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Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Are Manchester United returning to the class of 1995/6?

Sir Alex Ferguson may have many faults, but one of them does not concern his ability to bring young English players through the youth system into the first team. There is often a Championship loan or two along the way but English players do get a shot under Ferguson. Two more English youth players got league debuts last season for instance - and given the prevailing dominance of foreign stars this is not a feat that was matched by any of the other 'big four' teams - and with one or two notable examples there are few Premier League teams capable of matching this.

The PFA's Meltdown report demonstrates how the number of English players in the Premier League fell from over 70% at its inception in 1992, to under 40% now - with the fall in debuts for English trainees even steeper.

The average age of players for English champion teams is on the rise and could well pass 26 this season, which is historically very high; but United's actions this summer points to an increased focus on youth and English youth in particular.

Firstly the transfer policy has been laidback to say the least. Whereas last season three players were brought in within days of the transfer window opening - this season the only targets are to convert the loan deal for Carlos Tevez into a permanent one and an increasingly unlikely looking bid for Dimitar Berbatov. The Berbatov deal could yet go through - but if it doesn't there seems to be little probability that an alternative will be found.

Meanwhile on tour across Africa United teams packed with youth players have been winning games and threatening to replace the remaining old guard from 1995 - Scholes, Neville and Giggs.

Fraizer Campbell made his debut for United last season in the derby match and went on to bag 15 goals in 34 games for Hull in their promotion charge. At 20 years old he is still growing and already valued at £5m but has the potential to save United a huge transfer fee.

Chris Eagles could be about to leave United, as a right-sided midfielder his path is blocked somewhat by Ronaldo and Nani. He made his debut in 2003 just after his 18th birthday and has played 17 first team games; and scored a vital goal in the title run-in in 2006/7.

Ben Foster is now 25, which whilst young for a goalkeeper meant that his United debut - almost three years after signing from Stoke - came after his England debut. Foster could break through to become United and England's number one this season.

21-year-old Salford-born Danny Simpson is a barnstroming right back and made his debut in 2007/8 and played eight games with Gary Neville injured and Wes Brown playing at centre-half. This probably has to be his break through season.

Lee Martin is probably also thinking that he has to make an impression now; a goal in the South African tournament demonstrated his pace and bravery - but just two league cup games to date suggests that it is now or never.

On top of these English youngsters* are Jonny Evans who has looked assured at Premier League level with Sunderland and on tour this summer and Craig Cathcart who probably needs some Championship level experience to progress.

A United dominated by English youth players in 1995 set the tone for the decade in English football - are United going back to the future?

*yes I know these two aren't English, I can see that the sentence is ambiguous though - sorry!

COMMENTS

Tone

At the moment I see Danny Simpson as our only chance to keep a local connection going, so his brilliant performance against the Kaizer Chiefs really please me. There are still a few players in his way, but if this lad is given half the chance, we'll have our new Giggs or Scholes (maybe not in abillity, but hopefully in spirit).

James

Without being pedantic Johnny Evans, the player who is closest to making it along with Foster is from Northern Ireland...

But a decent point, Cathcart looks a good prospect but Eagles and Martin look unlikely to make it unless they significantly improve next season

steve

Evans and cathcart are both northern irish aren't they?

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