Two of England’s biggest clubs have faced somewhat unusual seasons this Premier League campaign. The traditional powerhouse of Manchester United and the relative ‘new money’ outfit of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea have, by their own standards, suffered a decline in fortunes and find themselves in markedly unfamiliar circumstances than those experienced for the majority of the past decade or so.
United’s struggles have been clear for all to see since the departure of ‘Fergie’ and they’ve had an up and down season at best this time round, wheras the Blues have suffered a similar fall from grace, albeit in a rapidly accelerated time-frame – going from Champions to midtable fodder in less than a year. Both clubs will likely undergo some upheaval in the coming months, the Londoners perhaps more so than their Manchester rivals. For, given all the supposed ‘problems’ at Old Trafford under Van Gaal, the Red Devils currently sit just one point outside the Champions League spots and with a very real possibility of qualifying for Europe’s top club competition.
Victories over Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City since the turn of the year have put them in with a great chance of a top-four finish and somewhat dampened much of the criticism that was aimed towards the Dutch manager and his expensively assembled squad of under-performing stars early on in the season.
And one of the biggest factors in the apparent revival of this United side has been the emergence of some young talent. Marcus Rashford has of course garnered most of the headlines, but Anthony Martial (only a few months past his 20th birthday, let’s not forget), local boy Jesse Lingard and a handful of appearances from the likes of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Paddy McNair have all, in their own way, helped contribute to United’s up-tick in fortunes.
United’s tradition of producing fine young talent is well known – a few players from the 1992 youth side did OK, I guess – and whilst many of the aforementioned current players were utilised more through necessity than genuine merit by Van Gaal, the results have seemingly improved directly as a consequence of their inclusion. The attacking trio alone have produced 14 goals – not bad considering they have a combined age of just 61 – whilst many of the others have put in solid performances when called upon.
And in this regard, Chelsea could do a lot worse than follow the direction of their Premier League counterparts. With their own batch of talented youngsters ‘waiting in the wings’, the Blues’ fortunes could well be improved in a similar manner to that seen at Old Trafford in the latter part of this season. It’s too late to make much difference to this campaign of course, but Guus Hiddink has already shown a willingness to give experience to a few of the younger members of the squad at Stamford Bridge, which can only benefit their progression.
And the new manager next season – almost certain to be Italian Antonio Conte – should look to continue this trend and integrate some ‘homegrown’ talent into first-team proceedings. Despite events of the last few seasons at the Manchester club, Chelsea and owner Abramovich would be wise to attempt to replicate the model of Man United both this season and, more particularly, that during the years of unbounded success under Ferguson.
One of ‘Fergie’s’ biggest talents was blending youth and experience, using transfer funds on big name signings in key positions, but interweaving them with academy products and younger stars where he saw fit. Not only does this help with club finances, but it also helps give the team an identity on and off the pitch, something that the Russian oligarch has strived for since buying the west London side in 2003.
Big money transfers and ‘busted flushes’ have perforated the Abramovich era at Chelsea, but now might be the perfect time to change all that. I won’t list the raft of young talent available to the incoming manager, but suffice to say there are plenty of options in multiple positions that have the inherent talent to be of great benefit both to the team, and to the club as a whole. If Conte (or whoever is appointed) can somehow see fit to mould a side in a similar manner, big things could be possible for Chelsea next season and beyond.
Manchester United’s trials and tribulations with squad selection this season have actually resulted in some major positives for the club moving forward, and if the hierarchy at Chelsea can see that change in atmosphere and fortune at Old Trafford, take it on-board and then implement some of the ideologies and strategies of the Manchester giants, there is every chance they could reap the benefits themselves and see the start of a ‘blue revolution’ down at Stamford Bridge.