality in the history of English or even world football.

The introduction of the FA’s Elite Player Performance Plan, which in theory should give the clubs with better youth setups an advantage in securing talent, is cause for optimism, but unless something radically changes in football as a whole, one or two from every crop is probably the best we can/should hope for.

IB: Never is a very long time but I will say that it’s very unlikely to happen in my lifetime. The rules in Youth football are different to 1992. Beckham wouldn’t have been able to join us as a young boy. Also, more players are joining from overseas who don’t have the passion for United that the ’92 boys had. For them, its just the team they play for now. For the likes of Giggs, Becks, Butt, it was the team they would fight for, and often did. Money is now the driving force for kids of 18, (Pogba and Morrison, yes I mean you). Whereas with the ’92 lads they fought to get into the first team and let the riches flow to them then, and only then.
Some of last season’s FA Youth Cup winners have had a mixed season… Ravel, Pogba at United, Tunnicliffe on loan at Peterborough. Are you optimistic about them?

TP – Depends how you define optimistic. I still think that some will be fine players, if not at United then certainly in the game as a whole. There has been a lot of expectation about them, with loads of interest on the internet, and some people think it was all hype. Fergie doesn’t give anyone first team football and yet Pogba, Morrison, Cole, both Keane’s have all made their first team debuts, while Lingard and Thorpe have been on the bench. Other clubs would kill for that success.

NX: It’s been a weird season in a way – some of the less-heralded members have had the more impressive campaigns. The Keane twins, Larnell Cole, Zeki Fryers, Jesse Lingard – that’s probably not far off the shortlist for reserve player of the year there, and they’ve all had a taste of first team action.

Ravel had his moments but obviously there’s sadly no cause for optimism there anymore. Pogba’s been so-so – not as impressive at reserve level as you’d expect and not particularly eye-catching in his League Cup cameos. I think the contract issues have seen many quick to play down his ability, but his performance against Stoke on his Premier League debut reinforced just what a prospect he is. As for Tunnicliffe – it’s been a tough season for him, was in and out of a struggling side for long spells but he seems to be making his mark now – playing regularly in the Championship at 18/19 is no mean feat. I’ve still got high hopes there.

IB: The simple answer is no – it’s looking unlikely that any of them will be at the club for much longer. Pogba looks likely to move on very soon, if the press is to be believed. As for Tunnicliffe, I always thought his chances were very slim as his strengths at youth/reserve level will be more than matched at a higher level. This seems to be the case during his loan spell, where he isn’t a regular starter for Peterborough, and is inconsistent.
The club hasn’t yet offered Davide Petrucci a new contract. Will he, should he leave?

TP:I’d like to see him get this season out of the way after all his injuries and just build his confidence. Maybe next season he should go out on loan but i like him a lot. His range of passing is second to none at that level, he has good pace, incredible vision, good physique…I’d love to see him get a chance.

NX: No to both questions, I think. It makes a degree of sense to hold off on contract talks after his horrendous injury problems – this season has always been about getting a full year of football under his belt and re-assessing thereafter. Touch wood he’s managed that so far and been particularly impressive of late, to the extent that he can’t have been far off joining a few of his reserve colleagues on the first team bench in recent weeks. Davide’s still only 20, which many seem to view as over-the-hill in terms of making it at United these days. He seems to really enjoy it at United and is definitely pushing on in his development again, shown by his Italy Under-21 call-up recently.

IB: There is little doubt that the year-long injury that Petrucci suffered has seriously hampered his career to date. He plays well a lot of the time for the reserves, but that doesn’t mean he will succeed at a much higher level. The difference between reserve football and first team is immense, a fact not taken into account by lots of fans. He can turn in match winning games at times, and at other times he can be so wayward it’s hard to watch. He is easily bullied out of games and there is no sign of this improving. Should he stay? Yes, give it another year. If he’s no closer to stepping up, then he’ll leave for pastures new.
Ok so the big question. Ravel. Where did it all go wrong?

TP – Absolutely no idea. Maybe he was always a time bomb waiting to go off. It’s becoming a very boring topic now. The move to West Ham United was probably best for everyone.

NX: There have been so many rumours and contrasting stories, but it does seem like – finally – there was a straw heavy enough to break the camel’s back, specifically the no-shows at training after his involvement against Crystal Palace. The club have tolerated an extraordinary amount from him over the years – more than a lot of fans realise. Many have said they can’t believe we’ve let him go, we gave up too soon, but if even half of what I’ve been told is true I’m amazed we persevered as long as we did. It seems like he was never going to learn, never going to knuckle down to doing what’s expected of a professional player at United. Hopefully a move away from Manchester will be the making of him, but I fear he’ll go down as one of the great wasted talents sadly.

IB: If I could answer that question I would be a highly paid specialist in several fields including sociology, psychology, criminology and a few more “ologies”! It’s clear, and no secret, that he has had a rough upbringing and has been a gang member of some description for years. This seems much more important to him than playing football, at least for United.
I really don’t think United could have done more to help the boy. He could/should have been sacked a long time ago for several incidents that I dare not go into due to libel laws. As far as I’m concerned, if he doesn’t want to play for us, piss off and let someone dedicated to the game have his chance.
The reserves are going great guns this season. Who’ll make it out of that side and into the first team?

TP: Will Keane has come on a lot in recent weeks and Petrucci has been wonderful. Watch out for Jesse Lingard…I’ve been watching this lad since he was 14 and he has superb technique, great passing and scores important goals. He can get stuck in too! The current crop of Academy players is another gifted bunch. What do you make of the season so far? They really lack a decent forward. Daehli and Januzaj look fine midfielders and the defence is ok but up front we lack goals.

NX: They’ve been very impressive – Warren Joyce is doing a superb job and they’ve not really missed a beat after Ole Solskjær left. I’ve been very impressed by Zeki Fryers. He wasn’t really on anyone’s radar after last season when he missed most of the Youth Cup run through injury, but he’s done remarkably well in his first team appearances and there definitely looks to be an opportunity there in the first-team with Evra ageing and little cover at left-back. Will Keane’s extremely highly thought-of by the coaches and probably has to be the big hope (along with Pogba) – he’s noticeably developed physically in recent months and is at the stage now where he looks too good for reserve level. I’d love to see Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole make it – watching their development has been an absolute joy. Robbie Brady deserves a mention as well – a genuinely left-sided wide player would be a definite asset.

IB: It’s going to be tough for all of them to have a decent career as a first team regular for United. Pogba and Morrison, by far the biggest talents, seem to be heading off elsewhere. The Keane twins could make it. Michael’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. When I first saw him, I couldn’t believe someone with so little talent could get into the team. Now, he is by far the most improved player at the club. He has a good chance of being a ‘play anywhere’ squad player. Will is a talented lad who scores some great goals, but he is so far down the pecking order its hard to see how he will get a look in. As we have seen, Fryers has stepped up without much difficulty, but again, way down the order.
Who is the player you most expected to make it who hasn’t?

TP:Chris Casper. He looked class at youth level but just couldn’t make the step up.

NX: I get a hell of a lot of stick whenever David Jones gets mentioned or appears on TV. I really liked him at United and thought he had a real chance – in hindsight I can see he really lacked on the physical side but it’s a shame he didn’t get more of a chance. Same probably goes for Magnus Eikrem – now a Norwegian international and a key part of OGS’s Molde side – who I think we’ll hear a lot about in the next few years. Giuseppe Rossi almost looked like a cert from the moment he pulled on the shirt – a case of being around at the wrong time though I think.

IB: Since the late 1980s, two players have stood out as brilliant youth/reserve players who didn’t make the grade. First, Adrian Doherty, who played alongside Giggs (or Wilson as he was then) and was in fact a better player. He was a fantastic young player destined for the very top until a horrific injury ended his career at a tragically young age. If Doherty hadn’t got injured its even possible that Giggs wouldn’t have gotten into the team when he did. The other is John Curtis. What a player at 17! Imagine Phil Jones, but better. That’s how good Curtis was. Sadly for him, he peaked at 18 and quickly went downhill from there. He is the youngest player I have ever seen peak.
Who is the player you are most surprised to have seen make it?

TP: Probably Gary Neville. Hard work, practice, attitude and motivation to reach the highest level. A real role model.

NX: Have to admit I never saw much in Ryan Shawcross to think he’d go on to do as well as he has, but I know a few other regular youth/reserve watchers who thought differently.

IB: I don’t think I’ve ever been surprised by a United player making the grade after watching them for years. It’s quite obvious who is rated and who isn’t. I have been very surprised at how well Ryan Shawcross has done for himself. As an 18 year old I wrote his chances off completely, and said he had no chance at all of a career at any kind of decent level. I’m delighted I was wrong.
What are you personal highlights of watching the young players?

TP:Seeing them progress into the first team and staying there is always a highlight. Then when you get a handful all in the first team together it reinforces our culture of bringing kids through.

NX: Big Youth Cup games, particularly away from home in proper stadiums, are always hugely enjoyable. You can see how much the players buzz off those situations and it really translates to the crowd. Games at Anfield, Bramall Lane, Stamford Bridge and Turf Moor really stand out from the last few years.

It is always good to see the kids get the chance to play at OT as well. On a personal level getting to watch the semi-final second leg against Chelsea last year from the OT press box was a definite thrill. Other than that – it’s probably the really eye-catching debuts when you first see a youngster and think ‘woah, this is one to watch’. Adnan Januzaj made that impression on me most recently, Pogba was another a couple of years back . Danny Welbeck as a 15 year-old in the Youth Cup, Morrison doing likewise.

IB: I take great satisfaction from the fact that I saw the ’92 boys at 16-17 and knowing right away how bright the future was. I got much more joy from watching the youth team than I did from watching the first team in that era. That’s not something I’ve experienced before or since. Plenty of games stand out, but few have been enjoyed as much as Liverpool away in last season FAYC. The boys were 2-0 down an Klanfailed, and down to 10 men, and we still beat them 3-2 despite both teams having another player sent off. It was a brilliant game and the highlight of the season.
The current crop of Academy players is another gifted bunch. What do you make of the season so far?

TP: They really lack a decent forward. Daehli and Januzaj look fine midfielders, and the defence is ok, but up front we lack goals.

NX: It started off as expected, with a team full of quite lightweight, inexperienced 16-year-olds replacing last year’s Youth Cup winners. It was always going to be a struggle and results-wise is certainly was at the start of the campaign. There were encouraging signs in pretty much every game though, particularly in terms of the technical ability of the newer kids and their commitment to passing football. The rewards have really started to come in the last few months, particularly with what’s turning into a wonderfully surprising run in the Youth Cup. Adnan Januzaj, Mats Dæhli, Jack Barmby and Tom Lawrence are terrifically gifted players, and now the team’s developed a bit of a steely side, we’re giving them a platform from which to make an impact and win us games.

IB: I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the performances this season. They had a few hidings, which is completely normal for a team almost completely made up of first year trainees. I expected us to be on the end of several thumpings, with the odd decent game thrown in. In fact, they have dominated some bigger, stronger, older teams and have had some great performances. The YC win over Derby was an excellent performance all round and somewhat unexpected. A couple of players are really beginning to stand out now. Daehli and Januzaj are looking very classy. Daehli works harder of the two and Janazaj floats around the pitch picking out passes. Barmby is also playing very well so far.

Many thanks to Tony, Ian and Nick for their answers! Follow them on Twitter – Tony @mrmujac, Ian Brunton @manutdreserves, and Nick @manunitedyouth.

Reds welcome Andreas Hoelgebaum Pereira

November 7, 2011 Tags: , , Shorts 21 comments

Manchester United supporters might be forgiven for welcoming yet another highly rated youth prospect to Old Trafford with a grudging nod. After all, while United’s policy of hoovering up the very finest youth talent, especially creative midfielders, is a prudent one, the here-and-now also matters such is the shambles of the Reds’ central midfield at times in the past two seasons. Yet, another ‘prospect’ it is, with confirmation that Brazilian-born Belgian teenager Andreas Hoelgebaum Pereira will join the club 1 January 2012, the day he turns 16.

Pereira, an attacking playmaker who can be deployed in midfield or as a shadow striker, will join from PSV Jugend, Eindhoven’s academy side, for nominal compensation. The player has agreed a three-and-a-half year deal with United.

Starting out at KVSK Lommel in Belgium before moving to PSV aged nine, Pereira has developed a reputation as one of Europe’s finest youth talents. He has been reportedly contacted by most of Europe’s leading clubs and played in the Nike Manchester Premier Cup this summer.

“I am an offensive midfielder, a real 10,” Pereira told De Telegraaf.

“Setting up my team mates, scoring and a good shot are my qualities. PSV knew that I was talking with some clubs and they respected my choice. I had some doubts but at the end Manchester United is my dream team to play for.  I have been a few times to Manchester United to have a look. I got a tour and spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson. Being a 15-year-old, to talk with such a man was great.”

The 15-year-old is the son of Marcos Pereira, a retired Brazilian striker who played in Europe for BSC Young Boys, Mechelen, Sint-Truidense and Royal Antwerp. Indeed, Pereira senior appeared alongside Phil Bardsley, Eddie Johnson, Souleymane Mamam and Dong Fangzhuo for Antwerp in the 2003-4 season.

Junior’s team-mate Zakaria Bakkali was recent linked with move to Manchester City, although his signature is equally sought-after. Bakkali won this year’s Manchester United Premier Cup ‘Most Valuable Player’ award. It was a tournament whose final was played at Old Trafford of all places.

Pereira will join a growing Belgian youth international contingent in Manchester, Marnick Vermijl, Charni Ekangamene and Adnan Januzaj at the club. Meanwhile, United has previously raided Holland for Dutch youth winger Gyliano van Velzen, who stared in the Academy’s run to FA Youth Cup victory last season. United have previously signed Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam and Park Ji-sung from PSV Eindhoven.

Here’s some video of Pereira doing stepovers!

Andreas Hoelgebaum Pereira

United’s golden future

September 10, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 22 comments

There is an infectious air of belief sweeping around Old Trafford this season that has been created by a new generation of young players. Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Chris Smalling, among many others, have shown nothing but promise in a positive start to the new campaign. The pair will be followed up by an even younger generation, featuring elegant Frenchman Paul Pogba and the unruly, yet talented Ravel Morrison. The future, it seems, is bright.

The big question, however, remains whether this side will ever be good enough to challenge Barcelona, a club that possesses some of the best players in a generation, and seems able to create more at will. There is, for the moment, no answer to this question. Not until Manchester United’s new crop enjoys success in the face of Barça’s sustained excellence.

On the face of it Sir Alex Ferguson is trying to emulate Barcelona in his approach by bringing young players through, together, and allowing them to develop as a unit. Only a team that has been reared in this way, it seems, can have the shared understanding required for the phenomenal teamwork displayed by the Catalan giants, which can boast ten home-grown players in the first team squad.

Barcelona’s youth system has produced not only outstanding attacking players, such as Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodríguez, but also many creative midfielders in the mould of Andrés Iniesta and commanding defenders, including Gerard Piqué. Even the goalkeeper, Víctor Valdés, is Barcelona born and bred. This success in youth production is largely attributed to La Masia, the centre of excellence that imbues its graduates with such a strong foundation.

Happily for United, however, new developments in the Premier League – the Elite Player Performance Plan, which was agreed last February and will come into force from next season – should allow the club to create just such an establishment in Salford: a private footballing boarding school for children. This will provide the kind of close contact that is needed to develop the attitude and ability that so many of Barcelona’s youngsters possess.

More crucially still, the current restrictions on training hours are to be scrapped. Under Premier League rules young English players between the ages of 9 and 16 can only be trained for less than five hours a week by their clubs. Dutch, French and Spanish youngsters can hope for ten to twelve hours a week. The perrenial failure of the English national team means that five hours is patently nowhere near enough a player’s formative years.

Under the new system, English players will receive three times more training before the age of 16, which will go a long way to redressing the balance between English youngsters and their European counterparts. United’s outstanding facilities and top coaching team, together with the new rules, means that the club will produce ever more gems from the academy, just as Barcelona does.

Another boost comes in the form of a new academy grading system that is sure to place United in the top band. This system will allow United to enlist any top youngster in the country from a young age, and not just those who live locally. Numerous youngsters from all over the country will, inevitably, join United due to the club’s reputation. The academy will, once again, have access to some of the top talent in the country.

These changes are sure to benefit United in the long-term and fans can hold genuine hope that a new wave of home-grown talent will lift the club perhaps beyond the Catalans and to European domination. There will, of course, be a long wait for the changes to deliver genuine results. In the meantime fans will have to make do with imports such as Jones and Smalling, who are beating the academy youngsters to Ferguson’s first team.

Academy changes good for United and England

June 19, 2011 Tags: , Opinion 15 comments

The Premier League’s decision to ratify sweeping changes to how academies are run bodes well both for Manchester United and the production of talent in England. The so-called Elite Development Plan will make two principal changes to academy rules, enabling boys between 10 and 18 years-of-age to be coached for up to 10,000 hours, and scraping the antiquated ’90 minute rule’ altogether. Additional changes to how young players play and train are expected as English football attempts to bridge the gap between talent development here and elsewhere.

Indeed, these are changes that Sir Alex Ferguson has called for not only this season but over the past decade as the Premier League academy system has failed to produce a talent pool that could take the England national team to a tournament win.

Closer to home, United’s failure to produce local talent in the raw numbers or quality of the early 1990s has prompted something of a rethink, leading the club to search ever farther overseas.

The Elite Development Plan changes, which come into force for the 2012/13 season, replace outmoded current thinking that restricts coaching to just 2,000 hours over the 10-18 age-group, and 3,760 hours to 21. Proponents of the much-discussed ‘10,000 hours rule’ – a thesis that states elite sportsmen are born of at least 10,000 hours of focused practice – have long derided the English system.

It has taken a long time but England’s failure at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Barcelona’s growth to European domination over the past three years prompted a review of youth coaching. Barcelona’s youngsters resident at La Masia, for example, can expect to receive at least 8,000 hours coaching before they turn 18; it is a system born of Johan Cruyff’s remodelling of Barça’s approach in the early 1990s.

“We’ve got an opportunity now where, once, there might have been some resistance to change,” argues Gareth Southgate, the FA’s head of elite development.

“What the World Cup did, and the success Barça have had, is give a greater awareness of what is going on in Europe. There is a desire for change. We’ve had Paul Scholes come through who technically would have been able to play in that Barça team because his quality of touch, pass appreciation, ability to play one-touch and manipulate the ball was up there with them. But would we have produced lots of players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi? I suspect not.”

Meanwhile, the much-hated 90 minute rule will disappear, enabling clubs to recruit academy players from anywhere in England. Presently clubs, including United, are allowed only to sign youngsters if they are within a 90 minute drive from the home ground; 60 minutes for under-14s.

The rule, designed to protect smaller clubs from larger predators, has failed on two principal counts. First, it has encouraged the growing recruitment of players from overseas. Second, talented youngsters from the regions risk falling through the gaps at poorly funded low-ranked clubs.

The FA and Premier League are yet to publish a formula for compensation, ensuring that the country’s smaller clubs receive adequate indemnity for the investment placed in youth development but it will surely come. While few England internationals begin life at clubs below the Premier League the transfer system remains an important source of funding for the football pyramid.

Further changes sponsored by Southgate will change how youngsters play, with the former Middlesborough manager keen to eliminate mandated full-pitch 11-a-side games for under-13s that promote physicality over technique.

For United the changes will enable a well-funded academy with some of the finest facilities of any club, anywhere, to maximise the pool of talent available to Ferguson and his successors.

No longer will Ferguson need to complain that “we are only allowed to coach for an hour and a half [each week]. Barcelona can coach every hour of the day if they want and that’s the great advantage they have got. You can see their philosophy through that.”

“It’s a fantastic philosophy and we hope that, in years to come, we have more time with young players, to teach them the basics, the technical ability and to have the confidence to take the ball all the time. We’re good at that, but we’re not as good as Barcelona at this moment in time.”

While scraping the 90-minute rule is unlikely to distract United from a much more globalised outlook to youth development than in the 1990s, it will enable the Reds to scour the country for the best talent.

However, neither change will allow United to immediately bridge to gap to La Masia, which has produced in Andreas Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi the three finest players on the planet, according to last year’s FIFA poll.

Indeed, substantive changes in the talent pool either at United or England more widely will not take place for more than a decade. England under-21s insipid performances at this summer’s European Championships suggests the national team is unlikely to turn a corner any time soon.

Meanwhile, United will continue to assign scouts to every part of the globe.

Youth on the agenda as Reds face Cup Final

May 17, 2011 Tags: , Matches 67 comments

Manchester United’s unique affinity with the FA Youth cup continues tonight as Paul McGuinness’ boys take on Sheffield United in the final first leg at Bramall Lane. It has been eight years since United last won the trophy, which the club has held a record nine times, but with arguably the most talent group since the ‘class of ’92’ there are high expectations of a United victory over two legs.

Led by the talented but troubled Ravel Morrison, United overcame Chelsea 6-3 on aggregate in a two-legged semi to reach the final. Victories over Liverpool, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Portsmouth have taken the young Reds to a first final since 2007.

And it is a competition in which Sir Alex Ferguson places great faith, with the current youth team potentially forming the nucleus of United’s senior squad for years to come. Indeed, in Morrison, Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Will Keane, McGuinness’ team boasts youth talent of the very highest order.

The quartet could hardly be in better hands; tracking those players’ progression from youth, to reserve, to the first team, is a process that Ferguson clearly relishes.

“One of the greatest privileges of being a manager is playing a part in the development of young players, watching them grow in confidence and ability,” said Ferguson.

“I’ve been fortunate to work with many exceptional young players but the class of ’92 was unique; their success is a tribute to their talent and this club’s belief in the power of youth.

“Over the past decade we’ve worked on bringing young players into the team from elsewhere. But we still like to produce our own young players and I think there are several in the present youth team who are doing really well.

“The likes of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Ravel Morrison, you see them doing very, very well, so it will always be the case that we put our emphasis on young players coming through. It gives you a nucleus to protect the future.”

Ferguson will attend tonight’s match alongside Sir Bobby Charlton, who won the competition himself three times in the mid-50s. That side would become the Busby Babes, destined for glory until the Munich air crash robbed the team of so many stars.

Forward nearly half a century and United’s FA Youth Cup winning side of 1992, and losing finalists in 1993 and 1995, produced the core of the Reds’ side for more than a decade. Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes have each played in the FA Youth Cup final and gone on to record international honours.

Success at youth level is no barometer of a player’s future career though. Indeed, Ferguson believes that the ’92 side is unique in its ability to produce so many future stars:  “I’m convinced no group of players will ever make such an impact on the English game as did the class of ’92,” the Scot told MUTV this week.

The Scot has a point. Of those young Reds who won the cup against Middlesbrough in 2003 none carved out long-term careers at United, although Phil Bardsley, David Jones, Kieran Richardson and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake still ply their trades in the Premier League.

Yet there is a sense in which the current crop is the most talented in a generation, offering a mix of local boys and imports from further afield. Certainly, while McGuinness’ side possesses outstanding individual talent, it is very much a team in the United tradition. The semi-final comeback from a first leg loss to hammer Chelsea’s youth 4-0 at Old Trafford was testament to that.

Yet it is a youth system in transition. In recent times the club has increasingly sought to bring talent in from abroad. After all, recruiting young is a financial imperative in a globalised sport that places a price premium on established talent. The challenge now has become not only identification of talent but one of integration both into local culture and the ephemeral ‘United way’.

In time United’s youth teams may increasingly be filled by youngsters acquired through the club’s global partnerships; the route Rafael and Fabio da Silva have taken into United’s first team, which effectively saved the club millions in transfer fees.

That argument is for another day though. For the moment the focus is on the here and now, and the chance for another crop of Untied youngsters to carve out their own piece of Reds history.

FA Youth Cup Final, first leg. Bramall Lane, Sheffield.17 May 2011, 7pm.

Johnstone; M Keane, Thorpe, Fornasier, McGinty; Cole, Tunnicliffe, Pogba, van Velzen, Morrison; W Keane. Subs from: Cofie, Lawrence, Ekangamene, Coll, Massacci, Daehli, Wilkinson.


Loaning away the future

July 27, 2010 Tags: Opinion 42 comments

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.

Campbell sold, so why cant United produce a decent striker?

July 14, 2009 Tags: , Opinion 2 comments

Fraizer Campbell’s sale to Sunderland for an initial £3.5 million was confirmed yesterday but it begs a serious question. While United’s academy has regularly churned out international class defenders and midfielders, no striker has made the grade since Mark Hughes in the early 1980s.

In the interviening years United has produced international players such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, the Neville Brothers, Paul Scholes, and more recently Johnny Evans, Wes Brown and John O’Shea. None of them strikers. By contrast, over the past twenty years the youth team has only ever produced forwards that have gone on to have decent, if unspectacular careers. Jonathan Mackem was once a £5 million signing by Manchester City, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was Wolves’ top scorer in the Championship last season, and David Healy has gone on to be one of Northern Ireland’s leading goalscorers.

There have been the imports too. Many United fans still regret the sale of Giuseppe Rossi to Villareal two years ago. Arriving as a callow 16 year-old, Rossi announced himself to fans with a spectacular series of goals for the reserve team. Unfortunately the Italian, who has gone on to be the mainstay of the national team’s forward-line, was never able to break into United’s first team on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, former youth-teamer Erik Nevland has forged a good career since leaving United, which is culminating in a spell at Fulham. Before him, Jovan Kirovski went on the play for Borussia Dortmund, winning the Champions League in 1997, before running his career down at David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.

Of the current crop there are very high hopes for local boy Danny Welbeck, who has shown enough in his brief appearances for the first team to suggest he has a big future at Old Trafford. Welbeck’s first touch is classy and his application appears to be in the right place. Moreover, with no big-name summer striker arriving at the club, Welbeck ought to get more outings for the team in the coming season.

Then there is 17 year-old Federico Macheda, imported amid significant controversy from Lazio a year ago. Macheda’s spectacular strike against Aston Villa, followed by another against Sunderland, won United enough points to take last season’s Premier League title. Macheda will certainly go on to have a good career – whether he gets enough games at Old Trafford to stay is another question.

And that leaves Campbell, who was good enough a year ago for United to turn down £7 million from Hull and Wigan. A season further down the road and Campbell’s inability to break into Tottenham’s first team has reduced his value, and seemingly convinced Sir Alex Ferguson that the boy has no future at Old Trafford.

Fergie normally gets these decisions right.