With Sir Alex Ferguson’s insistence that Manchester United won’t be signing any players this summer due to ‘over-inflated’ prices, the question surrounding the clubs massive debt still lingers.
After all, following a season which yielded just the Carling Cup- hardly what is deemed successful at Old Trafford- there was an expectation that the coffers would be thrown open and at least one marquee signing would arrive at the Theatre of Dreams.
Many have already turned to the most hated men at Old Trafford- unless you count Gary Neville by away fans- the Glazers as the reason for lack of transfer activity.
Fergie though, had insisted that he does have the money but feels that the players available are over-priced or not really needed, as may have been the case with Liverpool’s new saviour Joe Cole.
All this reminded me of the summer of 1995 when three of the club’s biggest names left to be replaced by members of the youth team. Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and the Russian Locomotive that was Andrei Kanchelskis, all left for new clubs following United’s first trophy-less season in five years.
Fergie replaced his trio of departed stars, with unknown quantities Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and some kid named David Beckham. Add to that the fact that Gary Neville was now a regular and was joined by his younger brother Phil and many thought the United manager had gone mad, little realising it was all a massive ploy to embarrass Alan Hansen on Match of the Day.
Hansen’s: “You’ll never win anything win kids” comment following United’s opening day defeat at Aston Villa was the biggest gaffe since Romeo told Juliet getting together would be a good idea.
Hansen was made to eat his words on an almost daily basis as United’s young side, led by Sky’s new advertising genie Eric Cantona swept all before them, to win the double.
The young English backbone of that United side, would become the backbone of the England side for a decade to come, with Scholes, Butt, Beckham and the Nevilles gaining over 350 caps between them and featuring in every major tournament since then until this year’s World Cup- although technically Beckham featured as the teams chief eye-brow raiser and frowner.
West Ham have of course contributed massively to the England team, with the likes of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Jermaine Defoe and Michael Carrick all coming through the Academy of Football. Unlike the United youth team of 1992, most of West Ham’s England players came through at different times. Ferdinand and Lampard were part of the youth team which reached the FA youth cup final of 1996, losing to a Liverpool side which included Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen. Carrick and Cole went one better in 1999 defeating a Coventry side that had Chris Kirkland between the sticks, by a 9 goal aggregate- no doubt this was good preparation for what was to happen to Kirkland at Spurs a decade down the line.
Although, technically it wasn’t until 1993 that all the aforementioned United players were in the same youth team- Phil Neville joining the team then, the fact is for a single team to contain a crop of youngsters that would go on to be so successful is not so much a rarity as an absolute phenomenon .
What makes the class of ’92 even more exceptional is that while it may not have contained the younger Neville sibling, it did have a young lad named Ryan Giggs, who would go on to make the odd appearance for the first team.
The point I’m making is can Fergie do it again with a crop of youngsters? Is there enough talent coming through the youth ranks for him to surprise everyone with another crop of ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ –sorry I’ve always hated that term but felt obliged to use it- who can carry the team to glory?
Lately United have been giving more and more youngsters a chance as the likes of the Da Silva twins, Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck, Kiko Macheda, and Jonny Evans have figured in many games.
Will Fergie be prepared to turn to youth fully, in the way he did back in 1995 to replace some of the players who’ve either left the club or are nearing retirement.
With the last remnants of the class of 92, in Scholes, Giggs and Neville, surely entering their final season, this may be the time for the United manager to confound the critics and turn to his youngsters.
While Jonny Evans is practically a first team member now, most of the young players are only used sparingly, could we now see Fergie give them a chance and make them starting members of his squad.
A starting line up of say VDS, Rafael, Evans, Vidic, Evra, Valencia, Fletcher, Gibson, Nani, Macheda and Rooney is still a very strong side which could give any team a run for its money.
Maybe the reason the United manager is acting like Ebeneezer Scrooge before the ghosts paid him a visit, is due to the knowledge that some of his younger players are actually up to the task.
With a further host of younger players in the likes of Cameron Stewart, Corry Evans, Tom Cleverley, Paul Pogba and Will Keane coming through the ranks the future may not quite be as bleak at Manchester United as many, myself included, have thought lately.
As the great Sir Matt Busby showed over 50 years ago, youth can be good enough to win league titles and challenge the cream of Europe, a lesson Fergie remembered in 1995, maybe it’s one he’s realised again.
Read more of Justin Mottershead’s work on his blog ‘Name on the Trophy’