Time For United To Stop Spending Big Money On Young Talent

For twenty years, almost every Manchester United fan could describe the perfect Fergie signing; young, talented and with scope for improvement. But it is high time this should stop. Signings like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo are the perfect examples of how United can develop talented  youngsters into world class players but there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach. It was for these reasons I was adamantly against the signing of Luke Shaw last season, and I am also against any proposed signing of Harry Kane this summer.

The first problem is that spending north of £30m on any player under the age of 23 is a huge risk; regardless of how supremely talented these players are, there is no guarantee that early impressive trajectories will follow that trend when they reach their more mature years. The majority footballing prodigies tend to be early peakers. They present the illusion of endless possibilities, only to be overtaken by players who develop at a slower but more consistent pace. One must remember that for every Cristiano there is a Nani and a Bebe, for every Messi there is a Bojan Krkic and a Pedro… not all bad players but not worth anywhere near the millions that could be spent on them. And it is in this example where United have got it completely wrong and Barcelona have got it right. Where United take risks signing players like these three for big money, Barcelona bring their young players through the ranks. Where you could argue for that the example provided each of the clubs saw one success (Cristiano and Messi) and two (relative) failures, one club spent millions on their failures and the other spent nothing. Another point that comes hand in hand with this one is the affinity that these players have with the club that developed them. Whilst Messi is Argentinean and not from Barcelona, he has developed his whole career there, he grew up there, it is his club. Cristiano is not a son of Manchester, and thus playing for Manchester United was never his dream. So after all the hopes of developing one of the best players in the world was finally realised, United lost him at his peak, whilst Barcelona still enjoy Messi.

‘But United do bring youth through!’ I hear you cry, and yes they do, but what opportunities do these players truly get to turn into world class talent? Try to think of the youth products that got a real chance to break into the first team over the last 10 years. Fletcher, Welbeck, Januzaj, Evans, Brown, O’Shea? There are not too many more who can claim to have come through our academy and have more than 15 league games per season. Furthermore, all of these players to some degree were asked to play in different positions when breaking through rather than being given the opportunity to develop their expertise in one particular position. It’s a scattergun approach to development in direct opposition to the sniper like approach our club used to have. Not since Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham have we had a youngster come through and be clearly defined as a right back, central midfielder, winger or any other position. Why is this?

The second problem is that prospective youth players paths are blocked to the first team. The old adage is that if you are good enough you are old enough, but it is not practically true at United, there is also a simple case of economics to adhere to. When United spend £17m on Phil Jones and £12m on Chris Smalling, talented but unproven youngsters, to come in as backup to first teamers Ferdinand and Vidic, it sends a message to any would be youth products. They simply cannot break through into the first team. If a choice is to be made between giving valuable developmental minutes to a youngster, the ones who cost the club millions will always take priority over the ones that cost nothing. Only this week Tom Thorpe was axed from a club he loves, a club he has been with for years, for what? The answer is because Sir Alex Ferguson took a decision to buy two talented but expensive youngsters that play in that position a few years earlier; talent that has been unfulfilled, as pointed out earlier. Now United have a surplus of players in central defence, none of which is good enough to lace the boots of their predecessors.

Tom Thorpe, Tyler Blackett, Paddy McNair may not ever have worked at Manchester United, in the same way that Jonny Evans has not fulfilled his early hopes, but at least United didn’t fork out millions upon millions of pounds for them that could have been invested in readymade talent. Buying potential is all well and good but United fans need to remember that that is all it is. Potential. Potential gives you no guarantees, as we have seen with Nani, Anderson, Jones, Smalling, Bebe, Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, Obertan, Bellion, Diouf, Dong, Manucho and the list continues. I accept the notion that spending big money on star names also doesn’t always work out, as we saw to some degree with Diego Forlan, Juan Veron and thus far with Angel Di Maria, but Manchester United’s major failings on players that cost more than £25m are scarce in comparison to the failed youngsters they have brought in from other clubs. Furthermore, these star players had a history before United so the club are guaranteed some sell on value with this kind of player, with United accumulating decent transfer fees for the likes of Veron in the past despite his difficult time in Manchester.

Imagine for a moment that you are in the shoes of James Wilson, a supremely talented youngster who has not had a fair crack of the whip in the United starting line-up because he has had the likes of Rooney, Falcao and van Persie ahead of him. Now imagine that another youngster, Harry Kane, who has had ONE great season is brought in to your club at the price of £50m+. What on earth is going though your mind? The club would rather take a £50m risk on someone else’s kid than on you, someone who has been there for years. It must be demoralising! Now put yourself in the shoes of all the other academy players who were looking to James Wilson to break through, to give themselves the belief that they also can one day play for the first team. Shattered dreams everywhere. And for what? Potential? Nathaniel Clyne is another young-ish player whose name is being thrown around in the press. What then of Saidy Janko? Why bother with an academy at all?

Look at Luke Shaw, United spend £30m on him after ONE successful year in Southampton’s first team, now he can hardly get a game ahead of Daley Blind when all players are fit, a player who cost half the amount of money and is a lot more talented, intelligent and experienced. There is no guarantee that Luke will ever be the next Patrice Evra, it is currently a hope, a fantasy, a dream. A dream that could have been invested in one of our own, with that £30m being spent on a world class, ready to go, central midfielder.

United need to take a leaf out of Barcelona’s book, they are the standard bearers now. They spend huge amounts of money on readymade stars and spend nothing on unproven young players, bringing their own through and giving them a GENUINE opportunity to flourish. What was once United’s philosophy of bringing in youngsters and giving them a true opportunity has become diluted, fooling fans into a sense that we really give youth a chance. We don’t. We must.

For more red views, follow me on Twitter @vinaldo7

About Steve Ferguson 886 Articles
Steve Ferguson had taken over & re-branded The Faithful MUFC website back in the summer of 2014 and is now the owner and editor of the site. Steve, from Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, is a 35-year-old life long Manchester United fan, travelling over the globe to see the Reds play. Steve has been lucky enough to be at both the 1999 and 2008 Champions League finals, seeing Manchester United lift the biggest trophy in the World, none more exciting than that faithful night in Barcelona in 99. The website is a blog, but also hopes to deliver the latest Manchester United news from around the internet too, linked up with our growing twitter account which is @TheFaithfulMUFC, give it a follow as we will follow you back as soon as we can.


  1. Great article. Give players like Lingard opportunities, Pereirra, Wilson and Saidy Janko.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with this article. I would like to add my own pet gripe though.
    I have watched United since 1958 and have seen them all come and go. I watched the demise of United after they won the European Cup with an already declining team. I watched as Sir Matt, incredibly, seemed to suddenly lose his touch, as though achieving the EC had been the summit of his ambition and now he seemed somehow frozen and unable to deal with a declining team. The result was relegation a few years later and a succession of hapless managers.
    That caused us 25 years in the wilderness as Liverpool dominated. It seemed it could never end, but they made a cardinal mistake. They did not make improvements to their infrastructure; their ground, their marketing and their presence in the world outside of England.
    In contrast, United steadily marched on, improving the ground and the capacity and leading the way with innovative marketing. It took SAF to be the catalyst of it all and the club has not looked back.
    However, SAF fell guilty to the same pitfalls as Sir Matt and suddenly, all we heard from Fergie was ramblings about perceived `value` in the transfer market. He seemed transfixed by this phobia and as Chelsea and then Man City started to splash their owners cash around, we saw a challenge to our dominance.
    To be fair, Fergie did still pull rabbits out of the hat right up until the end, but his final act reflected incompetence by the board in allowing him to appoint Moyes without even a cursory look at other applicants. We know the result of that so no raking over old coals.
    There was the perception that Fergie gave youth a chance, but did he really? The `class of 92` were a one-off and basically the timing was perfect because Fergie almost had no choice but to play some of them, so they virtually picked themselves.
    The story was different with others and the best example is Paul Pogba. It is all well and good having a string manager, but not one who is blinded by his own self-belief that he is always right. With Pogba he was wrong and there have been many others along the way as well.
    LvG genuinely believes in giving youth a chance and has a proven record with previous clubs, but he also knows about balance and he is trying to do what would normally take a few seasons in 2 seasons, by bringing in ready-made top talent alongside promising younger players.
    Whether he was responsible for Luke Shaw is not clear, but he is responsible for Memphis Depay who has shown ability already.
    As for Jones and Smalling, I think that the latter part of last season saw the penny drop for Smalling, whilst Jones still looks awkward and an injury waiting to happen. Rafael is a maverick which you cannot afford in that position and Jonny Evans has become a liability.
    Rojo and Blind prove that you can bring in younger players as long as they have shown some kind of ability at the requisite levels.
    Finally, one of the major problems arising now in the PL is that of home-grown players. This is a cause of the rush to buy the likes of Luke Shaw and Nathanial Clyne because they fulfil the need for a number of home grown players in the squad. Watching the u-21 team shows that the gap between them and the levels required in the PL are vast. You are always taking a gamble playing them. The only way that gamble can be taken is in competitions like the Carling Cup, but we saw what happened last season against a lower league club; our players were simply not good enough. The only way is to gradually introduce them, at the end of matches that are already won for example.
    Having watched young players over the years, it seems to me that some burst onto the scene early in their careers and then fade away in their late 20s, a bit like Michael Owen. Alternatively, they might take a while to mature, a bit like Kane has at Tottenham. He has been to a number of clubs on loan and done nothing, yet suddenly he has hot the button. In my view, even Wayne Rooney has declined somewhat recently and he is only 29, yet he hit the scene early.
    Trying to emulate a club like Barcelona will not work, unless you adopt their aggressive approach to kidnapping young kids from South America, which has landed them in a load of trouble recently.
    The only way is trial and error at youth level and hope that one or two will come through. Wilson needs to go out on loan to another PL team if possible and play every week. Then we will see if he is the real deal. Same with Januzaj.
    I trust LvG to get this right and look forward to progress this coming season.

  3. I totally agree. Pereira, Wilson, Pearson and Reece James should be given more first-team chances

  4. I couldn’t agree more with the things you’ve outlined in your article but I wouldn’t fully concur. Fletcher grew into a huge player for united but injury curtailed him. Brown and O’shea definitely played more than 15games a season with Brown even surpassing 40games in a season that Vidic got injured. CR7 just cost 12million which isn’t bad business at all. Ravel Morrison shows why he was sold. McNair and Blackett had a number of games under their belt. I don’t know why Tom Thorpe wasn’t even ahead of them but I guess there’s something the coaches have seen. Blackett being particularly surprising cos at the moment I find him awful though I believe he’s got potential. Danny Welbeck and Cleverly had their chances and they aren’t doing any better where they are now. Pogba is an obvious mistake but Scholes has given an insight to what happened. My point is you are right about youth players not coming through as much but I don’t think it’s entirely the club’s fault. Macheda was so promising but where’s he now? Richardson played too many games for ManU than I’ll have liked but what did he make of it?! I think ManU haven’t being too blessed with youngsters in recent years. I’m positive that will change soon. But as with any team you aren’t to be pampered as a young player. Prove your worth. Fletcher did. Chris Eagles didn’t. I hope you do understand my view. #OneUnited

  5. I understand your point and see how desperate you’re that the youngsters be given the chance to prove themselves. Tbh I was screaming the same thing over and over again when Moyes was in charge as I reckon that was the perfect season to experiment since nothing more is expected from the fans. Nonetheless it was not heard and LvG arrived. He has a tough job as fans and mamagement alike wanted results. Thus he had to make some purchases which I would say is way inflated but in current t climate, it seems like that’s how it’s gonna be regardless whc club it is. One point I wouldn’t agree is that Blind is more talented as he’s obviously not in any way. With Utd struggling to produce young talents capable of winning titles, we got to invest in others who proved their capabilities and abilities. Apart from the class of ’92, Utd’s youngsters have been pretty poor. The nearest came in the 2011 FA youth cup winning squad but you gotta put that on Fergie’s head. Although many are plying their trades at leagues lower than bpl, it was a supremely talented team that given enough first team minutes could and would bring success to Utd. Anyway, I do agree that Utd needs to give the academy players more minutes and opportunities but I do not agree that they shouldn’t spend big on young talents like Kane as he may be another Rooney or Shearer. At least he’s English and playing for one of the most successful team back home Will definitely fulfil his dream. Just ask a certain Wayne Rooney.

  6. Time for United fans to finally realise it just doesn’t matter whether you want him or not, whether you think he is good enough/old enough or not…because Spurs just ARE NOT selling.

    Pity you have to follow the media lead because the media are literally obsessed with renewing their role as tapper-uppers in chief to United. There are now two clubs who can outspend United in the EPL (making United far less successful in the last couple of seasons) while Spurs are in much better shape than when United, aided by the media, disgracefully force-purchased Berbatov.

    Since that happened, Ferguson didn’t even bother bidding for Modric even though he was obviously exactly what United needed, and the media had began their ‘Modric to United’ lobbying way in advance, and their bid for Bale, that was bigger than Real’s was dismissed out of hand.

    On top of which, Harry Kane is a lifelong Spurs fan, as are his family, who has stated several times he has no interest in moving.

    Apart from anything else, and this shows aptly the media role in these things, even if ‘it’ has been decided that Harry Kane is just too good to stay at Spurs (which is massively insulting in itself – which supporters of other clubs would realise if they stopped being so partisan) why the hell should Spurs just restrict possible suitors to Manchester United? Other clubs have been mentioned as having an interest in him – and overseas would be far more preferable to Levy, and almost definitely generate more money. WOuldn’t it be more in Spurs’ interests to make it into an auction. Citeh are in need of home-grown players and can outspend United. Why aren’t the media roping them into this? The answer, of course, is obvious – the media are acting as United’s auxiliary arm to unsettle another club’s player for no other reason than that they have decided he is too good for them and are literally obsessed with aiding United in establishing a Harlem Globe Trotters style Galactico team to match Real. It is a disgrace to what football once was!

    It is about time you understood these things – otherwise you may just end up like Liverpool fans, living in a World that ceased to exist a long time ago.

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. The Answer To United's Goalkeeping Question Is Already At The Club

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.