Amidst a gloomy economic outlook, loans of some sort or the other seem to be dominating the front pages of news. Loan news in the footballing world occupies tiny, three-inch column spaces in the middle pages, but appear to have proven far more fruitful. Last season saw the return of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley following successful loan spells in the premier league with Sunderland and Wigan Athletic.
Previous beneficiaries of the loan system have included stars such as Paul Scholes and notably David Beckham. With the yoke of ‘Glazeronomics’ unlikely to depart any time soon, it becomes all the more imperative for a club like United to reap returns on loanees which they can reinvest on the pitch or the market. So who are the ones likely to be farmed out for a season or two? And when they return, do they stand a chance of cutting it at United?
The reserve team captain tops this list. Over the last couple of years, Old Trafford has seen overseas talents, in Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique, hone their skills at the club, but eventually grow to world class players elsewhere. Paul Pogba could, and most likely will, follow them to achieve stardom away from Old Trafford. Is there a trend beginning to surface? If so, it must end here. Petrucci isn’t likely to make the cut immediately at OT. However a string of impressive performances for the reserves have convinced this writer that he could light up the theatre of dreams in the years to come, IF he sticks around long enough.
Possible destinations: As a technically sound player who has developed a physical side to his game in the past season, Petrucci shouldn’t have much difficulty in adapting to football either in England or abroad. There has been talk of a move as per O Jogo to Portuguese giants Benfica. The move would suit both parties perfectly as Benfica will in all likelihood mount a title challenge and certainly play Champions League football, adding invaluable big game, high pressure atmosphere experience to Petrucci’s Curriculum Vitae.
Final verdict: Petrucci like so many others is a hit and miss. He possesses great statistics at the reserve level (8 goals in 25 appearances for instance) but so did a certain Federico Macheda. What sets him apart however, is an absence of the tendency to play within oneself and make the simple square or back passes. Petrucci’s destiny will depend more on him as opposed to the club. If he’s willing to wait it out like Darren Fletcher who became a permanent fixture only at the ripe age of 24, Old Trafford may see this young man for a long time to come.
It’s fair to say that 2011-12 was not the best of seasons for the Da Silva twins. Fabio gets singled out on counts of both being unable to displace a below par Patrice Evra and a particularly insipid performance against Athletic Bilbao. There is undoubtedly plenty of talent. His emergence at the end of the 2010-11 season saw him start the Champions League final against Barcelona ahead of far more experienced team mates. Sir Alex clearly doesn’t fancy playing him week in week out and has already spoken of his desire to loan out the Brazilian. So this one seems done and dusted.
Possible destinations: Clubs ranging from Portuguese runners up Benfica to United old boy Mark Hughes’ have been linked with the left back. How an attacking fullback could fit into a premier league team possibly fighting for relegation remains a pertinent question. At the same time, an overly technical league such as the Dutch or Portuguese league wouldn’t really be ideal ground to improve defensive skills. So there is no one-size-fits-all solution as far as Fabio is concerned.
Final verdict: Fabio needs to stay fit and get as many games under his belt as possible. It was over six months ago that Fergie blamed the numerous injuries picked up by the Da Silva twins on their need to make “optimistic” challenges. Fans (myself included) would extend that logic to say that these “optimistic” challenges often lead to defensive errors. While most at United would desperately want to see Fabio succeed, it’s equally exasperating to see an “optimistic” (watch on from 1:10) challenge one too many time.
The English Contingent
Let me start this section by lamenting the departure of Matty James to Leicester City. Why do I do so? Read on. Post crashing out of a major tournament (yet again) playing some pretty drab football, it seems to have finally dawned on the Football Association, as well as the English public, that changes need to be made at the grassroots level. It’s only fair, Man United being a premier cog in the English wheel, that a critical analysis is undertaken of how young Englishmen are and should be nurtured by the club as they come into the Man United first team roster.
Over the past 5 years there have been no notable English players to have come through the OT youth system and gone on to become a mainstay in the first team (Cleverley and Welbeck are recent additions whom I have excluded). Several such players have gone on to forge modest careers with other premier league clubs – Kieran Richardson springs to mind as a fine example. After a barnstorming loan spell with West Brom which included almost singlehandedly dragging them away from the drop zone, Richardson returned to United where big things were expected of him. Unfortunately, he flattered to deceive like many others and eventually departed following the high profile arrival of Nani.
Almost two years ago, The Daily Express in an interview with Trevor Brooking made an astute observation arguing that potentially great English talent who have represented the national team at every youth level are today nowhere near the first teams of top premier league clubs. Richardson and Matty James are just two symptoms of a larger malaise in the United (and probably every other top club’s) youth system. James, who also enjoyed a successful loan stint at Preston, had represented England at EVERY level, even captaining the under – 20 side, yet now finds himself in the second tier of English football. Logic would dictate that he is one of the best young English players in the country.
Today the club can ill afford to replace a promising, talented Danny Welbeck with a finished article such as Falcao or Cavani. The solution, which we can see being increasingly employed, is to either buy young talents or Academy graduates. This in itself is not a bad solution. In fact I (like many other United fans) love nothing more than seeing Man United Youth come through Carrington and become a United great.
Why have I put you through all this? Well, to demonstrate the following; Firstly, young English players need game time at a young age; Secondly, probability (and I use the word probability with caution) dictates that they are not going to walk straight into the United line up; Thirdly, if they are playing first team football and hang around for long enough, there is a greater chance of success both at United and for football at large. How does one put all three together? The answer is a robust loan system. This system like many others isn’t perfect or even working at maximum potential at the moment. There needs to be several improvements effected such as extending a loan beyond a year etc. but it would guarantee both playing and biding time to hand a talented youngster hope of wearing the famous red.
The current crop of young English talent in United’s books looks promising. New signing Nick Powell is probably the best candidate for a carefully chosen loan spell. From the little I’ve seen and lots I’ve heard, the lad seems to have oodles of technical ability and an eye for the spectacular. David Jones (once of United) who spent time at both NEC Nijmegen as well as Preston North End, offered an insight on the contrasting playing styles of the leagues. In Jones’ experience, football in Holland allowed you take several touches on the ball and gain a nuanced tactical understanding as opposed to the fast paced, kick and run style of the Championship. Powell, if he is the player I have described, should most definitely look to go abroad, away from the bright lights of Old Trafford to fine tune his technical skills, which is increasingly becoming a rarity for the English.
Will Keane, whom Sir Alex recently said was a certainty for next year’s first team squad, instead finds himself injured. Attention will now turn to his brother and a giant of a performer for the reserve squad, Michael Keane. As an out and out defender, it will probably be of great benefit to acquire Championship experience against seasoned, old fashioned, English center forwards who adopt a physical approach to the game. Ben Amos, if the reds can find another third choice keeper, would also benefit from the rigors of first team football. Jesse Lingard and Larnell Cole wereamong various others I was planning to cover in this article. However like always, while in the middle of writing I had a sudden urge to do a quick run through of various soccer websites which I do every fifteen minutes. What lies in wait? The club’s official website headline screams this time that it is young Northern Irishman Oliver Norwood who has decided to join Huddersfield Town citing the need to “settle down” and realism as factors in his decision. Ah the irony of football!