By George Ankers
Ravel Morrison was the first to go. Paul Pogba’s excruciatingly lengthy departure to Juventus is done in all but name. Now Zeki Fryers is on his way to Tottenham. Why are Manchester United struggling to hold onto their young players?
While hardly a mass exodus, the growing trend for quality young talent to decide that Old Trafford is no longer the place to be is one that will disappoint and frustrate the Red Devils.
This, after all, is the club who famously disproved Alan Hansen’s scathing “you’ll never win anything with kids” put-down, and Sir Alex Ferguson has always been proactive in promoting the best players from youth to first-team level.
Promising youngsters have been allowed to leave before, but always on Sir Alex’s terms, and few have made it to similar heights since.
Why would the player himself want to depart? Everything, from immediate success to future prospects via tantalising first-team opportunities as well as good wages from one of the world’s most reputable clubs, made Old Trafford the must-be destination for a burgeoning career. Everyone knew it. Maybe that was the problem.
Youngsters like Pogba are having their heads turned by bigger salaries elsewhere and United are finding out that the Red Devils brand is not as all-encompassingly alluring as it used to be. Goal.com understands that the Frenchman was told at the start of 2011-12 that he would be involved in the first team, which amounted to seven appearances, three of which came in the League Cup.
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The situation bears enough of a resemblance to the midfielder’s poaching by Sir Alex’s men from Le Havre that it is odd to see the boss allowing the same thing to happen to them.
There may also have been clerical error involved after a one-year extension clause in the young man’s contract proved unenforceable – but clause or not, Pogba was permitted to lose faith in the club.
While no player should be earning much more than they are worth to a club, refusing to accommodate the best young talent already on the books poses a longer-term risk for the Premier League giants.
Pogba and Morrison had been talked about as potential central midfield partners for years to come. Particularly considering that the position is arguably the club’s weakest, that both should be alienated by a lack of chances to learn how to step up raises concerns that Sir Alex will have to dive into the transfer market instead.
But, with the Glazer regime’s relentless grip on spending having priced United out of moves for the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Samir Nasri and Eden Hazard in recent years, the likelihood is that whatever fully-fledged midfielders that they have to buy instead, will not be of a sufficient standard to solve the problem for good. It is under this sort of ownership that bringing the best young players through matters more than ever.
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Yet the next decade’s central midfield is gone and Fryers, seen as a realistic candidate to push the declining Patrice Evra for a first-team place this season, is on his way too. No wonder they look ready to pay the ‘English tax’ to recruit Leighton Baines.
That is not to say that there is nobody coming through the ranks, however. United’s commitment to developing youth remains clear as day.
Will Keane has been making waves in the reserve side and has played for England Under-21s this year, although the striker suffered a cruciate ligament injury last month and will be out for some time.
Italian trequartista-type Davide Petrucci is another rising star who seems likely to see some action in 2012-13, a clever attacking player with impressive vision and first touch, while centre-back Tom Thorpe has captained England at youth level and packs plenty of power.
Pogba, Morrison and Fryers were the next in line, though, and the unprecedented departure of all three more or less at once should be cause for reconsideration. Watching a scaled-up version of this problem unfold at Arsenal, United might do well to think about paying out a little more in order to keep their most promising players at Old Trafford.
Otherwise they risk being trapped between two transfer policies – graduate the youth or recruit ready-made talent – with neither committed enough to be successful.
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