Should Manchester United Continue Big Signings or Develop Its Youth Program?
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In the wake of Robin van Persie’s arrival at Old Trafford (via BBC Sport), the time has come to ask: “Will the big spending stop there?”
The Red Devils’ purchase of the Dutchman shows a great amount of intention from Sir Alex Ferguson, who notes that his attacking options now resembles that of the treble-winning class of 1999 (per BBC Sport).
In what could be Ferguson’s last season with the English giants, there is to be a certain legacy that’s left behind at the club when he does hang up his managerial boots.
Whether that’s a legacy of terrific youth talent or one of fearsome spending power will be decided in the years to come, but it’s fairly obvious which option every club would love to survive on.
Some portion of fans feel a particular excitement when they hear that their club will be drafting in a big name, as many a Manchester United supporter will have done when they heard of RVP’s imminent arrival.
However, there are those who will get just as much satisfaction from seeing a homegrown talent make it to the big stage and succeed when he gets there.
No matter how ethereal and inhuman a talent may appear, every player was once that raw potential just begging to be spotted by a club.
In short, every player was once a child.
And children bring with them small price tags, at least for the most part.
When we speak of developing the youth, we’re talking about indoctrinating a player in a particular way of football from a very young age.
This, of course, doesn’t account for the likes of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who, while perhaps young upon their point of purchase, are brought in for large sums and are near ready for first-team football.
The Class of '92 is a prime example of how youth setups can work for a club in an ideal manner.
David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary and Phil Neville all graduated from the same batch of the Manchester United academy.
Just how much success those names alone have brought to the club is quite incalculable, but what we can say is that the crew of youngsters more than earned back what was spent on their development as youngsters.
To drudge up another overused testament to how local investment can bear fruit, Barcelona have always made success from within their own ranks.
La Masia is famed for producing prodigy after prodigy and amongst the club’s ranks right now, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Cesc Fabregas, Jordi Alba, Victor Valdes and others can all boast having spent time in the Barça academy at one point or another.
The trend isn’t specific to the world’s elite, either.
Ajax, Southampton, Sporting Lisbon and West Ham have all churned out their share of talents in the past, and it is often these sides, who are referred to as "selling clubs," that have some of the best youth training.
In the modern era, the "youth program" is almost as much about foreign investment as it is about finding gems in your own backyard.
That being said, scouting networks are paramount in sifting through the dirt to get to the unpolished diamonds that lay underneath.
If we look at Manchester United’s current youth and reserves, we can see that roughly a third have been brought in from outside Britain and the Republic of Ireland (via manutd.com).
The likes of Federico Macheda (Italy) Marnick Vermijl (Belgium), Davide Petrucci (Italy) and Frédéric Veseli (Switzerland) were all a part of the club’s preseason DHL tour, in addition to all the more native talent on display.
For United, anything less than £1 million is almost a pittance to spend on a future prospect.
It’s difficult to admit, but football is a business and in the business world, profit is key.
In religious terms, the benefits of youth breeding as opposed to transfers can be compared to a Christian parable: "Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
If you can’t see the link, what this means is that while £24 million may buy you one Robin van Persie, that sum would pay for countless upgrades to club facilities and the employment of numerous worldwide scouts.
Manchester United’s first team now has an aggregate age of 26.60 years (via Transfermarkt.com), putting them on the cusp of having the majority of their squad in their playing prime.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s recent acquisitions, such as Phil Jones, Ashley Young and Shinji Kagawa, have the perfect blend of youth and genuine first-team potential for Ferguson’s team to mount a challenge on the rest of the world whilst maintaining their push for the future generations.
Of course, no team of United's size will ever stop their transfer purchases completely but in a bid to balance the books ahead of Financial Fair Play, it wouldn't hurt to slow the splashing of the cash.
Meanwhile, the club will undoubtedly keep working on their academy ranks while their elite still have the quality to keep up with the best of the rest.
As a result, now is as good a time as any to take the attention away from transfer spending and place a substantial focus upon the stars of tomorrow.
Supporters may lose faith, results may even suffer but with significant youth investment, the club can be assured of a more secure platform in the decades to come when a certain Scot isn’t around to work his magic.
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