Sir Alex and his Longevity

Over the past 26 years many superlatives have been used to describe Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides, full of talent and skill, the likes of which we have been lucky to witness. We’ve seen a stunning array of stars, from those in the spotlight – Cantona, Beckham, Ronaldo – to those who sit back and do their job, the Nevilles, Scholes’ and Carricks of this world. However, beyond their skill and ability, Manchester United’s main quality under Sir Alex Ferguson is longevity.

Following last year’s crazy end to the season, Ferguson joked about the Racing Post’s claim that he needed 8 new players: “Where do you even get 8 players?!”. However this refusal to succumb to the trend of wild transfer activity has worked in the past, and will continue to do so. Whenever it seems the club is in dire need of a player, the Scot always seems to find one from within. In recent times the midfield has been called into question. Tom Cleverley was introduced to the side and it has looked stronger, along with the recognition of Michael Carrick’s great influence on the game. Cries for a stronger right-back to follow Gary Neville were not answered by Ferguson, who instead persevered with Rafael da Silva. It has now paid off, with the young Brazilian’s fine form this year leading many to name him as the Premier League’s best right-back this season. Many called for a replacement for Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, and while Ferguson did buy young talents Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, it is academy product Johnny Evans who has emerged as United’s starting centre-back.

It seems this will continue to happen next season. While many United fans have demanded the acquisition of a strong, commanding centre midfield player, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Phil Jones grow into that role in the near future.  It is similar to the signing of Roy Keane from Nottingham Forest, when the majority claimed he was better in the heart of defence. Sir Alex moved him into midfield and the rest is history.

If we look at United’s team this year, who have all but secured the Premier League title, we can see that amongst the experienced hands there are many young faces. Youngsters such as De Gea (22), Rafael (22), Cleverley (23), Jones (21), and Welbeck (22), have all established themselves as important first team squad members, with players such as Chris Smalling possessing great potential. The recently acquired Wilfried Zaha, labelled the most exciting English talent currently around, is only 20, and should have a long career at the Red Devils. It is this young spirit of the team that allows United to stay at the top for a prolonged period of time.

United also have exciting talents out on loan, such as Angelo Henriquez, and a strong under-21 team boasting starlets Mats Daelhi and Adam Januzaj. Ferguson, should health allow him, will stay to nurture these young talents to the top of their game, like he has done with so many others in the past. Just like United’s treble winning 1999 team contained lots of academy players, United’s future team could too. 14 years ago it was the Nevilles, Giggs, Scholes, Butt and Beckham. At the moment we see Evans, Cleverley, Welbeck and some would claim Rafael (who has been at the club since age 16) fill those boots.

This unending stream of talent allows Ferguson to blend youth and experience, not only winning trophies but nurturing young players in the process. No other club can boast to having a better academy then United. A report this year revealed that United have had at least one player from the youth system in their first team squad for each game since 1937 – over 3,600 matches. This is an incredible statistic.

Ferguson’s record with young players is second to none, and when he eventually decides to retire it will be interesting to see if anybody can replicate his skill in that regard: his ability to coach youngsters. Until then, however, we can expect the steady stream of talent to continue passing through United’s youth academy, into the first team, and onto many trophies to come.

Will Robinson

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