With the season now well and truly done and dusted, there’s already been the post-mortem, transfer rumours, endless advice for Sir Alex Ferguson as everyone and his wife tries to see where it went wrong for United.
One idea that’s not been given as much credence as others is the notion that Ferguson should turn to his youngsters next season as United attempt to ‘win their trophy back.’
The problem is, as a happy-go-lucky MOTD pundit once prophesised ‘you don’t win anything with kids.’ That may have been the most infamously erroneous statement in football history but can we expect to see youth be given a chance next season at Old Trafford?
While it’s unlikely that Fergie will put the sort of trust in his younger players that he did in 1995/96 there are a few who’ve made genuine claims to become members of the first-team.
Let’s have a look at how some of them have fared and just what are their chances of actually making the grade.
Rafael Da Silva- At 19 years of age, Rafael has already shown enough potential to have many pundits claiming he may just be the heir-apparent to Gary Neville’s right back slot. With injuries plaguing both Wes Brown- who was mainly used as a centre back anyway and John O’Shea Rafael found himself making sixteen appearances for United last season. While that is actually less than the previous season he has been plunged in at the deep end with mixed results. It’s in the Champion’s League that the Brazilian came under more pressure and scrutiny and many will cite his sending off against Bayern Munich as the turning point in United’s entire campaign. While he is still guilty of occasional rash challenges- City 1st leg at Eastlands- he is still obviously an extremely talented player. Better at going forward than he is at defending, there are signs that he is improving in both departments and if he can stop getting himself and United needlessly into trouble he looks as though he could make the grade and give the team an Evra-type at right back.
Rafael is progressing unlike his twin Fabio who’s despatched with the Kieran Richardson type hair do- and has only made three appearances for United this season as injuries have blighted his chances.
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Grade- B minus – Tries hard, and has obviously got potential, just needs to channel his aggression in the right way on occasion.
Another future Patrice Evra- only at right back of course- a heavy mantle to lay on anyone but skilful quick and confident, if he works on his defensive shortcomings he could be the Brazilian Patrice.
Jonny Evans- It seems a bit daft labelling Evans a youngster seeing as he’s been a semi-regular fixture in United’s defence for two seasons now. At 22 though he is still fairly young and has arguably been United’s best youth product of the past decade. With 31 appearances last season- eight more than Rio Ferdinand, Evans has had to play more games than he really should have as Nemanja Vidic has also suffered with his share of injuries. Evans has been immense for United in many games and although he can occasionally be guilty of the odd lapse- erm just as Rio can really- he’s looking more and more like a magnificent defender. His stamp on Didier Drogba which inexplicably saw the Ivorian booked at Stamford Bridge also gave us one of the season’s funniest moments. If I were to be overly fussy then perhaps using his height at the other end of the pitch and threatening from corners would be a useful addition to his locker of talents but it’s a minor quibble in what’s been a great season for ‘the boy’ as Fergie calls him- along with every other United player regardless of age.
Grade- A minus – Fulfilling his early promise and becoming an integral part of the team.
Another future- Gary Pallister – well timed tackles and looking comfortable on the ball with a slight nit-picking criticism that a man of his height could grab at least the odd goal from a corner.
Darron Gibson – With 26 appearances and five goals to his name, it would appear that Gibson is settling into the first-team at United quite well. The same age as Evans the Republic of Ireland midfielder has found himself in the starting line up for some big games lately in both Europe and the Premiership. With a fierce shot and the confidence to use it, the best Gibson to ever play for United- Colin and Terry were sh*te- is putting forward a decent -ish claim to be Paul Scholes’s rightful heir. Then why am I not totally convinced? The thing that strikes me about Gibson is that sometimes, other than his shooting ability which is impressive rather than awesome he doesn’t always seem to influence games enough. Again, I may be being overly critical but there’s still a niggling doubt in my mind as to whether he is quite a Manchester United player. I hope I’m wrong as if Gibson does improve he could well do for United what Frank Lampard does for Chelsea. Next season is probably make-or-break for him.
Grade- B – Decent goal return and does seem to be going in the right direction, just a few nagging doubts over whether he is capable of moving up a gear.
Another future- Brian McClair- post 1992- could be accused of looking a bit slow at times but tries hard and chips in with goals.
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Anderson – Everyone’s favourite Predator impersonator has had a mixed season to say the least. Sterling early season performances against the likes of Chelsea and Tottenham- where he finally broke his league goal scoring duck seemed to indicate Anderson was becoming the player we knew he could when he made Black Lace fashionable again – sort of.
However the United wheels looked like coming off for the man who’d never looked like missing his 2008 CL final penalty, after a supposed bust-up with Fergie. Apparently Fergie had dished out the hairdryer treatment to the youngster following his inept display against Manchester City in the Carling Cup first leg. This act of playful Scottish banter didn’t go down too well with ‘r Andy who supposedly did what is compulsory for all Brazilian footballers and disappeared back to his homeland without so much as goodbye note. While rumours of his imminent sale did the rounds, Anderson returned to Old Trafford and was back in the first-team for all of twenty minutes before a season-ending injury. Like Gibson next season could well be his make-or-break one as its time for him to step up and fulfil his early promise.
Grade C minus- Must try harder as it may be time for him to go elsewhere regardless of his potential.
Another future – Nicky Butt- good at tackling and getting stuck in, probably not a United-career type but hopefully will provide a good few seasons worth.
Gabriel Obertan – With only ten appearances for the first team it does seem a little premature to be giving the Frenchman any form of appraisal but I feel we’ve seen enough to expect him to figure a lot more next season so why not? Obertan is one of the few United players who’s been talked about for what he’s done for the reserves- including a cracker against Liverpool, as his performances for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have often prompted Fergie to promote him. When in the first team Obertan has shown that he has skill in abundance and an energy that could well be utilised next season- most probably as a substitute. The pacy winger may well be given more than a season to prove himself as with Nani, Antonio Valencia not to mention Ryan Giggs and Ji Sung Park all ahead of him, he may have to make do with cameos to show his worth. While hardly setting Old Trafford alight, Obertan has made a decent start to his United career and looks very promising. If he can survive the rigours of English football, the Clairefontaine graduate may be the surprise package for Fergie next season.
Grade C plus– A solid start, and shows a willingness to try and get involved which will stand him in good stead at Old Trafford.
Another future- Nani or David Bellion only time will tell whether he can be the sort of livewire that his Portuguese colleague is- I’m a big fan, or he goes the way of Bellion and simply doesn’t have what it takes.
Danny Welbeck – Two seasons ago Welbeck appeared to be one of the few youth team strikers who’ve gone on to make it in United’s first team. Impressive displays earned him a start in the 2009 Carling Cup final, as the confident youngster made his case for being a valuable squad member. However fast forward to recent times, and things aren’t going quite as well for the Longsight-born lad. After being loaned out to Preston as Darren Ferguson’s first signing- nepotism? Never- Welbeck seemed to be making progress as he grabbed a couple of goals in his first few games. However a knee injury scuppered his chances of making further progress ending his season eight games in. When it comes to his performances for United, I can’t shake the feeling that he’s just not quite good enough, even though to be fair he has been used inexplicably as a winger for the first team on more than one occasion. Welbeck also has a problem with greediness, which while you’d expect it from a nineteen year-old striker, can at times frustrate. Whether Welbeck will be given more first-team chances next season remains to be seen, but he may find himself out on loan again.
Grade C minus– Seemed to have stagnated slightly after successful first season and injury prevented him proving his worth.
Another future -Frazier Campbell- sneaky feeling he may end up loaned-out until it becomes permanent.
Federico Macheda – Despite an injury ravaged season that’s seen the Italian make only a handful of first team appearances, it’s still obvious he’s got a lot to offer. A perfectly legitimate goal against Chelsea -unlike the previous one scored in that game which was a disgraceful exhibition of linesman-ing incompetence – is all Macheda’s got to show for his efforts but it’s still at least something. While he’s not really improved on the previous season- to be fair though he did practically win United the league with his winner against Aston Villa so it was a tough act to follow, Kiko’s still shown glimpses of his class and I for one truly believe he’s got what it takes to make it at Old Trafford. At the age of 18 time is well and truly on his side. Fergie may use him sparingly next season but the potential is there for everyone to see.
Grade- C plus– Despite all his injury problems, the impact he made against Chelsea is enough to show that he’s still the real deal.
Another future – Ruud Van Nistelrooy- may not be at Old Trafford forever but I expect a lot of goals before he leaves.
Read more of Justin’s work at his excellent blog ‘Name on the Trophy’