Sir Alex Ferguson’s illustrious career is littered with outrageous accusations, with his latest declaration that Manchester United are “probably the best” domestically at developing youth talent topping the pile. He may have masterminded the Golden Generation, but they are now confined to the history books, perhaps as one of football’s greatest abnormalities. So where do the club’s current crop of stars rank amongst their rivals?
“You look at the way Barcelona have produced players and we’re not far off that.” (manutd.com)
Herein lies the issue I have with Ferguson’s comments. Barcelona’s youth academy encompasses more than simply producing technically gifted players, it promotes the philosophy of both human and sporting excellence. The respect and admiration it commands gives it an almost religious significance in football. In comparison with the present set-up in Manchester, it’s light-years ahead.
All over Europe, certain teams have developed a reputation that sees them aspire to or indeed influence the Barcelona ‘way of life’. Dutch outfit Ajax aren’t so much a club as a school, designed to nurture true leaders on the pitch. Just cast your eye over the following names, Johan Cruyff, Edwin Van Der Sar, Dennis Bergkamp, Marco Van Basten, Van Der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Nigel De Jong.
English football can only dream of breeding such extraordinary home-grown talent and perhaps highlights why the top clubs have recently snapped up three further Ajax graduates in the form of Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen and Vurnon Anita. Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon are another side famed for its ability to source the next generation of stars, I am sure United fans don’t need reminding of where Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo came form.
Ferguson points towards the FA Youth Cup success of 2011 as evidence to support his claim. However, Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba, arguably the two-standout members of that team have since completed bitter departures from the club. Is it fair to suggest that United are developing a worrying trend of producing players that sadly don’t possess the appropriate mentality of a professional footballer?
The interview moves on to see Ferguson hail the potential of Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard and Michael and Will Keane. Indeed, both Tunnicliffe and Will Keane were handed debuts in the recent Capital One Cup third round victory over Newcastle United, alongside Scott Wotten who has found himself increasingly on the fringes of the first-team thanks to the current defensive injury crisis. Yet, only time will tell as to whether any of these players will be able to establish themselves on United’s demanding frontline.
It’s easy to forget that the likes of Gerard Pique and Giuseppe Rossi were once on the books at Old Trafford. These are perhaps the two most high-profile names that have excelled since leaving the club but it’s also worthy mentioning the likes of Ryan Shawcross and Ben Foster. Should United’s youth academy be praised for producing accomplished Premier League players or condemned for failing to produce players that cannot benefit the club itself? With this is mind, how are United any different from Arsenal, both sides are either failing to hang onto their gifted players or failing to recognise their full potential.
The current Manchester United first-team does feature academy starlets Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley, who have only just begun to make a positive impact on the international stage. In spite of their obvious talent, these players cannot be considered amongst the world’s best (yet) and nor are they part of a group of players capable of replacing the current line-up of stars.
Supporters of the club may disagree with everything I have written so far but let me ask you this: Would you rather the club produced one unique, exceptional individual every so often or several competent players capable of decorating the first-team because in my eyes, the current set-up is doing neither.
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