Perhaps this was always going to be destined to be a strange summer for United. Following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the appointment of David Moyes the club braced itself for a period likely to bring excitement, doubts, hopes and fears in equal measure, and the last two months have duly delivered.
With the season only two weeks away, United are still to land a significant signing, their form on the Australasian tour has been nothing to write home about and David Moyes has had to deal with Wayne Rooney’s tantrums even if the United player is still to feature under his new manager.
One, some would say the only, of the positives of David Moyes’ first days as United manager has been the former Everton boss’ decision to involve a couple of young players with the first team during their tour of Australia and Japan. While Wilfried Zaha was somewhat expected to be involved from the start, given his price tag and his performances for Crystal Palace last season, less was expected of the likes of Jesse Lingard, Adnan Januzaj and Michael Keane.
Alas, Lingard and Januzaj caught the eyes of many throughout United’s pre-season tour, with the former finishing as the club’s top scorer and the latter displaying the sort of skills and technique not normally associated with a player of his age, to the point where their performances had many wondering if Lingard and Januzaj should be included in the first team squad more regularly.
While both players displayed plenty of promising signs and their inclusion in the first team squad would be a welcome development, neither Januzaj nor Lingard could be expected to step up to the plate immediately, particularly considering that neither of the two is a central midfielder, the area in which United desperately crave reinforcements.
Many argue that United had a ready-made answer to their midfield question, but let that slip through their fingers as they refused to meet Paul Pogba’s financial demands and allowed the Frenchman to join Juventus, where he has flourished since, while fans were left perplexed by Sir Alex’s reluctance to include Pogba in the team.
While the Frenchman has been excellent since joining the Serie A champions, the excitement surrounding him during his Old Trafford career was, at times, misplaced and borne out of the desire to see a traditional midfielder deployed alongside Michael Carrick, rather than wingers or full-backs temporarily converted to the job.
Moyes’ decisions on tour seemingly pointed to a change in direction in the way the club deals with the youngsters. However, positive as the inclusions of Januzaj, Lingard and Keane have been, some of the Reds who follow the Academy and the U21 were left puzzled by the omission of other youngsters that could have benefited from experiencing some first team football.
Davide Petrucci and Ryan Tunnicliffe are respectively three and two years older than Januzaj and, unlike the Belgian playmaker, have both already enjoyed loan spells away from Old Trafford which, in theory at least, should make them more suited to be included in the first team squad.
Despite entering his fifth season at the club, Petrucci, a regular for the U17 and the U18 in the past, is still to taste first team action with United and spent the a month on loan at Peterborough United last season, collecting one goal in four league appearances. The Italian has regularly captained the U21 side in recent seasons and has been widely tipped for a bright future, which makes his exclusion from the tour squad rather strange considering that he’s now 21, the same age when Tom Cleverley enjoyed a season-long loan at Wigan.
Tunnicliffe’s case is equally puzzling, for the 2011 Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award’s winner was a key performer in the United U18 that won the FA Youth Cup two seasons ago, before performing well during his six-month loan spell at Peterborough and even making his first team debut, albeit as a substitute, as United knocked Newcastle out of the Capital One Cup last season.
Yet, the Bury-born midfielder, was left out from the touring squad and was subsequently shipped out on six-month loan to Ipswich Town until January 2014, a move which would only prove beneficial for Tunners if he manages to secure a spot in the starting XI, rather than spend his time on the bench.
Conversely, Januzaj’s rise through the ranks has been as puzzling as it has been rapid. He began his time with the Academy late, not appearing until October 2011 in a 5-2 defeat which, in fairness to Januzaj, he caught the eye immediately. Despite suffering further injuries during that season he continued to catch the eye but miss more games than he played.
The following season should have been Januzaj’s final year of Academy, an important year in every developing United footballer’s career. However, few could foresee, let alone expect, what happened next. Januzaj by-passed his final year of Academy and fast-tracked into the Reserves.
That can happen to anyone but popular opinion is he hadn’t done enough to deserve that chance, such treatment does not go unnoticed. Perhaps the initial recommendation to acquire his services played a part, after all, it’s rumoured Warren Joyce played a big part in bringing the player to the club.
Januzaj has performed well but the hype surrounding him is exaggerated and fellow players can be forgiven for thinking they were ahead in the pecking order. It’s time for them to knuckle down and stake a claim of their own.
David Moyes has a proven track record in terms of developing youngsters and with United yet to flex their financial muscles this summer – muscles that have largely shrunk since the Glazers takeover – and Financial FairPlay Regulations set to kick in their entirety from next season, a crop of quality, reasonably experienced, youngsters could prove pivotal for the club’s future.
Times have changed but, after all, “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough”.
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