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What purpose does United’s youth system serve?

Fraizer Campbell is the latest in line of the more prominent youngsters deemed not good enough to make the grade at United. He was sold at £3.5m (which could potentially rise to £6m). Financially, I think we sold him a bit on the cheap when Hull were prepared to offer up to £7m as a one time fee. But the fact is, here we had a player we got for free through our academy, and made a healthy sum on him.

But he clearly wasn’t the first of his kind.

More prominent among the players that left include the likes of Giuseppe Rossi, Gerard Pique, Kieran Richardson — each of whom left for fees in excess of £5m. Other lesser names such as Dave Jones, Lee Martin etc have left for smaller fees which still add up to a significant sum — or as our owners would like to say, profits.

Not accounting for members of our class of ’94, the folks who have come through our youth system and over the age of 24 are:

1. Wes Brown
2. Darren Fletcher
3. John O’Shea

Of course, I am talking about players who’ve enrolled as trainees at our club, or come through the academy. But modern youth systems in England don’t necessarily function in a way to find enough talented local lads that grew up within a 90km radius of the club. Which is why clubs like United look elsewhere in their efforts to stock up on promising kids. Last season we added Davide Petrucci from Roma; prior to him we got Frederico Macheda from Lazio. Giuseppe Rossi was lifted from Parma’s academy. Rafael and Fabio da Silva caught the eye in a few games for Fluminense and were bought immediately. And Rodrigo Possebon was signed even before he made a first team appearance for Brazilian side Internacional. Each of these players were signed on for little more than a song, whilst the occasional flashes of young British talent like Welbeck, and Jonny Evans continue to rise up the ranks.

This season we signed a 15 year old kid, Scott McGinty, from Charlton and 16 year old Empoli product, Albert Massacci. We were briefly linked to Brazilian centre half Dodo, whilst striking a deal with a Brazilian youth football factory, aptly titled Traffic Football Management (specifically Desportivo Brasil football club).

With United’s current squad depth, it is obviously quite hard for players to come through to our first team unless they are exceptional. Those that do, like when Rafael broke through, they pay off the faith the scouts and coaches have in them, and are hence useful additions to our squad.

Loosely speaking, Ronaldo at 17 could be classed as a youth acquisition and at £12m, was really a steal. However, Wayne Rooney at £27m was quite pricey for a teenager, but financially speaking, his value is likely to be way higher than we bought him for, for quite some years to come. [Not that I’m saying we are going to sell him, mind.]

However, tie all these in with our policy on buying players under 26, and we can see a business plan right before us. Now, a rigid policy of not buying over 26 is not always ideal, but more often than not, it wouldn’t make financial sense either, but I digress.

It seems rather clear from all these recent acquisitions that United have stocked up on enough highly promising youngsters not necessarily in the hope that everyone breaks through; it would be nice if most of them indeed do break through, but that would be naive.

With the way the Glazers have run the club, with a now clear mandate on transfers, there is sure to be a clear cut policy on young players. We don’t see Ferguson trying to be sentimental with young players, hoping they would come good at some point of time. If a player seems to be static he will, more likely than not, be culled. Gerard Pique was a promising player whose departure disappointed a lot of United fans. But the manager saw selling him a good piece of business, and he rated Evans over the Spaniard. Barcelona would be happy with Pique, but they would obviously be disappointed to be buying back a player they ‘produced’ from their academy.

This may not appear anything out of the ordinary for many readers; after all, clubs do bring players through the ranks, and some of those players have to be eventually sold. But there seems to be a purpose with the way United seem to be stocking up talent. Arsenal have made this a major part of their business strategy, but United’s first team squad is a blend of experience and youth that’s geared towards winning trophies and not necessarily to ideals that Wenger’s sides profess.

So what purpose does our youth system serve?

If it’s not already obvious from the rambling above, here it is again: United clearly have a buy-small-sell-big strategy (if the player isn’t good enough). And that is the modern youth system for you in a country that restricts player movement under a certain age. So far the results have been a mixed bag in terms of players that make the first team transition. But it almost always seems to be making good business sense. Sending players out on loan to decent leagues, like Rodrigo Possebon’s loan spell to Braga for the upcoming season, are ways to increase the value of the club’s assets. Doubtless, if Possebon has a good season for Braga — which, by the way, will be playing in the Europa League this year — it will immensely help him make strides on his game as well as, from the United executive hierarchy viewpoint, increase his resale value.

Foreign talent are more likely to be coveted by clubs abroad, than English players coming through. Which increases the saleability of our Italian and Brazilian kids.

Win-win situation it could be, but we must also be sure not to be sucked into a Wengeresque stubbornness where we begin to reject obvious, mouthwatering talents just because they are beyond a certain age. It might be sad for a fan to see kids coming through our system only to be sold, but it is a part of reality in modern football and is bound to only increase in significance, especially for our club.



  1. Red Ranter

    15 July 2009 at 07:46

    If anyoneโ€™s interested, my 1700+ word beast of a post is up. Read it if you have the patience. Or skip it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I will understand, totally.

  2. Dan

    15 July 2009 at 07:47

    @Stephen: No we are slightly better the newcastle.

  3. Dan

    15 July 2009 at 07:51

    @Red Ranter: You see i want to skip it, but i know that will hurt your feelings, so you have basically emotionally blackmailing me into wasting the next 5 minutes of life ๐Ÿ˜†

  4. Red Ranter

    15 July 2009 at 07:53


    One, I said I will completely understand if you skip it. You’d need to do a lot more to hurt my feelings over the internet. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Two, trust me, it will waste more than 5 minutes of your life.

  5. jamie lee

    15 July 2009 at 20:43

    @Grognard: just looking at a comment u made regarding messi and ronaldo! u claimed messi cannot influence a game like ronnie, are u serious? messi is an out and out playmaker and creates constant chances for his team, he is more influentail, ronaldo is more prolific.

  6. fuzzy

    15 July 2009 at 20:58

    I believe that Darren Gibson has got a contract extension recently which probably means that the manager rates him well ?

  7. Roge9

    16 July 2009 at 19:23

    @Madschester United: You don’t come to manchester United and not have high expectations of you. Anderson has not scored a goal in TWO years, he only runs at full pace with the ball, and has proved incapable of dictating the tempo of a game. I like Nani, I was just illustrating the point that Man Utd have no seasoned goalscorer from the middle of the park.

    Aguero may not be Ronaldo 2.0, but he clearly has all the attributes to become one of the top players in the world. And if we are so eager to demand 80 million for our best player (who happened to be the best player in the world), we cannot consider 40 million for a mecurial talent, who actually wants to play for us, and has all the potential to develop into the best player in world football too much. If the money were coming out of pocket, then yes, I’d be on the side of caution. But i rather we invest that money in a player than handing it over so willingly to the glazers as seemed to have happened.

    SAF says he doesnt want to overspend, yet layed out 18 million on a player not worth more than 12, if that. He lied to the fans, yet again, in saying we reinvest the money in the team. The squad is overrated. We struggled for goals last season and struggled against teams Liverpool were mopping the floor with in the latter part of the season. When teams went at our defence we often crumbled and lucked out that many strikers in the EPL are poor finishers. Are we a crap team? Of course not, but we’re not as good as we think.

    Many people thought Ronaldo would develop into a great player, maybe not this great, but an excellent player nonetheless. He was on the radar of every major team in europe, so it’s not as though he was an unknown quantity. Teams had been scouting him for years and Obertan from what i’ve seen is decent, but no Ronaldo in the making. And let’s not forget, for every Ronaldo, there has been a djemba.

    So I’m not being gloomy, I’m looking back at the past season and making my judgment from that. I HOPE i’m wrong and I am a fan of the team no matter what happens, but i am not one for empty optimism.

  8. UTA

    18 July 2009 at 10:49

    its there to help pay the Glazer debts! while hoping that a first team plyaer will come through every 3 years or so.

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