In August 1995 Alan Hansen famously proclaimed on Match of the Day ‘you can’t win anything with kids’, referencing Sir Alex Ferguson’s youthful Manchester United side. By the conclusion of the season, United had completed the double by winning the Premier League and FA Cup. The United faithful will be hoping for similar fortunes in the upcoming campaign as Ole Gunnar Solskjær looks to rebuild his squad with a notable emphasis on young and emerging, ideally British talents.
Reportedly, it’s young, aspiring players with considerable potential that Solskjær will target this window. While onlookers will rightly question whether these young talents have the necessary quality to make an immediate impact at a club of United’s standing, the move towards young, hungry and determined players is a smart one for the Old Trafford outfit.
The acquisition of Daniel James from Swansea City could be the first of many promising players who will move to United this summer. Despite only attaining 39 senior appearances at club level, there should be considerable excitement around the 21-year-old’s signing after finishing last season with four goals and nine assists to his name in the Championship.
The Wales international will provide United with an abundance of creativity and a frightening degree of pace. Most crucially, the winger is willing to attack directly and he doesn’t shy from one-on-one situations. A total of 13 league goal contributions in his first full season of senior football is a commendable tally and surrounded by higher quality at United, one can envisage James contributing purposefully to their cause.
If United are to restore former glory and attempt to derail their neighbours’ domestic dominance, they need talented, resilient and industrious players. Generally, young players are more prepared to work for the collective good of the team as they’re yet to demonstrate their significance or earn their positions, particularly at clubs placed in the upper echelons of football.
If the theory proves fruitful, signing young players could be the most effective way of restoring desire and fight at the club, fortifying connections with disenchanted supporters and ending an era which has been largely defined by superstar signings of questionable success, from Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku. Di Maria and Falcao lasted just the one season, while Lukaku and Pogba could both leave before the summer’s over.
Another youngster who has interested the United hierarchy is West Ham United’s Issa Diop. The Telegraph report that the Hammers have set a £75m price tag to thwart the Red Devils’ interest. United’s need for defensive recruitment should be their foremost concern this summer; they only conceded a goal fewer (54) than West Ham’s total (55) in the league last term – a clear indication of weaknesses at the back.
Diop is a commanding presence thanks to his height and imposing stature. The Frenchman demonstrates excellent defensive awareness, is physically dominant and decent on the ball with an 86% pass completion rate last season. While the 22-year-old is a far cry from the esteemed names that United are typically linked with, he would add much-needed resolve to a frail and fleeting defensive unit.
According to Manchester Evening News. Newcastle United’s Sean Longstaff is among United’s desired midfield shortlist. Again, superficially, Longstaff wouldn’t be one of the most inspiring signings of the summer, but to focus solely on players’ reputations would negate the club’s vision and shift towards long-term acquisitions.
The 21-year-old’s lack of top-level experience with only nine Premier League games under his belt is a legitimate concern; Diop has already experienced a season of Premier League action, while James has attained four international caps. However, Longstaff showed promise in his outings for the Magpies, averaging 1.9 tackles and 1.1 interceptions per game while doing a great job of orchestrating possession.
His passing ability is an obvious strength, and for someone of his limited experience on the biggest stage, he reads the game well – already earning comparisons to Michael Carrick. Given Ander Herrera’s departure, United need a midfielder who can fuse creativity and tenacity and Longstaff certainly fits the bill.
Eric Dier is another possible target for United to pursue, as Team Talk report that United are interested in signing the midfielder. While slightly older than other reported targets, he does come with a good blend of age and experience. At 25, Dier has made 40 appearances for England and featured in Premier League and Champions League title hunts.
A host of unfulfilled managerial appointments aligned with pragmatic and mundane football has led to the dereliction of United’s formerly revered footballing identity. The playing style has disappeared and their approach in the transfer market has been scatter-gun.
Turning towards promising young footballers in conjunction with a fresh approach could breathe renewed life into a club desperately requiring rejuvenation. United’s pride is hurt; their dominance of yesteryear defeated; the need for reinvention is urgent.
Their recruitment is strategy is undoubtedly a risk, but the acquisition of young players could set the foundations for the development of a new identity and the building blocks for prospective success. After all, perhaps United will prove once again that you can win something with kids and make Hansen eat his words for a second time.