Sir Alex Ferguson deployed one of the oldest Manchester United sides in memory as Everton snatched a very late draw at Goodison Park on Saturday. With an average age of 30.7, Ferguson’s side belied the manager’s declaration that this is the season for a ‘faith in youth’ rather than expensive imports and marquee names.
Ferguson’s rallying cry comes after a summer in which many supporters were left disappointed by the club’s investment in the transfer market, with three relatively unknown younger players joining the squad.
The root of that disappointment, of course, lies in United’s relatively poor trophy haul last season, with Chelsea taking the Premier League title and the Reds crashing out of Europe at the quarter-final stage.
While few United fans are naïve enough to believe the club has any kind of right to ongoing success, strategic investment in the market supplemented by a strong youth policy has steered United to undeniable success over the past two decades.
Yet, Ferguson has professed contentment with his squad explaining first that there is “no value in the market,” then that by tradition United invests in younger players and finally – preposterously – that the fans don’t actually want big-name signings at the club.
Whether fans believe the explanation or not many have taken to heart the acclamation for youth. After all, from the Busby Babes, to Fergie’s Fledglings, through to the Class of ’92, youth has served United well. The collective excitement associated with a new young player making his début is genuine and palpable.
Strange then that Ferguson’s faith in youth has not yet come to the fore this season, as Rant discussed last month. It’s perhaps even more puzzling given the ageing nature of Ferguson’s apparent first choice selection, based at least on the fixtures to date.
With Rio Ferdinand set to come back into the side at Jonny Evan’s expense the average age could yet creep up. Moreover, United now has 13 players either in their 30s or will reach 30 by the season’s end, including Edwin van der Sar who will be 40 before next summer. The effect is to hand Ferguson one of the most experienced teams in his time as manager at Old Trafford.
But, fans may ask, is the recently tendency to lose an advantage late in the match any correlation to the age of the United team? After all, experience also brings ageing legs and the inevitable drop-off in physical abilities. More to the point, extra games now for United’s older stars, means less towards the end of the season.
The problem extends further than tired limbs. Four of those players – van der Sar, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs – could conceivably retire in May 2011, while Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen each will reach the end of their contracts next summer.
Should United lose the sextet, their departures will leave a sizeable hole in Ferguson’s squad; a problem solved in part through players already in the first team picture aged between 20 and 28. This younger group will presumably serve the club for years to come.
But Ferguson’s conundrum isn’t resolved so easily. After all, if a raft of players does leave in 10 months time, then that core of experienced players must be replaced in the squad through acquisition or youth. If United is to not regress then the quality must remain at least equal.
Therein lies the concern with the current selection strategy. After all if the group of players between 18-23 does not play, how can they progress to the level of their predecessors? On a personal level, lack of matches is a genuine worry for Rafael da Silva, his brother Fabio, Darron Gibson, Gabriel Obertan and Ritchie de Laet who have between them started just one game this season.
Meanwhile, Federico Macheda has time on his side, although it is obvious that a third straight season of reserve team football will do the Italian striker no good at all.
Of course, as the Champions League begins Ferguson is likely to dip into his squad pool and the younger group will gain extra minutes.
It really isn’t the point. The next two years will inevitably be a period of transition. In the absence of heavy investment in the market United’s younger players need experience or they will suffer for the lack of it. After all, Ferguson himself said at the season’s start that unless faith in youth is respected the players will stagnate and then leave.
The question is – when the spring kicks in and the games become ever more important – will Ferguson turn to experience or youth?
United’s 30 +
Edwin van der Sar – 39
Gary Neville – 35
Wes Brown – 30
Rio Ferdinand – 32
Patrice Evra – 29
Paul Scholes – 35
Owen Hargreaves – 29
John O’Shea – 30
Park Ji-Sung – 29
Ryan Giggs – 36
Michael Carrick – 29
Michael Owen – 30
Dimitar Berbatov – 29
13 thoughts on “OAP United”
when the old duffers finally go because their legs drop off, none of our youth will be “battle trained” in the EPL, let alone the UCL
one of the most underated but important jobs of a manager is continutity and you can see the ticking time bomb with those stats above.
the worst thing about all of this is the CRAP that Fergus keeps spouting about his faith in youth. fuck off.
i know people think I’m a cunt for going on about it but VDS is the biggest ticking time bomb.
it took Fergus years (and lots of embarrassment) to replace Schmikes with a proven leader and international in the goal in VDS. unless we buy a big goaly in summer, we are fucked.
Agree fully, why have we not even seen the likes of Corry Evans, Oliver Norwood and Magnus Eikrem? Surely the plan is to eventually bring these players along with the James/Cleverley/King loan players into the first team picture in the next 2 years.
The only youngster who does seem to be getting a chance is Gibson, and to say he is the best of the bunch is a joke, he is nowhere near as refined as James, nor does he posess an all round game like Cleverley, he is a one trick pony with no passing/tackling/positional ability.
Fergie just seems to have lost faith in youth, which is baffling, given this current crop of youngsters is on a par with the class of ’92, do their fates equate to that of Cathcart, Ebanks-Blake, Hewson etc? I will be dissapointed if so…
Another mention has to go to poor Rafael, the kid looks a real talent, and is definitely primed to be a world class wing back, yet the other day Neville was preffered over him, Neville being arguably to blame for the 2 late goals…
fair enough vds scholes an giggs still getting games they’re still some of the best we’ve got
but what are we gaining preferring owen park neville and oshea over welbeck cleverley rafa, its mental they’re just taking up space ffs
Sir Alex is now obsessed with players who have experience ie are old. Would a young Messi or Casillas get a lookin to Uniteds team? I suspect they would have to go on loan,get injured,disillusioned and leave. Was Pique and Rossi to name but two given much of a chance? Cleverley seems to be going the same way. The manager seems to have acquired a soft spot for his old players and they can do no wrong.Were Tim Howard and Foster such bad players judging by recent displays I dont think so. It must be soul destroying for young players to see the old players and expensive signings get chance after chance even when not performing and cluttering up the subs bench when not in the team.
One thing to note is that the new generation of players generally have the physical skills to complete at the higher level, but have they got the mental ones?
Hard work, discipline, mental toughness and dedication are just as important physical skills these days. With young footballers being brought up on highlight reels and high wages the question is can they graft it out?
Two examples are Nani and Rafael. Nani has arguably better close dribbling skills and a stronger shot than Giggs, but its very unlikely he will make a better player.
The applies same with Rafael, definitely more skilful on the ball than Neville, and quicker too, but he lacks defensive strength and discipline.
This could explain why Fergie continues to go with the old guard for now at least.
Bloody hell, Rafael’s only 20 years old, of course he lacks defensive discipline! Then again so does Nev these days.
One thing I deplore about Neville’s game is his constant desire to lump a long ball up the pitch.
Playing Neville over Rafael is a fucking joke.
It’s pretty scary actually. Yeh, we have a boat load of cracking young players with bags of potential, but they never fucking play. Are they expected to step straight in next season when half the old boys retire?
Macheda and Eikrem look way to comfortable in the reserves. Just hope they all get a chance in the Carling.
neville himself didn’t stop being error prone til about 2000, when he wouldve been 25 26
No defensive discipline = not likely to start in any team picked by SAF. Hopefully that will improve with time.
His physical skills are better than Neville’s so there’s plenty of chance of him becoming a good first team player.
I don’t think Rafael lacks defensive strength at all, as someone who was sat directly in front of him when he bullied Stephen Hunt for 90mins and had him in his pocket the whole game. He just needs to stop the helicopter arms…