Manchester United lost this past week to FC Basel and was eliminated from the Champions League. Naturally when a traditional power like United suffers an early upset, many questions are asked as everyone is trying to figure out what happened.
Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the greatest managers of all time. His incredible history speaks for itself. With that said, he is by no means perfect and one has to ask if he went too young too early with his roster.
Ferguson has always been praised for making the bold move of injecting young players into his lineup at the expense of veterans that often aren't too far past their peak or prime. It is often met with criticism but ultimately praise, as the young player eventually proves his worth and rewards Ferguson for his faith.
Ferguson and United made quite the headlines at the start of this season when they once again started a crop of fresh, young faces. Ferguson infused the young Phil Jones (19 years old) into the defense with a youthful midfield of Chris Smalling (22), Tom Cleverly (22) and the "veteran" Anderson (23). Ashley Young was also starting at midfield and while he isn't as young as the other players (26), he was a new face for United.
Up top, Ferguson started the season with Danny Welbeck (22) who had recently returned from his loan to Sunderland.
Everything seemed to be perfect and Ferguson was hailed as a genius as the young and new team was dominating the Premier League including a convincing 3-0 victory over Tottenham and humiliating Arsenal by defeating them 8-2.
The honeymoon ended when Liverpool put a stop on United's winning streak with a 1-1 draw. The following week, Manchester City crushed and exposed United with a 6-1 victory over United at Old Trafford.
Granted, even with the loss to City everything has not fallen apart for United and they still sit second (albeit distant) in the Premier League. They are by no means falling apart, but things do seem a little uneasy.
Against Basel, arguably their most important game of the season thus far, Ferguson brought back some of his veterans and started Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung over Anderson and Welbeck.
It was an interesting move because when Ferguson needed a win, he went back to his veterans and strayed a bit from his new and young players.
This of course raises the question of whether Ferguson even trusts his new, young team. And if he doesn't quite trust them, did he go too young too soon?
Now, United did lose to Basel which would make one argue that he didn't go too young too soon because clearly the veterans couldn't even get the job done. That may be true, but even prior to this game and after the bad loss to City, Ferguson had been straying from his youthful lineup and using his veterans more.
Again, I believe that Ferguson will finish his career as one of the greatest managers ever. He will finish in such high regard because he has the ability to constantly recycle his team and use new and young players.
However, he may have been a little too ambitious this year and used too many new and young players too early. The season is long and is a grind—especially when you are United and every team is dying to beat you.
Ferguson may have gone all in when he should have made the transition a little more gradual, using an even combination of veterans and the young, new players. Finding the right balance and chemistry between young players and veterans may be what cost United the Champions League. Hopefully for United fans, it hasn't also already cost them the Premier League.