In recent weeks I wrote an article on why Manchester United should resist the urge to spend big on young talent, and to concentrate on bringing their own through (see here: https://www.thefaithfulmufc.com/time-for-united-to-stop-spending-big-money-on-young-talent/). No individual embodies the benefits of this ethos better than Sam Johnstone, and not just for the obvious reasons. Sure we all love to see our own come through the ranks and succeed, and yes we can save a few pounds if they come off, but there is also a more practical benefit.
Looking back through recent United history, when we had a goalkeeper that the coach was happy with, they tended to play the majority of games in the season, with the backup usually playing in dead rubbers in the Champions League group stages and the early rounds of the League and FA Cups. Obviously the chances of injury to a player in such a specialised position requires for a solid understudy, however most top end squads in the Premier League boast three goalkeepers.
At the time of writing Manchester United have David De Gea, Victor Valdes, Anders Lindegaard and Sam Johnstone on the books, with Johnstone spending last season on loan at Doncaster and Preston. It is clear that Valdes is on his way out and it looks increasingly likely that undisputed number 1 De Gea will follow him out of the exit doors of Old Trafford soon too. With those departures set to take place rumours have surfaced of Jasper Cillessen and Sergio Romero coming in to take their places, but are they both necessary?
If Anders Lindergaard as expected sees out the final year of his contract at United – something which makes financial sense to him, in that he can demand higher wages from his next employer who would save money on his lack of a transfer fee – what of Sam Johnstone? Should he go out on loan once more?
In my opinion having him stick around this year would be of a much higher benefit for both the individual and the club. Sure there are benefits to having regular game time, but there is also a lot to be said for training with world class talent every day. Just look at how Sam has grasped his chances this pre-season, performing admirably in the two friendly games so far.
In all likelihood our number 1 next season, be it De Gea or his replacement (Cillessen/Romero), will play the vast majority of important games, and if he should pick up an injury Anders Lindegaard has the temperament and composure to play the odd important league/European game. But if there are any dead rubbers in a European group phase, or the odd League Cup game, wouldn’t those experiences be HUGE for a player like Johnstone? Surely 90 minutes of European football at Old Trafford or in cities like Turin, Madrid or Paris are infinitely more beneficial than three months in Preston?
Then there are the home-grown player rules which are likely to become more stringent in the not so distant future. According to current rules each team must submit a 25 man squad where at least 8 players must be classed as home grown, where a home-grown player is defined as a player who:
“irrespective of his nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Welsh Football Association for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21)”
Eight doesn’t seem like too big of a challenge, but in an era where we are competing for the biggest names in the footballing world, it is something to keep an eye on. With a clear intent by the FA to help the national team, that requirement could be increased from 8 to 12 in the coming years, and two of those home-grown players would have to be trained by the club. Furthermore, the players would have to be trained for three seasons prior to their 18th birthday rather than their 21st. With the production line at United generally being in fine fettle, thickening out the squad with academy trained talent shouldn’t be an issue, but the work should be put in now.
Sam Johnstone already commands every square centimetre of his penalty area and looks more than comfortable with the ball at his feet, so we should be aiming to keep this lad in our long term plans. Even if he doesn’t ever become our first choice goalkeeper, there is no doubt in my mind he could easily reach the talents of Anders Lindegaard, Tomasz Kuszczak or Raimond van der Gouw who deputised for De Gea, van der Sar and Schmeichel respectively. As you can probably guess from the names, these number 2s are all foreign and more importantly non-home-grown.
“Wasting” one of what could become 13 valuable non-home-grown spots on a backup goalkeeper should not be an option (unless of course the first choice keeper is home-grown). That is why having a plan of developing Johnstone with the objective that he takes one of the top two goalkeeping positions is vital. What better time to start than the present, when we can keep the ball rolling after such a successful beginning to the pre-season?
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