Young Players In Search Of A Dream : From Starlets To Forgotten Men

A lot of funny things have been happening in the transfer market recently especially around and about Manchester United. Perhaps ‘funny’ is not the right word, maybe ‘perplexing’ would be more appropriate. Not a day goes past when Manchester United are linked, not linked, linked again, not linked again etc, etc,  with players mainly from foreign lands with strange sounding names (with the exception Burnley and Micheal Keane).

Yet for all the excitement of a marquee signing, it can be argued that from the days of Sir Matt Busby it has been the youth and youth development that has given supporters much more pleasure. Perhaps the Busby Babes are, for most supporters now, only flickering film images or black and white photographs spoken of in awe and great esteem. However, the class of 92 are still clear enough I suspect in the minds of most supporters; if only by watching pundit work on Sky or BTSport, proof that the phenomena of youth still has a strong hold.

The Busby Babes and the class of 92 are exceptions to the rule of youth development, in the sense that a club develops a core of players to take them on to become perpetual winners; it’s very rare. What is much more likely is that an individual in the youth setup breaks into the first team and has the skill not only to stay in the team, but also become a crowd favourite or even a hero. However, even at a club like Manchester United; does that happen anymore? The answer to that is yes (think Marcus Rashford), but that it does not happen as frequently as it used to, or one could argue as often as it should.

When United or any club sign a youngster with potential, perhaps at age 9 or 10, they are investing in the future and like any investment there are risks. Setting aside serious injury there is a long long road ahead for both the youngster and the club which not every prospect can manoeuvre.

Even if a player  comes through the youth set up and makes the first team there is always the chance of a new manager not liking what he sees in the player, Louis van Gaal and Danny Welbeck come freshly to mind.

There are a lot of variables no matter how talented a player may be that will eventually see him make it or not. Has he the stamina, is he a team player, how does he live his life or lifestyle and does the manager want to take a risk on him? Manchester United, perhaps because of their history with young players are a seminal club when it comes to the dreams of youth.

You need look no further than the story of Adnan Januzaj who now seems destined to leave Old Trafford this summer. After the pre-season tour of the United States in 2013/2014, Januzaj  finally looked to have achieved first team status and was included in some early premiership matches, scoring the winning goal at Aston Villa under the management of David Moyes.

In his break through year of 13/14, Januzaj started 19 times in the first team, made substitute 16 times making 35 appearances and scored 4 premiership goals.  However things did not look so rosy for Januzaj under the authoritarian Louis Van Gaal.

As if by magic or black magic Januzaj was gone, sent out on loan for a season to Borussia Dortmund. To his credit Januzaj vowed to come back stronger and fight for a place in the United team. Yet Jose Mourinho allowed Januzaj to go to Sunderland on loan, where if truth be told, the link up again with Moyes did not do either of them any favours.

Januzaj of course joins many other names that for one reason or another have, after a long apprenticeship, had a glimpse of the fame of being in the first team, only for that promise to eventually become unfulfilled.

James Wilson is another man who having worked his way through the youth system now seems excess to requirement. Although there is as yet no transfer talk due to his injury there will come a time when for the betterment of his career he will move on.

I found it interesting that in the last home game of the season when Mourinho gave the chance to play in the first team to a number of reserves one of them, Josh Harrop has decided to move on. What is unusual here is that if you believe the press Harrop turned down the chance of a new contract to join Preston North End.

Perhaps Harrop a United fan all his life, has read the signs of the times and at the age of 21 recognised that the regular first team football was not about to come his way at United. That United at the moment have enough players to fill his position let alone any new arrivals in the transfer market.

Michael Keane an England international since departing from United and who until the Victor Lindelof signing had interested United, now looks to be on his way to Everton this summer. It shows that there can sometimes be advantages to a career after what must be a difficult decision to leave the club you joined as a young boy.For those with longer memories Francis Burns, Josh King, Carlo Sartori, Jimmy Rimmer, Alan Gowling and David Jones to name a few have all had various careers after leaving United.

As I alluded to there are so many variable as to why a promising youth player never makes the first team on a regular basis that there is little point in second guessing on an individual basis. It would be difficult to have a sense of the emotion players go through when the realisation comes but as supporters it is possible perhaps to feel a little empathy.

MUTV used to have a programme, and maybe it still does called “When The Floodlights Fail”. It was a rare programme in the sense that MUTV took the time and trouble to follow up where players went after leaving Manchester United. Its value was not, as far as I am concerned, in discovering if an individual was successful in their later career. It was more that the caring side which developed in the era of Sir Matt Busby and the Busby Babes is still alive at United. That those players whose dream dies a little are not forgotten for the time, in many cases years, they spent at the club they love.


jim @1211plussubs

A Manchester United follower from Busby to Mourinho.

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