Pop quiz time!
How many players on the current Manchester United squad that have made at least 10 appearances have come through United’s youth system?*
E) Who cares?
There is a point to this, of course, but that’s for a little later….
Namely, why are the kids leaving Manchester United?
Are they too anxious to get on to the world stage, and find Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t ready for them?
Do other clubs whisper sweet nothings in the press that enchant the youngsters to pack their bags and move out?
Or are they simply playing the law of averages and getting out before they leave anyway?
It’s troubling to see that United are losing three players of a pretty high caliber (Ravel Morrison might be up for debate until he mentally gets with it), especially when there’s been a bit of a barren run of late.
In the last 20 years, United have (by what I can count, and if you think of one, feel free to add in) 15 players that have broken into the first team for any length of time.
Three players every four years is not a bad rate by most comparisons.
The problem is that, of those 15, only half of those players aren’t among the Fergie’s Fledglings generation.
Of those youth players that are still in the United squad, two of those happen to be Fledglings: Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
Consequently, only a small handful of players have been able to make the leap from United’s reserves to the first team and make a real impact in the past decade.
So, what gives?
Even before the takeover by those Floridians everyone loves so much, United’s youth ranks were dribbling out very few players that made the cut into the first team.
Of the 15, nine were bled into the United squad before 2000.
Those that weren’t, you ask? That would be Darren Fletcher, Federico Macheda, Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Jonny Evans.
That’s not a great return numbers-wise.
Valdes. Puyol. Busquets. Xavi. Iniesta. Messi. Cuenca.
There’s seven home-grown players just in the starting lineup.
That, of course, is more reminiscent of the early Fledglings. But, unlike many of the other United players, some even came back after they wandered out to the wilderness (Pique, Fabregas and Alba, for example). Which brings up a question: Did the standard become so high that the players United brought in did not have a chance to succeed?
Or did it become a case where United had to bring in primetime players all the time simply to compete in the upper echelons of the Premier League?
Either way, the youth system has produced far too few players that have been given a chance to make an impact in the squad.
With the news that the Glazers are intending to float shares of the club on the NYSE, it raises concerns that maybe at some point, United can’t simply run out and grab the big-name player they need to round out the squad.
Unlike Chelsea and Manchester City, who’ve become big-money clubs that don’t need to look to the interior for players, United have often had players rise to the occasion when called upon.
That’s why losing two players that had seen some time on the field and were tipped for great things hurts a lot, with a third that had possibilities.
The youth squad can’t adequately replace players if they aren’t there to do so. Every time one leaves early, it puts more pressure on the squad to make sure that the players they buy from the rest of Europe don’t become busts.
Are there players that are coming through the pipeline that could make it? That’s always been the hope, but the reality is far less kind than the hope has been.
*The answer is B (7): Giggs, Scholes, Evans, Fletcher, Macheda, Welbeck, Cleverley