After Manchester United wrapped up a nervy three points against the Premier League’s bottom club on Saturday, many people were quick to praise the display of 18-year-old, Adnan Januzaj. The young Belgian showed a rare combination of skill and poise for a player with such a limited résumé.
Januzaj will be out of contract with United at the end of the season. Following the match, the question was raised to Manchester United manager David Moyes about the prospect of securing Januzaj on a long term contract. Moyes replied: “”I am not too worried about that. I think every young boy wants to play at Manchester United, I have always thought that.”
But is that true? Do talented young players still dream about walking out on the pitch at Old Trafford with the trumpets blaring in front of 70,000 supporters? Or are they attracted to other European clubs and/or the allure of big money contracts?
In recent years, Manchester United has been unable to secure some of the more “big name” young talent. Last January, United were able to purchase Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace, a player who was closely watched by Arsenal. Although the player has shown a tremendous amount of potential, it was never thought that Zaha would be able to step right into United’s first team squad (as of this moment, it looks as if Zaha will be loaned out this coming January).
Players such as: Gareth Bale, Lucas Moura, Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba were all players who were linked with Manchester United over the past few years. But all four signed for different European clubs. The surprising thing is that most of these failed signings happened during a time when Manchester United was being managed by the legendary, Sir Alex Ferguson.
For the better half of Ferguson’s tenure, United had no issues signing young talent. Sir Alex had the charisma, reputation and record of success that made players want to sign for him, while former Manchester United chief executive David Gill had the contacts, credibility and clout that enabled him secure the manager’s transfer needs. Ferguson and Gill always had a clear vision of the club’s transfer strategy and they did their business early in the window. United had money to compete with most European clubs. There weren’t many obstacles for them, so they didn’t shy away from overpaying for players when they saw fit.
But the European market has changed. Manchester City, PSG, Monaco, and Chelsea are all backed by billionaire owners. Bayern München, Real Madrid, and Barcelona are huge clubs with history and money to spend in the market.
Before his retirement, Sir Alex spoke of the changes in the transfer market: “Players are being offered stupid money, the type of sums that are hard to turn down. We [United] can make a player a very good offer, but unless he wants to come to United for football reasons he is not going to say no to stupid money from somewhere else.”
United have recently had young talent within the club. Paul Pogba was a sure-fire first team player. The attacking midfielder was the star of United’s youth academy and reserve squad. But he didn’t see regular time on the first team. He spent three years at Old Trafford and only made seven appearances.