Manchester United and the Dream Youth Team That Got Away

Matt Clough@@MattJCloughFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

Olympiakos players gather on the pitch to train at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Olympiakos will play Manchester United in a Champions League last 16 second leg soccer match on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

One of the most frequent charges levelled at David Moyes this season has been that he has betrayed the "Manchester United way."

His transfer policy, his team selections and, most of all, his lack of results–everything he does is another crack in the wall of Sir Alex Ferguson's legacy. However, one area in which he's so far escaped the ire of the Old Trafford faithful is his use of the youth from United's storied academy.

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

One of the few bright spots in what has proved a dismal campaign for United has been the emergence of the most truly exciting youth prospect at the club for some time.

It speaks volumes that immediately following his first-ever senior league start (against Sunderland, in which he bagged a match-winning brace), Adnan Januzaj was involved in a multi-country wrangle for his national team allegiance.

The young winger has offered comprehensive proof that he will not be following other United talents of his ilk, such as Federico Macheda, into obscurity after a bright start.

Moyes has further cemented Jonny Evans’ place at the heart of central defence, a role he seems likely to adopt on a full-time basis once Nemanja Vidic leaves for Inter Milan in the summer. He has also stuck with another home-grown talent, Tom Cleverley, despite an online petition to stop him going to Brazil speaking volumes for his current form.

Of course, Moyes has a long way to go to match his predecessor's record of bringing youth through–the famous "Fergie’s Fledglings" formed the fulcrum of the treble-winning side of ‘99 and numerous title-winning teams since, right up until last season’s success with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes still plying their trade in the middle of the park.

However, as I said in this piece, Ferguson has left Moyes with less to work with than a league winning team ostensibly promises. Rather than an easy-to-transition legacy, the former Everton boss has found an ageing, decaying squad akin to the last days of Rome, leaving Moyes to fight to stop it crumbling while Ferguson plays Nero.

While United have the aforementioned youth players, plus the likes of Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all around the first-team picture, it’s hard to see the nexus of a team anywhere near as successful as the class of '92 emerging any time soon.

The fact is, though, that a group with the potential to rival the venerated early-'90s generation could have currently been lining up for United had these three not got away.


Gerard Pique

JON SUPER/Associated Press

A dominating presence at centre-back and heir-apparent to club captain Carles Puyol, Pique has been a fixture in arguably the greatest club side of all time since joining Barcelona from United in 2008, aged 21.

In the intervening years, he has won numerous honours with the Catalan giants and the Spanish national team, while United have failed truly to address the impending dissolution of the partnership of Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

Pique jumped at the opportunity to rejoin Barca, having found playing time at United hard to come by. However, it’s hard to blame Ferguson for not allowing him more opportunities, as the stoic United defence allowed just 22 goals in the league in Pique’s final season at the club, as well as claiming the Champions League.


Paul Pogba

Jon Super/Associated Press

Although just 19, there’s a very real sense that Paul Pogba could well prove to be the one that truly "got away" for United. In almost every sense, Pogba’s departure looks to be a catastrophic piece of business for United—he plays in a position the Old Trafford side are sorely lacking in, he is well on his way to becoming one of the premier talents in world football and, worst of all, his departure was entirely avoidable.

Now a fixture in the Juventus side cruising to the retention of the Serie A title, Pogba has drawn comparisons to compatriot Patrick Vieira—ironically, the arch nemesis of the man he seemed destined to replace at United, Roy Keane.

Like Pique, he left due to a lack of playing time, but unlike the Spaniard not because of competition, Pogba claiming: "Ferguson didn't play me, though there were no midfielders there." It's a decision that could yet go down as one of the Scot’s biggest errors.


Giuseppe Rossi

OBED ZILWA/Associated Press

The final piece of the puzzle, although arguably the least important, Rossi left the club in 2007 after failing to break into the first team and attracting interest following a successful loan spell at Parma.

United have never looked truly wanting of a striker since the Italian international left, but there’s little doubting that he would have provided stellar competition for the likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov had he stayed.

Despite his career being derailed multiple times due to a troublesome ACL, Rossi has proven a consistently reliable goalscorer in both Spain and—this season, for Fiorentina—in Italy, where he had notched a league-leading 14 times in just 18 league appearances this term before another ligament injury put his hopes of being fit for the World Cup in doubt.