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Old 12th September 2010, 23:25   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Posts: 1,537
Default Treating Youngsters The Right Way

This piece will be in next Tuesday's (Rangers game) edition of Red News.

“Treating Youngsters the Right Way, and Bringing Loyalty and Spirit”

So once again we greet the new season. Some of us with tremendous optimism, and others, much less so. But for all of us it’s good to be back watching United again after the disappointment of missing out on a 19th League Championship by just a single point. So near, yet so far. At the end of the day United just couldn’t get their noses over the line first. Some would point to bad refereeing decisions as the reason which ultimately cost United the title, and would also say that Fergie’s ill timed attack on Alan Wiley contributed to decisions going against United. Others would say “silly” results at places like Burnley, Fulham, Birmingham, Everton, and Blackburn as well as the home results against Sunderland and Aston Villa, were the main reason. However, over the season, if we are brutally honest, United played in fits and starts and never really capitalized upon Chelsea’s bad results. They never really opened up the gap that puts real pressure on the pursuing pack and has them playing “catch up”.

The World Cup in South Africa came and went, with England’s poor showing coming as no surprise to this scribe. As far as the national team is concerned it’s my opinion that they have been going backwards for the last ten years, and will continue to do so if the influx of journeyman foreigners into the Premiership is not addressed. As it is, the pool of quality players eligible for selection for England gets smaller with each passing season. Our own youngsters must be nurtured and given more opportunities to progress onwards to the big stage and then on to the international scene. It says much about this last World Cup that two things seemed to override the actual football that was played – sadly, the poor quality of the majority of officials that participated in the tournament, and leading on from that, the question of whether or not goal line technology should be introduced into the game. The Final itself was a poor advert for football and the game, and did nothing whatsoever to enhance its reputation, and both teams should have been charged with bringing the game into disrepute.

So the World Cup passed and for me, living in Houston, Texas, I had United’s tour to these sunny climes to look forward to. With the players who had participated in the World Cup being given time off, and other senior players who were nursing injuries left out of the traveling party, I looked forward to seeing how United’s youngsters would perform, and especially here in Houston in the showpiece MLS All Star game. To be honest, the display in Houston was the one performance of note from the whole tour. The 3-1 win against Celtic in Toronto was fair, but there were poor performances in Philadelphia (even though they won 1-0), Kansas City, and Guadlajara – the latter result though because I think that the players had more of an eye on the plane journey back home to UK the following day.
The atmosphere inside Reliant Stadium in Houston was magnificent with a vociferous 71,000 fans in attendance – most of them wearing the red and white of United. It was good to see youngsters like Rafael, and Fabio da Silva, Gabriel Obertan, and Federico Macheda in the starting line-up, supported by the more experienced players like VDS, Brown, Evans, Fletcher, O’Shea, Nani and Giggs. Macheda was out of the blocks like lightning scoring within 30 seconds of the start, and adding another one just 11 minutes later. However Obertan’s night lasted only 23 minutes and he was replaced by tom Cleverley. Giggs made way for Darron Gibson, and then Nani left to accommodate Hernandez, much to the joy of the Hispanic element in the crowd, whilst at the same time, Macheda left the scene and his sparring partner Danny Welbeck was introduced . Just one minute later Brian Ching reduced the deficit and the game was nicely poised at 2-1 and the MLS All Star team were suddenly knocking on the door. It was short lived though because a tremendous free kick from Gibson, and then an outstanding piece of skill by Tom Cleverley put the game out of reach of the Americans, and the icing on the cake was that “Chicharito” stole in and lobbed the ‘keeper for United’s fifth. Despite de Rosario scoring a second for the All Stars almost at the final whistle, this was as emphatic a United win as you could get and said a lot to me about United’s younger players.

That game though gave me a lot of food for thought and over the last few weeks has left me wondering just what lies in store for the majority of United’s talented kids, especially with the 25 man squad rule about to be implemented? So it was interesting this week reading Fergie’s comments about bringing young players through and nurturing them etc, treating them well, and fostering loyalty and spirit, thus giving them every chance. I have no doubt this is what the Club strive to do, but in reality, is that true, and who are the main benefactors of United’s current system?

Looking back at the young players whom United have released over the last 8 years or so, it doesn’t really tie in with what Fergie says. I think that it is true to say that United has forked out an awful lot of money for a lot of young foreign talent over that period, but, how many of those young players can you say have actually “made it” at United? Just recently I was having a look at some of those who have been, and are still at Old Trafford. Apart from Ronaldo, I doubt that you could put your money on any of them apart from maybe Nani who is still blowing so hot and cold, and he is now in his fourth season at the club. Just to refresh your memories, here are a few names I came up with – and there are probably more if I delved a little deeper: Jami Puustinen, Kenny Cooper, Giuseppe Rossi, Madds Tim, Johnathon Spector, Gerard Pique (who to be fair has gone on to greater things), Dong Fangzhou, Manucho, Possebon, Tosic, de Laet, Anderson, Nani, Fabio and Rafael da Silva, Obertan, Macheda, Diouf, Ron-Robert Zieler, Josh King, Magnus Wolf Eikrem, Bellion, DJ x 2, Hernandez (although he may well be the “real thing” – only time will tell), and of course now Bebe! Not a great track record – especially when Fergie says that you have to put your trust in people.

Most of these young boys arrived for fees that are termed as “undisclosed’ so we don’t know what the true cost of bringing these kids to United has been. Those that have left, apart from Ronaldo, have gone for peanuts, so another question I ask is, has the club been getting value for their outlay? Personally, I don’t think that they have. It’s a huge gamble bringing young foreign kids in because there is more than the football element involved. For some, arriving in Manchester is the biggest culture shock that their young systems could have! It takes them time to settle – and it’s obvious that some haven’t, and when that happens, their football is affected and they do not realize the potential that was initially seen in them. It seems to me that United’s scouts are striving to find the “next Ronaldo”, but personally, I doubt that will ever happen. Hernandez may prove me wrong in that he may turn out to be a consistent match winner in time, and I hope that he does, but only time will tell.

As for “home grown” kids being nurtured and getting their chance – yes they are – but with other clubs, and not at Manchester United! It does seem that these days, the club consistently churn out our home grown players - but it is other clubs that are the main benefactors of the work put in by United’s Academy and Reserve team coaches. The list of talented kids that have passed through Old Trafford in recent years is phenomenal – and when you look at them, not too many of them were given any real chance of making it. When they do leave Old Trafford, again it’s normally for a small or modest fee, Craig Cathcart’s recent move to Blackpool being an example. When you take into account the cost to United in time and effort in the development of these kids - again, do they get value for money?

People do say that if the kids are good enough then they will always come through and make it. In years gone by I would have always agreed with that statement, but football, in relation to bringing kids through, has changed so much during the last ten years. Managers are now under so much pressure to produce and win, that unfortunately time is so prohibitively against them. When a replacement is needed, more often than not the manager will delve into the transfer market and buy a ready made, experienced player. For home grown kids it is even harder today than it has ever been to make their mark in the Premiership. Over the past 10 years it seems to me that the only home grown kids to really come through at Old Trafford have been John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, and now, Jonny Evans.

I know that not every youngster in the Academy and Reserves is going to make it, but those that do have the ability and the temperament, are, more often than not denied opportunity because of circumstance, mostly by the enormous amount of foreign players, particularly the “journeyman” that are now plying their trade in English football. The number grows each passing season, and a lot of these type of players clog up the system. It’s difficult for kids to progress and get opportunity and a consistent run at first team level. They reach an age where they have to be loaned out to get experience, and the reality is, that when they do return, the vast majority are moved on to other clubs. It is interesting to look at some of the kids who started out at Old Trafford but have had decent careers elsewhere; John Curtis, Danny Higginbotham, David Healey, Jon Macken, Mark Wilson, Paul Rachubka, Ronnie Wallwork, Nick Culkin, Danny Webber, Danny Pugh, Mark Lynch, Luke Chadwick, Daniel Nardiello, Paul McShane, Luke Steele, David Jones, Kieran Richardson, Ryan Shawcross, Phil Bardsley, Richard Eckersley, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Chris Eagles, Frazer Campbell, Danny Simpson, Richard Eckersley, Craig Cathcart. There are probably many, many more, and I think that United do produce more players that do have careers than any other club in the League.

From my perspective, I do think that some of those young players, given enough opportunity and.chance, would have really developed. If you look at United’s squad now, 42 players have been afforded squad numbers. From that number, 23 cost United fees, 18 are home grown (although 12 of them have never played a league game for United and it’s probable that the majority of them never will) and Michael Owen came on a free. Given that a squad of 25 will have to be named by September 1st – what happens to those other 17 players – some of whom will be experienced, tried and trusted, and there are sure to be one or two big names? Reserve team football will not be good enough for them that’s for sure, and most of them will not be happy to be on the outside looking in. For the young home grown players, it is another barrier to their progress and for most, in my opinion they will have to go elsewhere to pursue a career in the game.

For the manager it is both a problematic and enigmatic situation, and it will be interesting to see how the next year or so develops, especially where our own young players progress is concerned.
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