About fifteen years ago, Sir Alex Ferguson unleashed the most impressive batch of Manchester United youth players in a generation that went on to create a legacy, one with countless trophies to show for their dominance. Giggs, Butt, Sharpe, Beckham and Scholes, to name but a few, were all effectively “free” and played out their best years of football for the Red Devils.
There is no denying that Manchester United have a very prosperous youth system; with fifteen players currently plying their trade in the Premier League despite not making the mark at Old Trafford. Further to that the current crop of Man United players consists of eight that came through the team’s youth system (nine if you include Gary Neville before his retirement), a very impressive number, but despite topping the Premier League by five points, being in a FA Cup Semi Final and Champions League Quarter Final, this team has been criticised for not having the same aura about them as the Manchester United team of the late nineties. Perhaps the treble winning side that consisted of all those home grown talents has spoilt the world of football and United fans were never going to get that next golden generation they craved for.
The likes of Wes Brown and Darren Fletcher have been loyal servants, but hardly the shining stars that this new look Man United side is crying out for. Perhaps this is because, unlike before, Manchester United haven’t found the right balance between youth player graduates and experience with flare. They replaced Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke with players like Ruud Van Nistelrooy; then Van Nistelrooy with the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez, but with Rooney now misfiring and Ronaldo and Tevez no longer at the club, their goals and all round threat hasn’t been replaced effectively enough.
Giggs and Scholes represent the end of an era for Manchester United. However the future isn’t totally bleak on the youth front, with players such as Fabio and Rafael Da Silva taking the Premier League by storm. Despite not being viewed as homegrown players by the Premier League, they have had two or three years learning the ‘United way’ in the youth system and there is no doubting these two are prodigious talents. Added to this are Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda and Tom Cleverley; all products of Manchester United’s youth system who have been earning rave reviews whilst out on loan and they will all more than likely return to play a big part for United next season. Furthermore, the likes of Jonny Evans and Ritchie de Laet (arguably more a product of Stoke and Royal Antwerp’s youth system) definitely have the capabilities of being successful Premier League players, together with Darron Gibson, for all his critics, who may still yet be the Scholes replacement Manchester United have been trying to find for a couple of years, especially when you consider the expensive failures such as Owen Hargreaves (albeit due to persistent injury problems). I think the problem lies in the fact that pundits, fans and critics alike must accept that Paul Scholes is a player that comes along as rarely as the veteran midfielder makes successful tackles, so when Sir Alex stops trying to replace the irreplaceable, Gibson can play without the burden of being dubbed the new Scholes; then the chemistry will begin to happen and who knows what might be accomplished?
Sir Alex Ferguson has never been afraid to make bold changes in his squad when he feels it is time to rebuild. Despite all the media frenzy around Ferguson’s supposed £95 million spree, I believe Fergie will only be in the in the market for a top-class goalkeeper and an experienced midfield playmaker when the transfer window reopens (by no means a significant fiscal summer by Premier League standards anymore). Outside these possible signings, I feel the depth of quality in the United ranks on the youth front is what most club managers would dream of having at their disposal; ensuring Fergie’s legacy.
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