Fraizer Campbell’s sale to Sunderland for an initial £3.5 million was confirmed yesterday but it begs a serious question. While United’s academy has regularly churned out international class defenders and midfielders, no striker has made the grade since Mark Hughes in the early 1980s.
In the interviening years United has produced international players such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, the Neville Brothers, Paul Scholes, and more recently Johnny Evans, Wes Brown and John O’Shea. None of them strikers. By contrast, over the past twenty years the youth team has only ever produced forwards that have gone on to have decent, if unspectacular careers. Jonathan Mackem was once a £5 million signing by Manchester City, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake was Wolves’ top scorer in the Championship last season, and David Healy has gone on to be one of Northern Ireland’s leading goalscorers.
There have been the imports too. Many United fans still regret the sale of Giuseppe Rossi to Villareal two years ago. Arriving as a callow 16 year-old, Rossi announced himself to fans with a spectacular series of goals for the reserve team. Unfortunately the Italian, who has gone on to be the mainstay of the national team’s forward-line, was never able to break into United’s first team on a regular basis.
Meanwhile, former youth-teamer Erik Nevland has forged a good career since leaving United, which is culminating in a spell at Fulham. Before him, Jovan Kirovski went on the play for Borussia Dortmund, winning the Champions League in 1997, before running his career down at David Beckham’s LA Galaxy.
Of the current crop there are very high hopes for local boy Danny Welbeck, who has shown enough in his brief appearances for the first team to suggest he has a big future at Old Trafford. Welbeck’s first touch is classy and his application appears to be in the right place. Moreover, with no big-name summer striker arriving at the club, Welbeck ought to get more outings for the team in the coming season.
Then there is 17 year-old Federico Macheda, imported amid significant controversy from Lazio a year ago. Macheda’s spectacular strike against Aston Villa, followed by another against Sunderland, won United enough points to take last season’s Premier League title. Macheda will certainly go on to have a good career – whether he gets enough games at Old Trafford to stay is another question.
And that leaves Campbell, who was good enough a year ago for United to turn down £7 million from Hull and Wigan. A season further down the road and Campbell’s inability to break into Tottenham’s first team has reduced his value, and seemingly convinced Sir Alex Ferguson that the boy has no future at Old Trafford.
Fergie normally gets these decisions right.