There is a feeling among many football fans that their club is guilty of carrying a few players who just don’t make the grade. At the top clubs, you would have thought this wasn’t something which could happen if teams are to realistically fight for trophies domestically and on the European front. Manchester United fans would argue otherwise. The Old Trafford side have remained successful for two decades despite manager Sir Alex Ferguson rewarding loyalty shown by players with club-longevity. But has this admirable characteristic prohibited other, possibly better youngsters coming through?
Take Darron Gibson for instance. A product of the Manchester United production line, a model professional in the sense that you never hear of him involved in seedy nights out with girls-on-call, and a recognised member of the Manchester United first team. But does his footballing ability really deserve that status or is he just another of Ferguson’s favourites? If you were to take him out of the equation, would we be seeing Tom Cleverley make substitute appearances in the Premier League at Old Trafford and regularly featuring in the Carling Cup team?
Admittedly, his spell at Wigan has done him no harm at all. But at the age of 21, if Cleverley is going to make the next step into the Man United first team set-up, it has to begin next summer. It’s an early age, but such is football these days that if you aren’t good enough at 21 to play for Manchester United, you’re probably never going to be good enough.
So his experience at Wigan has provided him with a taste of Premier League football. That’s brilliant for the player. But what happens when he goes back to United? We all know that that is another level, so he would almost have to begin his apprenticeship all over again. Had Darron Gibson been disposed of, as many would have hoped he would have been by now, Cleverley would almost certainly be further along the track than he is right now.
John O’Shea is another example. The versatile Irishman has proved useful to plug gaps whenever Ferguson’s side suffer a back-log of injuries and suspensions, but is he really good enough? He does offer vast experience, especially in the big games, but surely the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs can take over that role. When both are fit and available, I’d much rather see Fabio given the chance on either flank. We have all seen how Rafael has moulded into the perfect United right-back thanks to a bit of experience, so his brother can do the same. I know the twin has suffered his fair share of injuries, but Ferguson’s loyalty to O’Shea could be another unwelcome hurdle for the young Brazilian to get over, when many feel his time has come.
Ferguson doesn’t get much wrong at Old Trafford, and I would not like to question his policy of bringing through youngsters as he has a pretty good track record. I needn’t remind you of the David Beckham, Neville brothers and Paul Scholes era. But my point is that instead of sticking with some of his favourites, and then sending the rest out of loan to his managerial pals, maybe an overhaul is needed. United top the league, but they haven’t done it convincingly. A trophy-less season isn’t out of the realms of possibility, and if such a situation arises at the end of the season, it may be time to say goodbye to a couple of friendly faces.
When the time comes that Ferguson decides enough is enough, the new manager may look to clear out some of Fergie’s fledglings. With so many players out of loan doing well and a plethora of good youngsters at the club in the reserves and academy, maybe Ferguson should take it upon himself to bring through one last team.
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