Promoting youth is so integral to Manchester United’s philosophy that their attempt to replicate past glories by simply buying talent is not going to work.
Contrary to everything the Red Devils have ever done, the Old Trafford club has haemorrhaged cash on three coaches and countless signings over the last three seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, with just one FA Cup and a Charity Shield to show for it.
Their start to this fourth season post-Fergie shows no sign of change. Jose Mourinho has now lost his last three games in charge. Defeats to Manchester City and Watford leave them seventh in the Premier League on nine points from the first five games of the season. While an opening defeat to Feyenoord leaves them bottom of their Europa League group. That is despite having spent £163 million (Dh781 million), second only to Man City, this summer.
A whopping £109 million of that went on buying Paul Pogba back from Juventus alone; a player that had already belonged to United just four years ago before Fergie allowed him to run down his contract and join the Serie A giants on a free transfer in July 2012.
Everything in the clubs history points to growing their own talent; be it the time Sir Matt Busby rebuilt the side following the 1958 Munich Air Disaster using youth to win the European Cup for the first time 10 years later. Or when Ferguson and his Class of ’92 replicated that following the club’s 1980s decline, to bounce back with two Champions League titles in 1999 and 2008 in a 20-year reign of dominance.
Obviously, the above takes time however, and it wasn’t achieved in one summer with the splashing of transfer funds. Local players, with the knowledge of what it means to come from Manchester and play for the club, matured together over many years before becoming the backbone to which foreign stars were added.
United may not have that now, but it is not as though they’ve stopped producing their own talent. Last season alone 58 former United academy players were playing in the Championship or below. If even a few of them had been kept together and given a chance to feature in the first team at the expense of big name foreigners the story might have different.
Expecting Mourinho to come in and turn things around inside a few games, when the groundwork for success should have been planted before Ferguson left, is foolhardy. The Portuguese didn’t exactly help temper expectations when he came in and said he wanted to equal Ferguson’s achievements.
But all associated with the club should know more than anyone that it takes years to build success, and even if you do get lucky with a few big buys it’s not sustainable.
United must now rebuild with humility and admit that what they are trying to achieve takes time. Other clubs may have bought success but they’ve done so with better acquisitions over more than just one transfer window. And Mourinho needs a few more transfer windows to readdress the wrongs of his predecessors, while dipping heavily into his youth and reserve sides to make use of what’s already there.