Why is the grass seemingly greener away from Old Trafford?

Manchester United's Ezekiel FryersEzekiel Fryers decision to join Tottenham last week was another example of Manchester United losing one of their upcoming prospects. Recently names such as Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison have also left the club in an attempt to further their careers but considering they were playing for one of the biggest teams in the world and were still eager to leave, clearly there is something wrong with The Red Devils’ youth system.

It should be said that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have rarely missed their departing players and few go on to bigger and better things but why these players are so keen to leave Old Trafford remains to be seen. Is it because they were surplus to requirements or because they felt they were bigger than the reserves and demanded more first team football?

Morrison’s move to West Ham was reportedly due to his outspoken personality so perhaps the attacking midfielder’s ego got the better of him. Ferguson rarely humours unpredictable personalities and Pogba too has been the centre of transfer speculation after playing just a handful of first team games without setting the world alight. A big money move to Juventus may seem like an appealing opportunity given his bit part role in the side but Fryers was playing more and more last season and has still decided to move to White Hart Lane. Does Ferguson believe the defender will struggle to overtake Fabio and Rafael to replace Evra or is he another contentious character that the team could do without?

The truth is while some may question the defection of so many aspiring young players, the Premier League is littered with ex-Manchester United talent and the club has rarely suffered a backlash. Sunderland trio Kieran Richardson, Phil Bardsley and Fraizer Campbell all made similar moves early on and while enjoying fairly successful careers, in the grand scheme of things no one at Old Trafford is regretting letting them go. Add to that list the likes of Bolton’s Chris Eagles, Everton’s Darron Gibson and Newcastle’s Danny Simpson and suddenly you start to wonder if perhaps Fryers and co have cut their ties too soon. After all Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers will all testify to how valuable learning ones trade at a club like United can be. Even the likes of Butt and Phil Neville, who eventually left the club for the Premier League’s lesser lights, still became established professionals before calling time of their Old Trafford careers. Recently John O’Shea and Wes Brown have followed the same path and if Fryers, Morrison and Pogba drift into relative obscurity then they will look back at their decision to leave with regret.

That is unless they know something others don’t. In fact the United youth system hasn’t been churning out as much talent as it used to and only Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Darren Fletcher and Jonny Evans have progressed into the current first team since the days of Ferguson proving Alan Hansen wrong. While a number have failed to make the grade in that time, players like Fryers, when on the cusp of breaking through, are greeted by the signatures of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. What sort of motivation is there for young players if they’re to be replaced by more established talent as soon as they’re ready for their opportunity. With that in mind perhaps they have made the right decision as they will have far more first team chances at their new sides.

To the outside observer, it’s understandable that the opportunity to join Juventus or Tottenham may be to too appealing for a player struggling for first team action but Morrison’s decision to join newly promoted West Ham is more indicative of someone who did not see eye to eye with the manager. It’s a fine line for young footballers who must show drive and determination but also patience and respect. They’re expected to work hard and earn their place in the side but there’s also the possibility that they’re simply not good enough. While that decision is down to the manager, the player must still commit himself to the club until he’s deemed surplus to requirements and that can be damaging at such an important stage in their development if they end up without a club after years of hard work.

Ultimately any decision that ends in a parting of the ways is a risk that either a cutthroat manager or an ambitious player will make. While less and less talent progresses through the Manchester United youth setup nowadays, very few players achieve more away from the club than they would have at Old Trafford. The system may not be as successful as it once was but even if United choose to replace their failures with expensive young signings, it doesn’t mean they won’t develop any player willing to commit themselves to the Old Trafford project.

Do you think United’s youth system is failing? Have these defecting players had their head turned by the offer of first team football? Should they stay and commit themselves to Old Trafford?

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