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Manchester United's Next Generation: Who's On Track, Who's Not Making the Grade?

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Manchester United's Next Generation: Who's On Track, Who's Not Making the Grade?
Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
Paul Pogba, former United Academy Graduate

It is a growing source of frustration for Manchester United fans that Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be dragging his feet on his commitment to youth development.

In a recent issue of Inside United, the club's review magazine, Sir Alex had the following to say about youth development at Manchester United:

"Over the years, we've been as good as anyone in the country, probably the best, at doing that.

You look at the way Barcelona have produced players and we're not far off that.

We've had so many players come through down the years and, more recently, we've had the likes of Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and Rafael come into the first team. Then you've got players like Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard and Michael and Will Keane, who are all part of a successful youth team.

They're progressing very well. So we're still good at it and we enjoy seeing them come into the first-team squad."

Now there is no question that United are as committed as any club in England, and possibly Europe, to developing young talent. This is a policy that can be tracked back to Sir Matt Busby's time at the club. Sir Alex has followed and enriched the process from top to bottom.

Something is not quite right, however. 

OK so the "Class of 1992" may have been born partly out of necessity. Six players were promoted at the same time, who went on to be the nucleus of the team that won the Treble in 1999:

Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Butt, Gary and Phil Neville.

That team had won the FA Youth Cup in 1992, as the Busby Babes had won it every year from 1953 to 1957.

But United have won the trophy three times since 1992, in 1995, 2003 and 2011 and we have not seen anything like the same amount of progression and promotion to the First Team that there was in the 1950s and 1992.

It is fair to say that Sir Alex has also recruited young players from outside, but promising players who were certain to be part of the next generation have also left the club in frustration at lack of opportunity. Most notably Gerard Pique, Giuseppe Rossi, Ryan Shawcross, Paul Pogba and Zeki Fryers.

When you look at the FA Youth Cup winning team of 2011, there has been precious little real opportunity afforded to some talented young players in that squad:

Johnstone, Michael Keane (on loan), McGinty, Thorpe, Fornasier, Lingard, Pogba (left), Tunnicliffe, Morrison (left), van Velzen (on loan), William Keane (injured).

Now while it seems likely that at least the Keane twins have been earmarked for the Premier League squad, Pogba is now playing for Juventus's first team and Morrison has left (although his problems seem to be continuing).

Of the other seven, Tunnicliffe is the only one to even have had a substitute appearance. 

Meanwhile Aston Villa, who haven't won the FA Youth Cup since 2002 but were runners up in 2008 have the following Academy Graduates in the team that beat Liverpool on Saturday:

Nathan Baker (21), Chris Herd (23), Barry Bannan (23), Ciaran Clark (23), Andreas Weimann (21) with Marc Albrighton (23) on the bench. In addition, Gary Gardner (20), Graham Burke (19), and NathanDelfouneso (20) have already made appearances for the first team this season.

Of United's team that played against Sunderland, only Tom Cleverley is an Academy Graduate, although Danny Welbeck was on the bench.

In addition, only Rafael, Evans, Wootton, Vermijl, Macheda and Tunnicliffe have made any appearances, although Scholes and Giggs were graduates of course, 20 years ago.

When you're a Ryan Tunnicliffe or a Scott Wootton and you can't even get onto the subs bench; or one of the four players listed in the EPL First Team squad who have never even had a game, you may be entitled to feel frustrated. Especially when you see Scholes and Giggs trot on yet again.

So is the problem Sir Alex's insistence on sticking by the tried and trusted, or is it that the quality isn't there after all?

Here we give a brief review of the players who are bubbling round the edges of the First Team squad and some of the talent who may get promoted in the next couple of years.

We've divided them into:

Those who should be let go now;

Question marks (which by definition includes anyone else not mentioned in the article);

Those on loan at present;

"Maybes"; and 

The ones who we think should make it, if they are given their chance.

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