Date:5th July 2011 at 10:44am
Written by:
Darren Fletcher

Fletcher- one of the few first teamers left who came through the ranks

It’s hard to believe that the Class of 92 evolved from the youth ranks of United almost twenty years ago.

The years have flown by and even some of our squad numbered players weren’t even born when Scholes, the Neville’s, Butt, Giggs and Beckham won that FA Youth Cup that set them on their way to legendary status within the realms of Old Trafford, in a team where all bar one player went on to gain a decent level of success either at Old Trafford or beyond.

But will it be seen again? In fact, will we be lucky enough to un-earth one bona-fide legend, who has crawled right through the ranks at the club, from early teens to first team regular.

We’ve not seen many within the last ten years who have officially “made it”.

John O’Shea, although loved and well respected by the fans, he’s always been something of a back up player for the most part. Johnny Evans too, as has Wes Brown.

Darren Fletcher is probably the closest we’ve had – although like Brown and O’Shea, he’s been in the first team for eight years or more now, and since then our main players have all been bought in, or brought in as a developed kid to have a few years in our reserves.

So – where lies the problem? Why don’t Evans, Gibson etc impress everyone enough to warrant pinning down a first team place?

For me, the problem began when Howard Wilkinson re-structured and shook up grass roots football by forming the Premier League Reserves league, with United being forced to abandon the Central League.
The Premier League Reserve League is nothing but a level for those above Youth Team football.

The Central League was different. It was a REAL reserve league. This is where United’s youth would mix with first teamers coming back from injury and those who’d been rested for the first team for a few weeks on a regular basis. Kids like those in 92 were bred the United way week in, week out and were rubbing shoulders with Robson, with Sheringham, with Blackmore, with Webb, with Donaghy, with Van Der Gouw…not just once every now and again in the Carling Cup. Regular learning.

They’d get proper experience of United – right from the pros and the legends.

The Central League was pivotal in their development to be ready to take the final step to the first team.

The Premier League reserve team doesn’t allow that on a regular basis, and the standard of football is miles away from the first team. It’s a continuation of the Youth set up, and only on the odd occasion if a player is coming back from a long term injury will the others rub shoulders with a first teamer. It doesn’t really cater for anyone above the age of 20 years old, and between the ages of 19 to 23 there is a big maturing process for a footballer.

Sending lads out on loan is the best thing we can do. But even then, all they’re getting is regular first team football in a Championship standard outfit. It doesn’t breed them well enough for the rigours of the United first team, and if you think about the number of players we’ve sent out on loan who have come back and been successful – there’s only David Beckham that you can really highlight. Gibson to a certain extent, and Evans…but again, they’re not going to become fixtures in the team. Let’s hope that Welbeck and Cleverley are an exception to this, but those lads tend to fall away; don’t learn the first team standards the United way…and we invariably let them go.

And it’s sad that so much talent goes to waste.

With this in mind, I look at Darron Gibson. He’s not a bad player, contrary to what people will say about him. But he had to go off on loan to Wolves, came back a Wolves first team standard player, and has never had a run in the first team of three games on, one game off, four games on, half a game off etc which he would need to get in to the rhythm to show that he’s ready. Yes, it doesn’t’ help when the fans don’t give our players any time to prove themselves nowadays, but between the ages of19 to 23, our lads don’t get the right form of progression to blood them in to the first team.

And I fear that Tunnicliffe, Pogba, Morrison et all may end up going the same way. Our hands are tied, and there’s a problem in the system. And this is designed to help England win the World Cup, I believe?

I think it’s a highly destructive mechanism for the young lads, for England, and for United.

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