Manchester United’s Old Trafford Is No Longer the Dream Destination for Young Talent
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.
With interest growing from other European clubs, Pogba began to see a life outside of United. Add to this a growing dislike between Ferguson and Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, and the end result was a poor one for the club. United attempted to extend the player’s stay, but he ultimately chose to join Italian giant Juventus on a four-year contract.
In Pogba’s inaugural season, Juventus went on to win Serie A and progress to the Champions League quarterfinals where they lost to Bayern Munchen.
It was recently revealed that Manchester United made a late offer to Tottenham Hotspur of £100m ($160.8m) for Gareth Bale. But the player ultimately decided to join Real Madrid for £86m ($138m). “I wanted to come here whether it was for a penny or whatever it cost,” Bale said upon his arrival.
A few years ago (according to reports), two talented midfielders were targeted for arrival at The Theatre of Dreams: Lucas Moura and Eden Hazard.
PSG came in with a bid of £38m ($61m) for Moura and snatched him away. The player later confessed: “It wasn’t an easy decision but in the end I joined PSG, largely because they allowed me to stay in Brazil until the end of the year.” He finished off by saying, “And PSG’s terms were better.”
Hazard had his decision down to Chelsea and United. Chelsea eventually signed the player for £34m ($54.7m). Hazard explained his decision this way: “I’ve always said I wanted to play in England. There was a struggle between Chelsea and United, but according to me Chelsea has the best project.”
Pogba, Moura, and Hazard were players who United failed to sign while under the direction of Ferguson and David Gill. Now the task of signing players in a transfer market that has gone crazy falls in the hands of David Moyes and United’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward. What makes people at Manchester United feel that they will have more success under the current leadership?
If their first transfer window is any indication, the trend of United failing to sign competitive young players is continuing.
This year, with Manchester United needing to strengthen their midfield (and defense), they were only able to bring in Marouane Fellaini from Everton. But players such as: Gareth Bale, Mesut Ozil, Fernandinho, Paulinho, Jesus Navas and Christian Eriksen all signed for United’s European competitors.
While it’s safe to say that United didn’t “lose out” on all of these players, it would be hard to imagine that the club didn’t bid for some of them (if they didn’t, there’s a bigger problem at Old Trafford). So that means players are choosing not to come to United.
How does United stop this trend? There’s no straight answer.
David Moyes is a good manager. But he is unknown to most players outside of England. And the majority of talented players come from other parts of the world. Ed Woodward has little to no experience in the transfer window. So in all probability, United have to stop talking about spending…and spend.
Their newest test is going to be the contract extension of Adnan Januzaj. The player has been at United since 2011, so he has first-hand knowledge of the club’s size, history, and its direction. According to his agent, Januzaj already has interest from Juventus, Real Madrid, and Bayern München.
If Manchester United dispense with their recent practices and throw a huge contract at a young player, and that player (Adnan Januzaj) turns it down, the club’s image will take a huge hit. If they don’t throw big money at Januzaj and end up losing him to another European power, their public perception will take an even greater one.
The list of young players turning their back on United for other clubs and/or bigger money would increase by another name. This is a trend that they need to stop. Or their officials won’t be able to keep making the claim that, “Every young boy wants to play at Manchester United.”