How many kids do you think there are playing football in England with aspirations of making it as a professional?
Even if you are lucky enough to be picked up by a club there is no guarantee that you’ll make it there and that’s not even looking at the elite like Manchester United.
How many players have we seen over the years in the reserves and the academy and said ‘He is definitely going to be a star’ only for the boy to be released or sold on to a lesser club?
Having been part of United’s academy and reserve side, Cameron Stewart was sold to Hull City in January. Stewart failed to make a single first team appearance in all his time at the club coming closest when he was part of the travelling party that flew to Germany to face Wolfsburg in 2009. Even then with a heavily depleted squad he was unable to make it on field instead remaining an unused sub.
Following his move to the KC stadium, Stewart commented on what compelled him to leave the biggest club in the world for one in the Championship saying:
“I was impressed with the ambition here. There was no point sticking around at United because chances there were few and far between.”
Whilst he commended Hull for their ambition, his own should be applauded too as leaving a club as big as Manchester United is a massive step to take but more important is the comment he made about Manchester United.
Our club is famous for giving youth a chance. Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy set a trend when they began to use players cultivated by the club in the first team. Decades later a group called ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ became the base of team that would dominate English football for years but Stewart may have a point when he speaks of chances for youngsters being few and far between.
Whilst Kiko Macheda and Danny Welbeck flirt with the first team, the last players we produced that found a way into the first team were John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher and most recently Jonny Evans who has made the jump but he is yet to become a mainstay. Whilst a number of players that were taught the game here can be found plying their trade for a number clubs around the country, we don’t train players in the hope that one day they can be starters for Stoke and Burnley, the primary task of our academy is to produce Manchester United players.
There are a number of different reasons that can be cited as to why just two players have established themselves in the first team in the best part of a decade, maybe the players we fawned over just weren’t good enough or perhaps they weren’t better than what we already had?
Earlier I spoke of players that we had seen in the academy/reserves and been certain that they would make it and Magnus Eikrem falls into that list for me. He seemed so close to the first team but wasn’t able to make that jump and was sold on to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde this January. Eikrem was undoubtedly talented and possibly the best of the bunch in terms of our reserve team so you have to wonder how those around him felt seeing him unable to break into the team and having to move on.
I would like to think the players we are producing are mentally strong enough to persevere and attempt to be different to those before them but you can see why some of these kids would get disheartened looking at Eikrem’s case.
Cameron Stewart isn’t alone in his thoughts, Corry Evans, brother of Jonny, echoed his words earlier this month saying:
“I supported Man United as a child but if the day comes I won’t be afraid to move on. It’s my career and I’m not going to sit about in the reserves for the rest of my life. If first-team opportunities don’t come there I know I’ll have to look somewhere else.”
Stewart made his statement after moving on from the club but Evans is still at the club so it is obvious, with Eikrem in mind, that this is a matter that concerns players at the club.
The current set of youngsters we have coming through are said to be some of the most promising we’ve had in ages. Sir Alex said they were the most exciting u12s he had seen (the players aged 18 now) and if you add to the group the players that have joined later on like Pogba you can see why there are high expectations for them. Despite this I am under no illusion that only a select few will make it here.
It speaks volumes for the high standards expected at the club that so few are deemed good enough to be Manchester United players but at the same time you do hope that some of the talents we watch develop over the years will make it in to the first team rather than go on to be players at lesser teams.