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Oct 032013
 

It’s been a testing start to the season for David Moyes at first team level. In a new job with a new squad results haven’t been quite what was expected and there’s most definitely a sense of uneasiness with all things related right now. As part of the managerial change some new staff arrived but the majority remain and for Warren Joyce and Paul McGuinness it’s been business as usual.

The return of William Keane, appearances by Adnan Januzaj, and form of Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole means you’ll have probably read about the decent start to the season by the U21s. Five games, 17 goals scored and just the one slightly undeserved defeat against Liverpool. Already Joyce has used 27 players including some who are now out on loan as well as 16 year old centre back, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

Chances are, you’ll have also probably kept track of the new U19 squad, not least because it’s managed by Nicky Butt and his assistant, a certain Paul Scholes. They’re competing exclusively in Europe in the UEFA Youth League and the squad combines players in the first year as an U21 and anyone from the U18s. It’s a tricky age group as United don’t have regular U19 fixtures so the squad as a whole seldom train or compete together. It’ll prove to be a great experience for the staff involved and a terrific opportunity for the players to learn.

Arguably, Paul McGuinness has the hardest job of all the coaches in charge of a team at the club. Managing the U18s comes with pressure and expectation because United have such a fabulous history of success and development at that age bracket. This year however not only does he have a very small squad that’s being eaten into by the U19s but there’s not been any foreign signings at first year level to grab the attention of the average fan. In the past we may have been keen for updates on Januzaj or Daehli or Pogba but this year the names involved aren’t quite as glamorous.

The squad contains just 22 players (20 from the UK & Ireland), of which four are goalkeepers and one of the remaining 18 outfield players is classified as a student rather than a scholar – which allows for a continued education and slightly less of a footballing education than the others. It’s a tiny squad, smaller than last years by 8 players.

It’s an important age group for numerous reasons: players sign professional contracts; the players physically are growing at their fastest; players start to settle into positions and roles; there’s the prestigious FA Youth Cup to compete for; and the games start to get shown on TV so there’s fan exposure. Expectations are always high but emphasis tends to be more on development and performances rather than results, fortunately United have a good record at both.

Predicting what to expect from this group of players was difficult. Most of the second year scholars were either injured or seldom involved in games last year so in terms of being able to pass on tips and show leadership qualities it would be tricky. This squad isn’t as obviously strong as others in the past have been and yet their start to the season has been fascinating with 6 wins in 8 league games following on from Milk Cup success. It’s even more impressive given that star player, James Wilson, has only played in 5 of those games and Andreas Pereira hasn’t featured in any (he’s been pushed up with the U19 and U21s). They may have only kept one clean sheet but scoring’s not been a problem with the back of the net found in every game so far.

If there’s an advantage to having a small squad (where the players have stayed fit) it’s that McGuinness has allowed his team selections to be consistent. Usually there’s a lot of squad rotation to ensure all the players get minutes but that’s not been as important so far this year with only Dorrington (one of four GKs), Rathbone (U17 student), McTominay (tiny in stature) and Pereira (promoted up a team) yet to start a game.

The confidence that regular selection brings is evident in the likes of Barber, McConnell, Willock, Goss and Fletcher who all hardly featured last season for one reason or another. Fletcher in particular has been a revelation with 7 goals and 2 assists in the eight games. Willock’s grown physically and found a role in the centre of the pitch whilst Barber’s been given the captaincy on a couple of occasions.

There are sprinklings of quality too. Borthwick-Jackson is an incredibly elegant centre back; Mitchell has been a livewire on the wing; Wilson has been incredible up front; and maybe most exciting but under the radar of them all is Josh Harrop who has 7 assists and 2 goals from midfield. Harrop can play full back, on a wing or in the middle and is technically brilliant but somehow has gone almost un-talked-about in wider footballing circles, maybe because he’s not been called up by England yet.

So what of the long term and the rest of the season to come? McGuinness will be keen to manage the players sensibly to avoid fatigue and burnout so it’s feasible some of the U16s like Reid, Kehinde and Rashford will feature at times. If they can stay fit as a group then there may be the makings of a surprisingly successful season to come but more than anything, this squad have shown themselves to be as entertaining to watch as any and Paul McGuinness is once again weaving his magic.

Jul 232013
 

It has been a funny summer for Arsenal fans. For the first off season since Done Howe was in charge, the threat of losing players to the more glamorous clubs of Spain, or er, Manchester, is not apparent. Add to that the claim by the club that there is money to spend of anything between £70m-£120m and there were certainly reasons for the fans to finally enjoy the summer.

It has, however, not quite panned out like that so far. No players have left and there was plenty of talk of world class players being linked: Higuain, Suarez, Rooney to name three. But there is nothing doing as yet. Twitter is exacerbating the hope and disappointment, so much so that fans are already getting tetchy. Personally I have absolutely no idea who Arsenal will or will not sign. In fact, I am not even sure who I’d like. It’s almost “anyone better than we currently have”.

There is of course, plenty of time left, but the hope of early June is starting to slowly erode. The club are currently on a tour of Asia, which has seen them completely dominate three relatively average opponents. Ramsey and Giroud in particular have impressed of the senior players.

In the absence of major signings, or even really a hint of one (even though L’Equipe claim we have actually agreed to sign Bernard), the fans have had the pleasure of watching some of the supposed younger stars get some fairly decent game time.

Chuba Akpom, Serge Gnabry and Thomas Eisfield have all impressed in small parts, hinting that they all themselves have a future at the club. But one name has stood head and shoulders above those players mentioned.

Gedion Zelelam. A 16-year-old Ethiopian by parentage, who is eligible to play for the German national team, was discovered playing in Maryland USA by Arsenal North American scout, Daniel Karbassiyoon.

There was hype around him before anyone had ever seen him play. There were reports he was every bit as good as Cesc Fabregas at 15. Exciting indeed. But as Arsenal fans we have been here before. The hyped kid who turns out to not quite fulfil the hype. Over the last 3 games, the fans have had the chance to see what all the fuss is about.

In the three games on tour he has played a significant part in all. Of course the opponents have not been good, but that tells only half the story. In the latest game, a 3-1 win over Wenger’s former team, Grampus Eight, he showed remarkable vision in setting up one goal and creating another couple of chances, most notably for Chuba Akpom. The balance and vision he has displayed in his first few minutes in the first team belay his tender age. Physically he has quite some way to go, as you would expect of a 16 year old. However the signs look very good.

It is rare for such skills to be present in one so young. Rooney, Fabregas and Michael Owen are three players that I can think of who were so obviously going to be world class players at 16, there are not many more.

It will be very interesting to see what Wenger has planned for him this season. At the very least I would expect him to be a central part of the Carling Cup team. And perhaps he will get a run out in the Champions League if we are lucky enough to face a dead rubber. But who knows? Cesc was fast tracked very quickly, and the initial signs are that Gedion is very much in that league.

We could, of course, be completely mistaken. It is hard to know, but as fans, we love to hype a player. It is part of the fun. Being there from the begining of a players career. It is often very hard to not gush about someone with such obvious talent, but this can heap huge amounts of pressure on them as the fans expect them to perform miracles from day one.

It is nice to have such a player coming through, and we can only hope that he goes on to have half of the career that Cesc had with us. And whilst we should be cautious of any expectation we place upon his shoulders, it also does appear that he has all the tools to make it at the very top level.

Fingers crossed!

Jul 012013
 

Bang! Egypt ruin England’s footballing summer as the U20s, like the U21s, go home at the group stage of an international tournament without managing to win a game. It’s a damning, bleak story say the press with England looking no closer to progress at any level. You can’t argue with it. Or can you?

The U20s is a funny age group for England. Like the U18s they rarely meet as a squad and seldom have games. European international football lends itself to U21, U19, U17 and U16 age groups more frequently and so for starters, this is a mish-mash of a squad if you like. With the U21s in Israel for the European finals this summer this was never going to simply be a squad of the best players aged under twenty from England. In fact, if your average football fan was to look at the England U20 squad, he or she would maybe only recognise three names – so who are the U20s?

The squad picked contained a mix of players who’d regularly stood out at both reserve and academy level for their clubs over the last couple of years, as well as a few players who have started to break into Championship teams over the duration of the 2012/13 season. In terms of experience it read:
– 21 players of which 13 had never played even a minute of top flight football.
– 7 players who’d made a combined 63 Premier League appearances between them (mostly from the bench).
– And Eric Dier who’s managed to break into the underachieving Sporting Lisbon first team.

It might sound like a readymade excuse, but this was an inexperienced group of players. Take the other countries in their group and look at experience – Iraq had as many full international caps between them as England did Premier League appearances; Chile and Egypt are both used to playing an U20 squad and as such they had players who were not just used to playing together but had players who’d played in this age group at least 20 times as well as some who’d full international honours.

But we’re England! It doesn’t matter what kind of experience these other countries have, we should be beating them comfortably on principle. To a point, yes this is true. Our country has clubs with great academies that produce good footballers for the national team and three years ago we won the Euro U17 Championships so three years down the line what’s gone wrong? From that successful U17 group, only six were in the U20 squad with others either with the U21s or injured (only a couple have dropped off the radar altogether). Experience whether at a competitive club level or international level really is important particularly when a group of players so lacking in it is competing in an age group where other countries have been able to start to experience that.

You can argue that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for a young player to break into a first team at a Premier League club; and you can argue that because the FA have allowed the league to become so competitive that the problem, a seemingly irreversible one, is one of their own doing. So maybe our players are developing a bit later on – there are plenty examples of that being the case at present even in the full England squad.

What’s maybe most important to take away from this U20 tournament though is that beyond the results there were positives. This group, a technically gifted group in some positions in particular, played good football. Fans moaned that our U21s could hardly keep the ball and create chances over in Israel and yet by contrast the U20s were the opposite – they just failed to take many of their opportunities.

It’s a work in progress after all. The fans and press alike moan if England win playing dull football and yet when one age group starts to show a change in attitude it’s “so bloody bleak” to quote Sam Wallace of The Independent. One wonders to what extent Sam and other journalists who’ve been ever so quick to pile on the doomlordery watch and follow U21 and U18 football in England – or even U19 and U17 football. Football in England has been undergoing a change over the last few years – deep in the bowels of clubs, kids are being taught technical skills and a new style of play. Prodigious talents are being encouraged to express themselves rather than conform. Academy football is as entertaining and good as it’s been in a long time. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that our press were proud to watch two English sides, Chelsea and Aston Villa, meet in the final of the prestigious NextGen competition.

There certainly is a problem in terms of the number of foreign players in academies and the number of players making the steps up through to the first team but there’s lots of good going on. As a lesson, look at Man United and look at how long it took Rene Meulensteen’s impact to be felt in the first team – 9/10 years. Danny Welbeck was part of the first group to experience Meulensteen’s new methods and the fruits of the hard work were only felt in United’s first team nearly a decade later. There simply is no quick fix. England now have a fabulous base, St George’s Park, and it will take time for the new techniques and styles to filter through into the higher England international teams. Clairefontaine – held up as an example to how England should run their national set-up wasn’t an overnight revelation either.

So what of the U20 tournament itself? England will look back to the Iraq game as the one that really got away but against a good Chile side and Egypt, the performances were strong as neat possession football lead to chances, often falling to either Ross Barkley or Harry Kane but accurate shooting seemed to evade most of the players. Kane in particular was an unfortunate disappointment – he tried hard and played well against Chile but he struggled to make his size make up for his lack of pace. As @ManUnitedYouth pointed out on Twitter – sometimes a squad simply lacks a clinical striker but that doesn’t make it a bad squad. United’s own U21 side were the perfect example of this in the latter half of last season.

Individually there were bright sparks too – Ross Barkley stood out in most games and various defenders put in some very strong performances. The style of play was no doubt a Peter Taylor influence but was importantly something that these players were all used to playing for their various clubs.

Who am I to argue with good writers and knowledgeable people of the game in the media? If the U20s make the sports sections in and around the tennis, the cycling and the formula one then there will be a wholly negative spin put on the last couple of weeks. Results should have been better but performances were good – a strange predicament for English football indeed. Remember, there were some countries that didn’t even qualify for the tournament *looking at Argentina and Brazil in particular* – embrace the changes we did see and look for the positives that are most definitely taking place in our academy system rather than listen to people in the media with influence whose finger isn’t always quite on the pulse. The reaction on Twitter to the results/performances by them compared to those who watch and follow academy football in England closely couldn’t be more different. I know whose opinion I side with anyway.

Jun 092013
 

There was plenty of frustration from England fans after the U-21s were comfortably beaten by Norway in the UEFA Under-21 European Championship at the weekend. A lot of the anger was directed at Stuart Pearce, the manager, who often gives the impression of someone who doesn’t have a clue.

In 2007, when Pearce first got the job, the U-21s made it to the semi-final of the tournament and in 2009 they reached the final. These achievements are all the more impressive when you consider England’s awful record in this tournament prior to his appointment. Between 1990 and 1998 England failed to qualify for the UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship, they failed to make it out of the group stages in 2000 and 2002, before again failing to quality in 2004 and 2006.

In fact, under Pearce’s guidance, reaching the semi-final in 2007 was the U-21s greatest achievement in 19 years, whilst reaching the final in 2009 was their greatest achievement in 25 years.

Whilst I don’t see Pearce as the man to bring our young players through so we have a future team that can rival that of Spain’s, I also don’t understand the furore concerning their performance in the latest tournament. The greatest players England have seen for ten or twenty years didn’t get anywhere in the European Championships when they were in the U-21s, but for some reason, this year, everyone has an opinion on England’s lack of progress.

Also, it’s important to that note that unlike most other European countries, England don’t take their best players to the tournament. Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jack Rodwell and Kyle Walker were eligible to play and were selected by Pearce, but none of them played.

Let’s look in more detail at England U-21s history from 1996 onwards, which coincides with the beginning of the development of England’s so-called “Golden Generation”.

1996 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship – did no qualify

Hosted in Spain. England finished 2nd in the qualifying group, ahead of Ireland, Austria and Latvia, but behind Portugal, therefore didn’t qualify for the knockout stages.

Selection of players in England U21s squad in qualifying and who later made appearances for the senior squad: David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Robbie Fowler, Sol Campbell, David Unsworth and Trevor Sinclair.

Scotland, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal and Spain qualified. Italy beat Spain in the final, whilst Scotland lost to France in the Third Place match. Parma’s Fabio Cannavaro was voted Player of the Tournament.

1998 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship – did not qualify

Hosted in Romania. England finished top of the qualifying group, ahead of Georgia, Italy, Poland and Moldova. Greece and England were the two worst first placed group winners. Greece defeated England in a playoff to qualify for the tournament.

Selection of players in England U21s squad in qualifying and who later made appearances for the senior squad: Nicky Butt, Lee Bowyer, Emile Heskey, Phil Neville, Jamie Carragher, Rio Ferdinand, Richard Wright, Kieron Dyer, Danny Murphy.

Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia Spain and Sweden qualified. Spain beat Greece in the final, whilst Norway beat Netherlands in the Third Place match. Barcelona’s goalie Francesc Arnau was named Player of the Tournament.

2000 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship – group stage

Hosted in Slovakia with revised rules. The initial qualifying groups lead to further groups involving 8 teams. England finished top of the qualifying group, ahead of Poland, Bulgaria, Sweden and Luxembourg. England finished third in the next group stage behind Italy and Slovakia.

Selection of players in England U21s squad in qualifying and who later made appearances for the senior squad: Frank Lampard, Jamie Carragher, Ledley King, Danny Murphy Danny Mills and Luke Young.

Italy beat Czech Republic in the final, whilst Spain beat Slovakia in the Third Place match.

2002 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship – group stage

Hosted in Switzerland. England finished top of the qualifying group ahead of Greece, Germany, Finland and Albania. England finished bottom in the next group stage behind Italy, Switzerland and Portugal.

Selection of players in England U21s squad in qualifying and who later made appearances for the senior squad: Gareth Barry, Jermain Defoe, Scott Parker, Jermaine Jenas, Peter Crouch, Alan Smith, Bobby Zamora, Luke Young and Paul Konchesky.

Czech Republic beat France in the final. Sparta Prague’s Petr Cech was named Player of the Tournament.

2004 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship – failed to qualify

Hosted in Germany. England finished 3rd in the qualifying group behind Turkey and Portugal.

Selection of players in England U21s squad in qualifying and who later made appearances for the senior squad: Michael Carrick, Gareth Barry, Joe Cole, Gareth Barry, Peter Crouch, Michael Dawson, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Bobby Zamora, Paul Konchesky, Chris Kirkland, Francis Jeffers

Italy beat Serbia and Montenegro in the final, whilst Portugal beat Sweden in the Third Place match. Parma’s Alberto Gilardino was named Player of the Tournament.

2006 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship – failed to qualify

Hosted in Portugal. England finished 2nd in the qualifying group behind Germany but then lost to France in the play-offs.

Selection of players in England U21s squad in qualifying and who later made appearances for the senior squad: James Milner, Darren Bent, Glen Johnson, Michael Dawson, Carlton Cole, Scott Carson, Kieran Richardson,

Netherlands beat Ukraine in the final, whilst Heerenveen’s Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was named Player of the Tournament.

Jun 052013
 

There was little more than a brief Twitter outcry of joy as United in true typical fashion came from behind to defeat Spurs 3-2 at Old Trafford and seal the U21 title. Much like at first team level, winning is something that’s become a routine and good habit for Warren Joyce and this group of players.

Back in 2009/10 the Tunnicliffe, Morrison, Keane, Thorpe (etc) generation were first year scholars and won Academy Group C. It was a 28 game league and they lost only five times, pipping a very strong Everton side to the top of the group. United went on to host Academy Group A winners, Arsenal, in a semi-final at Old Trafford and would cruelly lose on penalties. From then on, that core bunch of players would go on to be perennial winners.

The season after, 2010/11, would be an Academy league campaign to forget but the focus would be on the prestigious FA Youth Cup and United would go on to cruise the competition and win it for a record tenth time. In 2011/12, most of those players progressed onto the Reserves and they’d romp to success in the Premier Reserve League North, winning it by 14 points and then going on to have their fortunes reversed by beating Aston Villa in the play-off final on penalties.

On to this season with a new format and a tricky challenge for Warren Joyce. With a lot of players in the U21s aged 20/21 many would be going out on loan or be sold over the course of the season. It would mean that week-by-week, game-by-game, Joyce wouldn’t necessarily have a settled squad of players. Over the summer, Pogba, de Laet, James, Norwood and Fryers moved on whilst King and Brady were sold in January. Loans were arranged for Amos, Johnstone, Henriquez, Macheda, Bebe, M Keane, Wootton, McGinty, McCullough, Brown, Giverin, Petrucci, van Velzen, Tunnicliffe, Lingard and Cofie. An already small pool of players suddenly shrank dramatically.

Departures you might think aren’t a bad thing. For players going out on loan it offers the opportunity of competitive professional football and a chance to grow up living away from home. For those that remained it opened up vital playing time when they may not necessarily have gotten in the side before. The dilemma that Joyce had though was that it left an unbalanced, inexperienced squad and a need to call on players from the U18s to make up numbers when they themselves had their injury problems. So much so that sometimes United would name U21 sides that did not use the full complement of five substitute places available.

Prior to Christmas, United competed in a seven team group and snuck into second place behind Spurs who outscored them two to one. United’s progress into the Elite Group Stage was secured and a great deal of thanks had to go to Kiko Macheda who proved to be in fine goalscoring touch. His crucial late equaliser away to Southampton put United’s destiny in their own hands for a top three spot. The football was a bit messy in that there was at times little cohesion between the players. First team fringe members were prioritised as they needed to be kept fresh whilst those who’d grown up with each other through the academy would have to be patient for their turn.

Still, there would be first team debuts for Brady, Tunnicliffe, Vermijl and Wootton as well as further starts for Michael Keane. Surprisingly, Davide Petrucci would miss out despite playing on tour in pre-season. He was the star for the U21s during this period as he mixed incisive passing with real leadership in the middle of the pitch. His subsequent loan to Peterborough was well earned although typical of his luck, he’d get injured just as he settled into their side.

After Christmas, Warren Joyce was faced with a fresh challenge. Cofie, Henriquez, Macheda and Bebe all went out on loan and William Keane wouldn’t be rushed back from a long-term injury. It left him with no strikers and hence in 14 group games, United managed to score just 16 goals. Three players rotated the striking responsibility – Tom Lawrence, Adnan Januzaj and Nick Powell – but none of them were ideal and it became common to see United attack, get into good positions and then discover no one was in the box to put chances away.

For Januzaj it was a big challenge. He’d missed the opening months of the season due to injury and now he was fit he’d been promoted permanently from the U18s into the U21s. Physically, it was a big ask for him and yet he did such a good job he ended the season as the U21 player of the year as voted for by the fans. His development in 2013 has been rapid and given that it’s been in an unfamiliar role, it’s been extraordinary. Having been kicked around at the turn of the year, he’s toughened up, backed into defenders, and won balls he never should win. Once in possession both his hold-up and link-up play has been increasingly mature.

The most visible progress though is the trust put in him by his team-mates. Every attack has had Adnan at its heart whether he’s been carrying the ball, beating men or setting up goals. He’s started to have the ‘make something out of nothing’ impact – a scary thought when you consider he’s only recently turned 18 and is playing against boys and men quite a bit older and bigger than him. All eyes were on him and he certainly delivered but 2013 wasn’t just about his introduction, for Warren Joyce it was a chance to reunited old friends and build the league’s tightest defence.

The remaining ‘Class of 2011’ would be reunited in a bid to push for success – Cole, Lingard and Tunnicliffe would form a strong core in the middle whilst faith would be placed in Ekangamene to take on a crucial role at the heart of the midfield. At the back there’d be a settled look to the side with Vermijl, Thorpe, Fornasier and James picking themselves most weeks. Joyce’s options to rotate and spread playing time, like he normally would, were limited due to the various injuries and loans but all of a sudden a settled side started to emerge, gel and win.

It’s funny how consistency and a degree of trust can change a player’s fortunes so drastically. In 2013 Reece James, Frederic Veseli and Charni Ekangamene would come to the fore. Having all been no more than bit-part players before Christmas they’d all get long stints in the side. Reece James, signed from Preston last summer looked really shy in his early outings but as he grew in confidence he showed himself to be a solid all-rounded fullback.

Veseli had secured a first full season at the club after joining in January 2012 and although he looked rather average at first he finally found a place in the side. Sitting in front of the back four he was charged with doing a less expansive Carrick role and did it well. His season was unfortunately cut short by a hamstring injury which in many ways only gave Ekangamene more responsibility. Having joined in the summer of 2010 we were under the impression he was a winger before learning that he liked to play left back the most. He’s finally settled in the heart of the midfield, performing a box-to-box role alongside Tunnicliffe. The coaches have worked incredibly hard on his positioning and understanding of the role, and it shows. His first season in the U21s will be looked back on as one of great promise.

As the goals dried up, the defence tightened up. With Thorpe leading from the back alongside Fornasier and with help from Amos and Lindegaard eight clean sheets were kept in ten games giving United the country’s meanest defence. This played a huge part in United qualifying for the playoff semi-finals and a draw at Old Trafford against Liverpool ensured a home draw against the Merseyside outfit for a place in the playoff final.

In the end it, semi-final success was a formality as a Larnell Cole hat-trick (at Old Trafford) ensured a 3-0 victory over Liverpool and a place in the final against Spurs who’d seen off Everton in the other semi-final. Spurs had dominated the U21 leagues over the season, scoring the most goals but also fielding a whole host of older experienced players, many of whom, like Livermore, Carroll and Naughton, had played for their first team that season. The final was a fitting finale to Fergie’s reign at the club as United came from two goals down to win 3-2 in normal time with Larnell Cole netting yet another two goals, the final one coming just minutes before full time. Once again, United were U21/Reserve champions.

The continued success proves the temperament of the group; their class at their age group; and that the coaching set-up remains excellent. The upcoming summer will be one of change and incredible intrigue for fans who have an interest in the younger players at the club. A fair few have already been let go by the club and lots will be promoted having completed their Academy scholarships. Question marks remain over what will end up to those who’ve just completed two years in the U21s; the Coles, Lingards, Tunnicliffes, Thorpes etc now need to either be embedded into the first team or found good quality loans. Loaning is tricky when you consider that for someone like Larnell Cole, it would be a waste to send him to your average long-ball Championship side.

Next season promises to be as exciting as this one with many of the U18s who’ll be promoted already having made their U21 debuts. As well as the further development of the current U21s there’s the return of Will Keane from a long-term injury and hopefully some better luck for Tom Lawrence who always seems to get an injury as he hits some form. David Moyes is inheriting a fantastic Academy set-up with great staff lower down the pecking order; whilst changes are to be expected at the top, hopefully he’ll find it unnecessary to change too much else.

———
Doron’s work is published in Not Nineteen Forever – Manchester United 2012-2012 season review

May 202013
 

At the end of season awards last week, Paul McGuinness was the United coach who had the hardest task. When being interviewed by MUTV he was the sole coach who couldn’t report back completely positively. The first team won the title and the U21s are in the league final but the U18s have won nothing. Winning isn’t everything at Academy level so what McGuinness could confirm was progress.

The new format that we’re so familiar with at U21 level is mirrored at U18 level. United, along with Southampton were the only clubs who had teams at both level make it into the elite group stage. That on its own is a great credit to the quality and depth at both levels, especially as some players will crossover between the two.

For McGuinness, his responsibility is as much to development as it is to silverware. This season he had a relatively old but small squad. Most of the players he’s used regularly are second year scholars who’ll move up to the U21s next season. On the whole, the group are physically small, not necessarily weak but they’ve found themselves up against bigger boys most weeks. Like most United youngsters they’re technically sound and in true United style, they’re at their best going forwards.

A slow start to the season and a defeat in the third round of the FA Youth Cup will go down as the lows but a strong finish and lots of players growing up means there’s lots to look back on and be pleased. United finished one point behind Southampton in National Group 2 and then only missed out on a semi-final place on goal difference to Everton after they finished fourth in the Elite Group.

Some players will be frustrated with their season – injuries have meant that Sean Goss, Ben Barber, Kieran O’Hara and others will have played much less than they would have liked. Some of the younger players such as Ashley Fletcher and Matthew Willock have turned out almost every week for the U16s so they can keep getting some game-time.

At the back, Joel Castro Pereira was added a year ago but has mainly been used from the bench as Sutherland and Gollini have rotated responsibility. Although short, Jonny Sutherland has shown he’s a fine shot stopper and he’s been promoted to the U21s on numerous occasions. After missing most of his first season through injury, Gollini has been one of the fastest developers this time round. Mistakes, often seemingly concentration related, still exist but he’s become increasingly confident under high balls and has made some outstanding and crucial saves. He’s also shown himself to be something of a penalty saving expert.

Like the first team, there’s been plenty of patchwork done in the defence to compensate for injuries. Paddy McNair, a creative midfielder, started and ended the season at centre back as Barber, McConnell, Wilkinson, Dalley and Ioannou all have had injuries. Captain, Liam Grimshaw, has moved into the centre from right back and been a consistently good performer. Callum Evans, naturally a midfielder has filled in the full back positions with Rowley and Love both getting injuries after excellent first halves of the season. Even James Weir has had to drop into right back at times. That the defence has kept nine clean sheets is a better achievement than it may sound, all things considered. Next season, Nicholas Ioannou will be the main man to keep an eye on – he can play at both centre and left back and although injuries have meant he’s had a very stop-start first season as a scholar, his talent’s been very obvious to see.

The midfield is the most experienced part of the team and has had some of the best performers. Ben Pearson and James Weir have been almost ever presents and have both grown up tremendously as the seasons progressed. Pearson won the Young Player of the Year award – he was the outstanding candidate. He mixes tough tackling with an attacking threat and surprisingly delicate passing. Although small, he’s strong and bears similarities in style to Owen Hargreaves, not least because of the hair. Pearson’s ended the season with the U21s and it’ll be interesting to see how he matches up against bigger men next season.

Weir’s style is very similar to Pearson’s – he’s a very willing player and a tireless runner. That they’ve both kept Jack Rudge out the side for much of the season says a lot about their form. If there’s one source of disappointment it’s been the injuries that Joe Rothwell has suffered. He’s such an elegant footballer, much like Carrick, but he’s rarely been fit for more than a few games and he’ll be frustrated that his time in the U18s has never truly got ticking.

The core bunch of central midfielders will all be moving up to the U21s, leaving little behind. Joshua Harrop will get a lot of playing time next year as a result and that’s not a bad thing at all. Although his involvement this season has been mainly from the subs bench his physical development is striking and his performances have been really good. He’s consistently been mentioned in the younger age groups as a player who could have a really positive future so he’ll be expected to pick up the midfield baton next term.

In the more attacking midfield roles, Daehli and Barmby have had a mixed time. Daehli’s first few months of the season were incredible but he’s somewhat tailed off a bit as the campaign’s gone on. Barmby’s done it the other way round with a strong finish after a slow start. He’s broadened out nicely and is starting to resemble a man – a bit of maturity on the pitch is the next step for him. Januzaj, as has been widely reported, has spent much of the season at U21 level and simply used the U18s to get fit after an injury.

Much of the creative burden will now fall on Andreas Pereira. After joining 18 months ago, this has been his first full season at the club. He’s shown glimpses of his talent and is clearly a free-kick specialist but he’s been quite hot and cold, maybe a tad in the shadow of the others around him. Exciting winger, Demetre Mitchell, will join him from the U16s as a scholar next season and how the pair link up could be crucial to the performances and results of the side.

McGuinnes likes to play with one striker up front so Wilson and Byrne have had to share responsibilities. James Wilson’s form has been exceptional with a goal a game and five in one game away to Newcastle alone. He’s been drafted into the U21s at times too, covering for the lack of strikers there, but he still has one more year in the U18s to complete. Byrne is a funny one in that he often does little wrong but his goals record isn’t good. It’s easy to forget he’s one of the youngest players in his year and although he’ll move up to the U21s next season, he only turns 18 in July. His end of the season form has been good though and he’s looking confident as his body has filled out and he no longer looks like a small, scrawny striker. It’s been excellent to see him score with bullet headers and cut in from the left to bend shots in – the perfect end to the season for him.

The challenge next season may be a hard one for Paul McGuinness and his staff – a very small squad with some very small players could well see the club make a few signings at this level over the summer. This time around, they may have won nothing and made lots of mistakes particularly before Christmas, but individual development sets many of the players in good stead for their step up to the U21s. McGuinness should be pleased – he’s helped turn boys into men and played attacking football along the way. Seamless repetition is his thing.

Apr 122013
 

Having no fit or available strikers has been a problem for United’s U21s for much of 2013. With either Powell orJanuzaj have to fill in there’s been no natural focal point and when attacking, it’s not been uncommon for a move to break down or for players to get into good positions to cross only to discover there’s no one in the box.

 

As is often the case at this level, there is a positive for just about every negative. With fewer attacking players on the pitch, the defence has been rock solid. Both Michael Keane and Scott Wootton are out on loan which has allowed Tom Thorpe, Michele Fornasier and others to take a lead role at the very back, with Veseli often used just in front.

 

As tends to be the way it’s the more attacking, flair players who get talked about by excited fans. It’s for the same reason that talk about players of the year at first team level almost always involve attacking players only in the press. Young defenders generally aren’t afforded the same patience as other players – one error and they’re written off with little appreciation of how and when defenders tend to develop both physically and mentally. Of course, it’s as hard to defend well as a unit and keep clean sheets as it can be to put the ball in the net when the team is rotated so much, as is common practice below the first team.

 

How do you even assess a centre back at such a young age? Naturally the taller players and early physical developers have an unfair advantage so how does a smaller defender even try to stand out? Things I’ll tend to look at are consistency, calmness, positioning, ability on the ball, reaction to mistakes and general leadership. Whilst important and the most obvious way to judge a defender at a young age, physicality is far from the most important attribute – as a once gangly Michael Keane is now proving.

 

It’s a good job that clubs don’t give up on the smaller players because Tom Thorpe certainly isn’t tall. Having captained United to an FA Youth cup win in 2011, Tom’s gone on to be a key player for England as well as United. Even as a smaller centre back, Tom has found himself too good a natural footballer to be left out of England youth teams and it’s not been uncommon to see him start as a holding midfielder with taller, bigger centre backs preferred in the defensive roles by Noel Blake.

 

Thorpe’s development has been fascinating to watch. In his first season as a Reserve/U21 player, last year, he was far from a regular despite making 20 appearances (out of 32, with 8 coming from the bench). Having just been a key member of an excellent youth team, it must have come as a shock to him and a source of frustration as others, notably Fryers and Keane, showed signs of progress due to the competitive playing time – so much that they both ended up making their first team debuts. This season, he’s one of only two players to make 20 starts (out of 26 games) and play over 1,800 minutes – Larnell Cole is the other. He’s mature beyond his years in how he reads the game and leads the team well both vocally and with his performances. Oddly, for a defender so hailed for his on the ball ability, his defensive abilities sometimes need to be emphasised but there has been no shortage of great tackles, blocks, headers and interceptions the last few months.

 

As the regular defensive pairing, Thorpe and Fornasier have progressed well together. Fornasier, the more physical of the two, has gone under the radar as much as Thorpe. They complement each other’s abilities very nicely and have been a big factor in the impressive record of a clean sheet in nearly 40% of the games. With the first team close to sealing a league title, one hopes that both may feature on the bench or even make their debut in the closing games, even if as a little bonus confidence booster.

 

With Grimshaw and Ioannou impressing in the Academy, this is a period of rich defensive talent for the club. The season will end Brown, Wootton and Keane out on loan in the Championship and McGinty in League One. Even if only one of those four is likely to be at United in the long-term it serves as a reminder that the club are producing players who can perform to a very good level. To some extent, it’s yet another reason why it’s disheartening to read that Garay is a key transfer target this summer.

 

Rightly fans are excited at the prospect of seeing Powell, Lingard, Cole and potentially Januzaj in the first team before the season is up; but if Fornasier, Thorpe or even Veselifeature then you can be assured that it’s a deserved reward for consistently good performances.

Mar 132013
 

If you’re used to watching United’s first team you could be forgiven for being a bit confused by the club’s U21s and U18s. It would be normal to assume that United would prepare players for the first team by replicating the system the first team play but on the whole, that’s not the case.

Even having signed Kagawa in the summer, the first team still predominantly turn to width for inspiration rather than playing through the middle. Further still, unlike many of league and European competitors, Ferguson continues to favour playing two strikers on the pitch, even if one drops a bit deeper at times – it’s very rare to see five midfielders starting a game.

By contrast, below the first team United tend to set up quite differently. Unless a forward is used wide, like Joshua King often was, it’s a case of one striker with five midfielders and minimal natural width. Part of this is down to the resources available but also, one wonders if it’s a route the club are looking to take long term. Is this an insight into how the first team could be lining up in a few years?

At present, the U18s contains very technically gifted players, those who flourish when given a free role and who if they start wide will drift infield. Players such as Mats Daehli, Jack Barmby and Adnan Januzaj fall into that category. When you add Andreas Pereira, there’s a huge emphasis on playing through the middle. This has its pros and cons. It makes for intricate, neat, quick passing football that the football fraternity seem to think is the way forward right now but it can be one dimensional and the team relies heavily on fullbacks to provide any width.

At Academy level United are lucky, they’re blessed with players that can unlock a defensive with a moment of genius and in Barmby and Wilson they have pace on the counter. Still, the two natural wingers in the squad barely get a look in – Gorre is to be released and Willock is very young and yet to feature in a game this season. With 46 goals scored in 20 competitive games so far this season, playing a system where creativity comes from the middle rather than out wide hasn’t been a hindrance at all – in fact only one team has kept a clean sheet playing against them. At U21 level it’s a similar story but maybe a problem is more evident.

The U21s have scored 45 goals in 24 games including a seven goal haul against Oldham, but have failed to score four times. Most recently, last night, a Wolves side with 10 men for 80 minutes kept them at bay quite comfortably. With Brady sold in January, van Velzen is the only winger and since returning from loan over a month ago, he’s played just once from the bench. Those who are picked to play in the wide areas, usually Cole and Lingard, are generally more effective centrally – it’s a case of square pegs in roundish holes.

Whilst the first team often soak up pressure and break, the U21s tend to control games, usually deep in the opposition’s half – a good thing you might assume but it has its pitfalls. Games can get congested with players getting in each other’s way and opponents getting plenty of men behind the ball. This does suit the nature of the players the club are producing though – Rene’s impact on the coaching side has bred players with a much greater emphasis on control, skills and intelligence than ever before. It’s seen at both U18 and U21 level United use one holding midfielder, one all rounded box-to-box midfielder and one with a free role; whilst the wide players also have license to find the space.

What does it all mean? United’s purchase of Zaha suggests that width will continue to play a part in the future although even he’s not a conventional winger. Kagawa’s purchase hinted at a possible change in system used but to date that’s rarely been evident. If players turn out to develop well enough and do come through to the first team, it’ll be fascinating to see the long term plan. Fitting in a Daehli or a Januzaj looks difficult right now, we’re somewhat struggling with Shinji as it is, but maybe there will be a change coming with United’s future being based on central flair rather than wide flair. If our kids are anything to go by, the football will at least be exciting to watch.

Oct 162012
 

Danny Rose was sent off for reacting to what appears to be racial abuse in England U21’s 1-0 victory against Serbia U21s.

“I think there one or two racist incidents from the crowd, they’ve been reported to Uefa I believe by ourselves, and it’s in their hands now,” said U21 boss Stuart Pearce. “I’m very proud of my staff and players, I must say. It’s very sad to be fair, [but] we’re united as a team and a staff. I never like to see a football match end like that.”

Oct 112012
 

It’s still early days in the 2012-13 season, but the turning point for the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur may have been half-time in the home match to Queens Park Rangers.

Spurs were 1-0 down, playing terribly against the side bottom of the table. QPR with central midfield duo Alejandro Faurlin and Esteban Granero to the fore were playing better than expected, but even so Spurs were dreadful. No cohesion, no rhythm, no spark.

At this point Spurs only had five points from four games, their one win coming against a hopeless Reading side. Following late equalisers by Norwich and West Brom at White Hart Lane and the disastrous end to last season, people were getting restless. 21 points from 17 league games is no way to appease angry fans. Andre Villas-Boas was getting criticism from the press and facing the vitriol from certain fans unhappy that Saint Harry Redknapp had been sacked after arguably Spurs’ most successful era for decades.

Villas-Boas to give him his due didn’t waste time in that half-time interval. Off went Gylfi Sigurdsson, on came Steven Caulker. Gareth Bale, treading water at left back in the first half returned to his natural home on the left wing. Jan Vertonghen moved to left back while Caulker slotted in at centre back. The response was an improved performance and a ferociously fought for 2-1 win. Spurs have since won at Old Trafford for the first time since the fall of Margaret Thatcher, calmly disposed of Aston Villa and now sit pretty after seven games a point off second place, two points ahead of the much more highly touted Arsenal.

Steven Caulker has played in every minute of Spurs league games since he came on as a half-time substitute against QPR and been excellent. This looks like being the start of him fulfilling his rich promise which has been evident for many years. He was impressive during his season long loan at Swansea last season and was voted fans’ Player of the Season in his loan spells at Yeovil and Bristol City. He’s young, extremely talented and set to be a star for Spurs and England for years to come. Playing alongside veteran William Gallas as he has done recently can surely only help his development.

Caulker carries on the tradition of fine homegrown centre backs at Spurs, following on from Ledley King and Judas Sol Campbell before him (in the same way Southampton with Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana only seem to produce good wingers). Though Caulker is the cream of Spurs’ young talented crop, he is the beneficiary of a Spurs academy producing more and more players with the ability to play in the first team.

Spurs’ youth policy has been pathetic for many years, especially compared to the highly geared youth system down the Seven Sisters Road at Arsenal. A dearth of young talent has led to young players having to be bought rather than be produced, with King until last year the most recent player to come through the academy from a young age and not be bought from another clubs when already close to the first team. For a club of Spurs’ stature, to produce so few youngsters is a risible disgrace.

But this has changed, with a number of gifted youngsters starting to make the grade for both Spurs and England. Jake Livermore has already got a full England cap, and while that was partly down to the miserable lack of young central English midfielders within a year he went from not having one Premiership start to being an England international which isn’t to be sniffed at. Caulker has played extensively at England youth level along with his Spurs appearances, while Harry ‘The Harrykane’ Kane is a precocious Teddy Sheringham-esque forward who on occasion got picked ahead of Jermain Defoe in pre-season. ‘Broadway’ Danny Rose, even if he doesn’t make it at Spurs will always be remembered fondly for his box office smash of a goal against Arsenal.

While those players have played extensively at international youth level and appeared in the Spurs first team, the likes of ‘Peter’ Andros Townsend, Adam ‘Taxman’ Smith, Ryan ‘Frankie’ Fredericks and Tom ‘Not Andy’ Carroll also have caps at England youth level and got experience for the first team. Even if in the case of Fredericks and Carroll it came in last year’s Europa League which Harry Redknapp treated like an irritating mother-in-law as he fielded second if not third strength teams in the competition.

These players are not alone. Australian Massimo ‘Maccarone’ Luongo is impressing in a loan spell at Ipswich, Ryan ‘Newsnight economics correspondent Paul’ Mason got possibly the briefest debut when he came on for approximately five seconds at the end of the Europa League game against Lazio, while Cameron ‘Duke of’ Lancaster and Jon ‘The story of Tracy’ Obika are other forwards who’ve shown flashes of potential.

All the players mentioned above are academy graduates, and though not all of them are going to make it Caulker and Livermore already have, Danny Rose isn’t far off while it will be a surprise if Townsend, Carroll and Smith don’t feature heavily in the Spurs team at some point in the future. This improvement in the quality of academy graduates is particularly helpful with the Premier League’s rule that eight players of every club’s twenty five man squad need to be ‘homegrown’ (be registered with an English or Welsh club for three years or more prior to them turning twenty one).

Along with the need for homegrown players to fill out Premier League squads, Andre Villas-Boas has been keener on giving young players time on the pitch compared to Redknapp, who when not in the Europa League preferred veterans to youngsters. Caulker has already praised Villas-Boas for his ‘fairness’ in selection and for ‘not having favourites’ (a dig at Redknapp perhaps?) while Kyle Naughton, in the Spurs wilderness under Redknapp, deputised for Benoit Assou-Ekotto solidly at left back until he got injured. Livermore too was regularly getting selected before injury, while Kane, Mason, Smith and Obika have also got game time at various points.

An important of Spurs’ strategy with young players is to loan them out to other clubs. They abolished their reserve side in 2009, deciding to loan out players needing experience and perhaps arranging a friendly if a first team player needed a game to recover from an injury.

This has had mixed results. With someone like Caulker, it worked beautifully because he was a first team fixture wherever he went and he got valuable experience. For the former prodigy John Bostock, all this policy has led to is the former Crystal Palace man getting a good start on his quest to sit on the substitutes bench at all 92 league grounds. Livermore struggled to get a start on loan to various Championship clubs yet impressed at a higher level in the Spurs side. Youngsters going from the White Hart Lane substitutes bench to a slightly more cramped substitutes bench at a championship club isn’t going to do much good.

But giving players experience overall has done more good than bad, as proven by the increasing number of players to contribute to the Spurs first team.

The academy has slowly improved in terms of the players’ it’s churned out since Daniel Levy became chairman in 2001. Levy’s arrival saw more money and more emphasis on the academy, while the arrival of Martin Jol and Frank Arnesen in 2004 saw a philosophy of passing, attacking football implemented throughout the club at all levels.

Since then, there has been constant progress, the evidence of which is the increasing number of good players being produced. The NextGen series last season showed the huge amount of promise that exists at the club, with Spurs beating Inter Milan 7-1 on their way to the semi-finals before having to withdraw due to fielding two under age players. Inter went on to win the trophy.

This progress should continue with Tottenham’s new training facility at Bulls Cross in Enfield. It has attracted rave reviews so far and is exactly the sort of modern, state-of-the-art facility that Spurs Lodge in Chigwell wasn’t.

The £35m or £45m (depending on what newspaper you read) complex with eleven full sized pitches will surely help the development of young players, as well as helping attract young players from other clubs. The facility has been in the offing for many years and means Levy in a few years’ time will have delivered a world class stadium and training ground, along with arguably Spurs’ most successful period for over twenty years. Not bad for someone with no background in football.

Under his chairmanship Tottenham’s youth system has improved significantly, is helping the first team now and if the talent that’s at the club currently is nurtured correctly, Spurs could have a terrific bunch of homegrown players who are regular starters in a successful first team a few years down the line.

Aug 282012
 

As the new England U21 campaign begins next month it will bring questions about what direction England are heading towards and whether there is even a plan at all.

FA chairman David Bernstein said:

“Continuity is vital as we continue to build our club ethos, and Stuart [Pearce] is an important member of the England coaching structure. I know he was as disappointed as anyone at the Under-21s‘ most recent tournament results at the European Championships in Denmark, but we mustn’t forget the team had an excellent qualifying campaign and continues to produce young players ready and prepared for senior team experience.”

This announcement was certainly an interesting one from the newly appointed chairman.

What Are the Expectations?

Firstly, it seems bizarre to define the qualifying campaign as ‘excellent’. It simply wasn’t. Many games were terrible in performance, team selection, team approach and non-existent plans. The home game against Greece in 2011 was one of the worst England games I have seen at any level (which says a lot). Wilshere played out wide all game and barely touched the ball, and the game seemed to be one continuous long ball from Micah Richards towards Andy Carroll over and over. If this was only one poor display it could be ignored but it was an error strewn mess of a campaign – continuously. England are simply not good enough, whether it’s U21 or the senior national team.

It is always a hard task to figure out what The FA actually expects from the coach of the U21 role. Bernstein mentions that Pearcecontinues to produce young players ready and prepared for senior team experience.’ ­but I, for one, have never understood this point. If you are the U21 coach you are always going to bring through players regardless of how badly you do it. The way your team plays and where players play in your team doesn’t seem to matter. So is that all that is expected from an U21 coach? To pick a team and let them get on with it?

The ‘English’ Style at U21 Level

Stuart Pearce has never mentioned specifically how his team should play or how he wants them to play. The only plan or aim he has mentioned is the need to win youth tournaments to then have success at senior level. But this has no logic if you then evidently have no actual footballing philosophy that will prove worthwhile at senior level. What confused things more was that Pearce then backed off from this claim of needing to win tournaments when the team began to fail to win the group games against Spain and Ukraine respectively.

The direction and style of the team has been very basic during the past two tournaments. Pearce has deployed two defensive midfielders to do nothing more than protect the defence and mainly pass sideways, mainly relying on quick counter attacking and set pieces for goals. The idea of a safety first approach mainly aimed at wider players creating. Numerous games have involved players being isolated for large periods.

The idea that this is the approach that we must continuously use with an obsession on winning the U21 tournament regardless has not got the team anywhere. Why can the team not play to be creative, with vision and work on possession? Work on movement off the ball which has been largely non-existent for such long spells in so many games? It’s very hard to figure out what the approach actually is most of the time and the rumours that numerous club coaches are bemused by the approach at this level exemplifies the issue.

U21 level should be the pinnacle of youth international football for the nation to look at for an example of how to play. Spain won the most recent tournament playing with their own style and philosophy just as the Germans did two years before. But we remain playing in a style with a demand to win that I don’t even believe has any benefit to our individual players or for their development if they actually do get promoted to senior level in the future.

The Question That Begs

With hard to decipher approach and aim at U21 level, it remains another campaign with quite a few talented players preparing to step up but no real idea of where we are going. What we are actually planning for?

Jul 302012
 

Coming off the back of a successful 3-1 win over the United Arab Emirates, one thing that stood out with regards to the Team GB squad was the true lack of a potent up-and-coming marquee striker for England that is still young enough to play at U21 level (or below!) for their country.

Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene in a flash as a teenager…same with Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent, and Danny Welbeck. Granted times are changing, with players not getting their professional debuts until they are much older, but with Daniel Sturridge effectively competing for a Senior spot in England’s squads, it certainly leaves Stuart Pearce with little meat to pick from for his U21 squads.

So…what of England’s striking prospects?

Let’s go through the forwards who have been picked for the U21s since the last European Championship finals in 2011.

Continue reading »

Jul 272012
 

“I can’t believe that in England they don’t teach young players to be multi-functional. To them it’s just about knowing one position and playing that position. To them, a striker is a striker and that’s it. For me, he is somebody who has to move, who has to cross, and who has to do this in a 4-4-2 or in a 4-3-3 or in a 3-5-2, each of which is different. I don’t think you should take a youngster, say, aged between fourteen and eighteen and only teach him to play 4-4-2. You have to teach him different systems, make him comfortable in all of them. Because what happens if later he has a manager who likes to play 4-5-1 or 3-5-2? What happens to him then?”

Whilst watching England’s fortunes in the recent European Under-19 Championships in Estonia, I kept returning to Jose Mourinho’s now-famous criticism of youth development in this country.

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Jul 242012
 

It’s been nearly two years since I profiled Ryan Tunnicliffe. He was about to embark on an important final season in the club’s Academy and was now a full-time professional. Off the back of an injury hit season in his first year as an U18, this was to be an important year for him as he formed part of an unstoppable midfield trio at youth level. Now on tour with the first team, what can be expected of Ryan this season?

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Jul 192012
 

With half a dozen players resting up after their exertions at Euro 2012, a further four set to participate in the football tournament at the London Olympic Games and a trio of centre-backs nursing injuries, Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad has been deprived of thirteen first-teamers as they embark on the first leg of their pre-season tour this week. An inconvenience in many respects (particularly with Rio Ferdinand being the only senior defender in the travelling party), the silver lining comes in the form of a fantastic opportunity for a number of United’s younger players to gain priceless experience and catch the manager’s eye as the Reds visit South Africa and China.

Nick Powell has received plenty of coverage following his summer transfer from Crewe, whilst the likes of Ben Amos and Kiko Macheda should be known to most by now, so we’re going to focus on the names that will likely be a little less familiar. Introducing….

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