In all the media gossip over possible transfer deals that Manchester United may or may not make during the summer, a comment made by Sir Alex Ferguson during the recent pre season tour of North America was almost totally overlooked. Yet it goes a long way towards explaining the reason why the only ones completed so far were those of two youngsters who have barely hit their twenties. Chris Smalling will not be 21 until November while Javier Hernandez only turned 22 in June.
The key words which should have drawn far more attention than they did were spelled out clearly enough by Ferguson when he said that if not given an opportunity “our youngsters will only move to other clubs who’ll get the benefit of the work we’ve done with them.” and that “We’ve had experience of that in the past” Truer words have never been spoken. There have been numerous examples of this in the recent past with the most obvious being Spain central defender Gerard Pique who spent four seasons from the age of 17 at United before going home to Barcelona.
Pique made a total of 23 senior appearances for United including 3 in the Champions League winning campaign in the 2007-08 season. At the age of 23, Pique has now collected a World Cup winners medal, two Champions League, two La Liga, a Premier League, a Carling Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup amongst others. Not bad for a kid who went to Old Trafford when he was barely out of school to learn his trade. Is Barcelona not a perfect example of what Ferguson says are “other clubs who’ll get the benefit of the work we’ve done with them”?
And the Spaniard is not the only one. Remember 22 year old defender Ryan Shawcross who went to Stoke City as a 20 year old without ever making his Premier league debut at United after being at the club from the age of 15 as a member of the Academy? Although Shawcross has not yet been capped by England, he was an unused substitute for the friendly against Egypt earlier this year. Another example of “other clubs getting the benefit”.
The latest to join a long list is Villarreal striker Giuseppe Rossi who was picked up by United from Seria A club Parma as a 17 year old in 2004. The boy born in the United States to Italian migrants had earlier accepted an offer to play for the Parma junior teams while on a visit to Italy when he was 12 and remained until he signed a four year contract with United in November 2004. It was widely reported at the time that Ferguson was convinced he had obtained the best 17 year old in Europe.
After two seasons in which Rossi made 14 senior appearances for United, he was sent on loan to first Newcastle United then back to Parma before being sold to Villarreal at the start of the 2007-08 season for a reported fee of £6.6m. The dual citizen had an opportunity of representing the USA but decided to play for Italy instead where he has already been capped 5 times.
Reports are now circulating in Italy that new Inter Milan boss Rafa Benitez is considering Rossi as a replacement for Mario Balotelli once his impending £30m transfer to Manchester City is confirmed. Rossi told the Corriere dello Sport “I am very happy at Villarreal and owe them a great deal however I could never say no to a side like Inter. It’s an honour to be linked with the champions of Italy and Europe but for the moment there has been no official contact. I would only leave Villarreal if the call came from a big club because I feel that I’m ready for a team like Inter.”
To suggest that these former youth players should still be at Old Trafford would be wrong because the sheer number of talented youngsters in the system ensures that the comparatively limited demand for them will never match the supply coming through. Ferguson is absolutely right however when he says that “his fine collection of young players” will stagnate unless given every opportunity.
Despite the much publicised debt being carried by Manchester United, writing out a cheque for a multi million pound transfer is the easy option when the wisest course of action will be to try and benefit from the large pool of talent available in your own backyard.
Has Manchester United lost far too many talented players in the past?