EPL 2016-17: Time for the Manchester United's academy graduates to make a real impact
Not for the first time, the squad of Manchester United is filled with a number of talented young players looking to get their big break. While Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw (who were brought in for large fees) have locked down places in the starting eleven, a number of academy graduates are right on the fringes, just waiting for their chance.
Marcus Rashford, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jesse Lingard along with loanees Andreas Pereira and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson are the next generation of “stars” from the famed Carrington Academy.
From Ryan Giggs to David Beckham, if the past is anything to go by, United always give a chance to an up-and-coming talent. But in the recent past, it has more often than not been a case of too much too soon. As soon as a youth player breaks through, the pressure is well and truly on. Some might say that this is necessary but many players often find it hard to deal with the limelight thrust upon them so early in their careers.
As soon as they perform, they are touted by the media as “The next Big Thing”, and then they are immediately at the deep end of the pool where their every move is dissected and criticised.
Be it Federico Macheda, touted as the #9 for the next decade after his sublime injury-time winner against Villa, or Rafael and Fabio da Silva, this generation’s answer to Gary and Phil Neville, it all was a flash in the pan. The pressure got way too hot way too fast and everyone is left wondering about what could have been. While it’s great that fans get behind youth players maybe instead of subjecting them to a baptism by fire, we can let them progress at a natural pace.
Enter Jose Mourinho
He may not have a great record at nurturing young players like Jurgen Klopp but there is one thing the Special One has (possibly inadvertently) done that will greatly benefit this batch of youngsters. He did what he does best and splashed the cash to bring in the best in the world.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba were among the hottest players in all of Europe and Mourinho has brought them to Manchester to assemble arguably the strongest English side since United 2008. This may limit first team opportunities for the youngsters but it also gives them valuable additional time with Nicky Butt and new youth team coach Kieran McKenna to be gradually introduced into the first team set-up.
Another “signing” of Mourinho, McKenna is a highly rated young coach who was poached from Premier League rivals Tottenham. The same Tottenham that have recently garnered praise for their stellar season powered by home-grown stars and young signings. Who better to polish the rough diamonds at Carrington.
Now it is like a two-pronged plan. While the eyes of the press are firmly on the stars brought in for gargantuan sums of money, the prospects can continue to wind their way into the first team. All anyone seems to talk about is United’s crazy summer spending.
Signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, particularly on a free transfer, seems to be a master stroke. At 34 he’s not a long-term signing, he was meant to fill the void up front for the next 2-3 years while Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are groomed to take over the role in the years to come. And it’s not like they aren’t getting a look in, Rashford and Memphis Depay have already featured in the league with the sensational English forward managing to grab the headlines yet again with his winner against Hull City.
A final point to take note of. It probably wasn’t the reason they were brought in but both Paul Pogba and Ibrahimovic are headline grabbers. Between #pogback trending worldwide and Zlatan’s endless stream of memorable quotes, the attention is firmly on them. And they’re proven veterans who can take it. Mourinho himself can’t stay out of the headlines and this is only helping the youngsters at the club.
All in all, it seems like a match made in heaven. No one really knows how it all came together but between all of David Moyes’ confusion, Louis van Gaal’s faith in buying and promoting youngsters and Mourinho’s superstars, Manchester United are back. For the first time since Sir Alex retired the fear factor is back and the Red Devils look ready to climb back to the top of the pile.