Author: Herzogs Child
The names of United’s gaggle of purported stars roll easily off the tongue. Their entry into the lexicon of supporter’s chatter speaks as much of a desperation to improve our current set up as it does their already established talents. You’ll know of them by now, I’m sure: bomber Tunnicliffe, or Ryan, as his actual name goes; the beastly Paul Pogba, often wrongly tagged as a young Patrick Vieira; and the gem with the fading twinkle, a certain Mr. Ravel Morrison. Similarly, you’ll also know precisely why their names are being mooted with such eagerness: because, despite last year’s title triumph, and some shrewd summer spending, we’re slack.
That’s not to say their propped names hold no merit; anything but, in fact, as their enrapturing displays as a mouth-watering triumvirate showed last year. But deep within the ever glowing eulogies – the proposals that now, if ever, is the time -, lies elements of doubt over our fading midfield. The idealistic, some will say moronic, are caterwauling our young guns’ names as solutions to questions that have been asked too many times to ever remember. The odd fact that most, going on the general consensus of many, have failed to bear witness to the players they espouse as the bringers of good tells its own damning tale: we’re beginning to clutch at straws, because, where the midfield area is concerned, it appears that’s all we can do now.
Paul Pogba, we are informed, is a finished product who can be entrusted to boss our midfield now. Ryan Tunnicliffe, when his Peterborough stint ceases, will be the combative figure our feeble middle is so nakedly lacking. Ravel, oh Ravel, is the messiah to which we will turn. The incessant mutterings, all issuing the same sentiments, are regurgitated regularly – spat out in the perceived hope that if it’s said often enough, it’s all bound to come true. It’s a folly, as any ardent observer of United’s youth will testify. The truth outs itself in differing guises, no more so than the regular watching of those being spoken of. Paul Pogba is a potentially great player, whose sense of positioning and discipline of the basics are still immature. Ryan Tunnicliffe is lauded for the manner in which he approaches a game, all heart and boots, but is currently a considerable distance from fine-tuning the attributes needed to play at United. Morrison, perhaps the one whose hype is most justified, is a cause lost more often than found. It is with bewilderment, then, that the name of one player escapes all of this: Larnell Cole.
Those who indulged themselves in a little talent-spotting last year during the Youth Cup final rounds will, if not instantly know him by name, recognise the attributes he brought with him then. It was his quick shimmy and run, ending with a deathly precise cross that set up United’s equaliser – Morrison sliding the ball in from six yards out, after Cole himself had stepped up and coolly slotted in United’s first from the penalty spot. A typically crushing United comeback was later achieved late on, Morrison firing in a bicycle kick from Cole’s corner. While Ravel garnered the plaudits for a mesmeric double, it was Cole’s continuously assured play on the right wing that signified United’s quality throughout. Such a performance came as little surprise to consistent viewers of the academy, of course; particularly in the last 12 months, Cole’s rise to prominence has been a joyful elevation.
Small in stature, yet possessing a niftiness unseen in most established players’ lockers, the diminutive Cole’s progression is a classic example of the rapidity with which one can progress at that level in a short time. There is a quietness to Cole; a feeling of working vigorously and getting on with it is apparent in the style with which he plays, always demanding the ball, and rarely losing it. Ongoing concerns over the winger’s size, he’s little over 5”5, are merited, but there is an aggression there, a willingness to, as Stuart Pearce might say, get stuck in, to his game, also. He is a user of the ball, all quick footing and precision passing, and retains it solidly. There are goals, too, stored heavily within his bustling armament, as displayed only too often last season.
Larnell does not, sadly, appear in the same deluge of Pogba, or Morrison, videos up on Youtube, but some kindred spirit, possibly another quiet enthusiast, has a brief one of him. In the 5 and a half minute snapshot, you won’t learn much, but it’s worth it for Cole’s goal on its own; there is a quick run, a now trademark shift of the ball, and the finish of a thousand goal striker. What’s more is that, far from it be being a rarefied moment, it’s becoming a frequent occurrence that will have triggered not only McGuiness’ pulse, but also Ferguson’s. Other hair-raisers had already preceded it; an outstanding hat-trick gunned down a severely lanced City side, who, with the help of Cole’s class, and a superior United, went down 6-1.
While drool gathered and spilled for the triumvirate’s collective class, it was Cole who was arguably United’s best, if not most consistent, performer on the youth circuit last season. In his tightly-packed attribute cannon, there is a fervency to his game, an already assured and mature style rarely harboured by players of such a young age with so little experience. Cole is one of a growing litany of young reds whose style is shaped not in the classical oomph and at ‘em that has stagnated England’s national side, but the close-control, measured style of Spain, or the newly pleasurable, easy on the eye, German national side.
More emphasis than ever has been emplaced upon stylising United’s youth set-up on flair, on maximising natural talent. It is a trait rooted within a plethora of United’s up-and-comers; in the aforementioned Morrison whose natural ability not only supersedes that of most young players, but most established players, also; in the minute, but terribly gifted, Mats Daehli – snared from Norway, where he’s been lauded as the finest talent to have ever emerged from Scandinavian shores; in Jack Barmby, son of Nicky, a left-sided, ferociously footed winger with a keen eye for the back of the net; and in the already irrepressible Paul Pogba and Will Keane, young in age but men with the ball at their feet. A shift has occurred, the potential benefits of which may, with hard work, be exquisite. But each is still a lengthy way away from the first-team yet; which is why hope should be always accompanied by a heavy dosage of perspective.
Readers will, I’m left in little doubt, be questioning on calls for perspective when the championing of a young, potential star, is occurring at the same time. Yet, the explaining of Cole’s talent, and the relative downplaying of a host of others, is not, I stress, an act of hypocrisy; it is merely a showcasing of how, when driven hopes exceed realism, the true nature of things can be skewed. Cole, in the same vein as Morrison, Pogba, and Tunnicliffe, is a considerable distance, if not further due to physicality, away from United’s first eleven. Yet, if right was right – of course, it rarely is! – Cole’s contribution to the cause would, in essence, ensure his name would be hollered by those seeking desperately to amend what’s blatantly broken in United’s first-team squad.
A yearning for an immediate influx of youth tells three differing tales. Firstly, it comes as little surprise that their names are being billowed louder now than ever before: because we have failed to sign a midfielder and time is quickly running out. Secondly, it’s a reversion to the romanticism of entrusting your own and ignoring those outside of United’s circles. Finally, it’s a giddiness borne out of innumerable glowing reviews from reserve and youth level. All three intertwine and offer up much the same results.
An overbearing pressure should not be placed upon them solely because United, for whichever reason they choose to peddle, again failed to repair its ripped seams. Those calling for in-house promotion citing the class of ’92 hold merit, but for me fall a little short. There was a more honed, mature presence in those that stepped up then. The giddiness has sprung from those reading and warping the views of serial youth-level match-goers. At the heart of it, there’s a failure to recognise the enormity of hopping from reserve/youth level to the first team squad. Pushes for Morrison, despite his off-field misdemeanours, are naive.
He has failed to partake in more than half of his peers’ pre-season outings, and for now is undeserving of a first-team berth. Paul Pogba, now the most likely to have a scattering of chances, is still fine-tuning his craft and can’t, and won’t, be heavily trusted for some time. Tunnicliffe’s rise may well be dependent of how his Peterborough stint fares. Ferguson, as shown with the respective loan outings for Cleverley and Welbeck, tends to now prolong rather than plunge. As a result of their jaunts down into the lower reaches of the league, both performed admirably and have returned all the better for it. They are more able now, and equipped to deal with the vast rigors of the league, a league too often too hectic for youngsters to be thrown into the deepest of ends. It is patience, above all else, that is key with young talent.
Meanwhile, Cole, you would imagine, will continue to work relentlessly as he has been doing for the past 12 months. Like the triumvirate’s emergence before him, Cole can be expected to climb another rung to the more physical reserve side. It came as little surprise that in recent reserve outings, most notably against Arsenal last Monday, he was stationed at right-back. Such a positioning for one so physically unsuited to the role may at first appear odd, but it was perhaps precisely why he was flung there: to not only unspool his defensive side, but also prop him up physically.
For someone new to the role, his performance was reasonably fine; overrun a time or two, and drawn in for Arsenal’s opener, he grafted eagerly nonetheless, completing the basics well and supporting Paul Pogba in front of him. Like a wide range of players at that level, Cole is capable of adapting to a team’s needs. Perched wide to accommodate others, it is in the middle, one gets the impression, where his true calling will lay. His style of play, like many who are small in stature, is punctuated by a low sense of gravity, using the ball quickly and neatly in tight spaces to full effect. Unlike others, his game is not polluted by cockiness, or an over-eagerness to impress: Cole uses his skills to untangle himself from tight positions, and knows when to lay it off and when not and hold it.
The only thing, one can gather, that could potentially impinge upon his route to success may be the drawback that has held back a phalanx of others: his size. Febian Brandy, the distant wunderkind and immensely talented ex-red, was unhinged by failing to grow much after 15. After a brief stint at lowly Notts County, he is currently displaced from the game. But for every Brandy, there’s a, well, dare I say it, Xavi and Iniesta, and those types of guys. Physical presence is a more than valuable support to have on your side, but a lack of it can be made up for in mobility, grit and ability. It is one reason why so many loan moves come to fruition – to see if a kid is not only capable of performing well, but coping well whilst up against seasoned men.
If Cole, or Morrison, or Daehli, are to succeed at the most consuming of levels, each will need to contend with and defeat the downfalls of being light in frame. But they have been, and will continue to be, well schooled in the art of evasion; after all, whilst supreme talent is certainly not enough, in most cases it is perfectly suited to wriggling away from lumbering despots. Size will in many cases only be prohibitive to those unable to compensate their lack of it by being strong elsewhere. With the aforementioned three, you’d expect that there’s enough talent there, enough grit, to get by; but only time ultimately tells.
There should be a line between seeking immediate patch-work and calling relentlessly on those lower down to plug ever gaping holes. Not only is it fundamentally unrealistic, it’s also unfair on those still delicately making strides as they grow up. As is desperately clear by now, United’s midfield is little more than decent, a damning reality for a side purported to be one of the finest in Europe. Some will deem Ferguson’s failure to secure a midfielder as disheartening; others, noting how it’s merely a continuation of past summer failures, will condemn it as negligent and move on with expounded sighing. The middle squadron speaks for itself.
Carrick, often unfairly derided, lacks not football ability, but a personality to inflict himself upon a game when things are going tits-up. Anderson, on the other hand, has tits and needs to shed them and a bucket-load of other annoyances to fulfil a dwindling potential. Tom Cleverley has begun his United career admirably, but his progression would be more steadied if he was surrounded by a player who could help boss a match – something we lack. Doubts will persist over Fletcher, and Giggs, in probably his last season, will play less often. For United to progress like they should, and not be left behind by Barcelona and Real Madrid and be caught up by, gulp, Manchester City, they need to buy and buy finely.
The eternal 3 bandied about – I am not mentioning them ever again – emits a hopelessness that became tedious within days. There is a solid scouting network in place; if all hope rests with one target, and all other avenues have been left unexplored, something is wrong. The progression of a fine set of youth players should be a gradual process, not a pluck and place scatter-gun routine. The talent is there, certainly, and isn’t a light year away from imposing itself, but it should be introduced into a team that is already strong on all fronts. We currently are not, as exemplified by a deluge of pitiful away performances last season. No excuses can hide this. When it comes to signing an established player, or going with youth, it should not have to be either or. They should criss-cross one another, ensuring United’s immediate future is secured with long-term hope. To traverse another season with the same old problems is a tiring game, and would speak of illimitable lessons unlearned. For many, another summer going by without having a top class central midfielder is bewildering. For others, it’s now expected. Thankfully, little time remains in this odious spell where a slew of lies are peddled, and column inches pack the papers with sensational swoops and downright falsities. If United sign a midfielder, all well and good; yet somehow that possibility appears to be drifting.
Meanwhile, life will go on, as it does. The inescapable drama ahead will ensure our hearts will plunge to the floor and ascend to the heavens in equal measure. Why wouldn’t they? It would be amiss of me to not proffer this one smidgen of advice, mind: if you don’t already, strive to designate an amount of your time to watching those wearing the red at reserve and academy level. Last season in particular, it not only showcased a collection of players that inspired mass hope, but it also offered a welcomed retreat from the disappointment of many of the first team’s games and the brouhaha that came with them.
There’s a refreshing side to watching our kids. Spared the limelight and intrusion of fame for now, the players are generally well-disciplined and rarely enact the cringe-inducing antics of those who have ‘made it.’ Place an observant eye on young Larnell Cole, the quiet practitioner of everything that is good in the game. This oncoming campaign will be a stern test for Cole; if he glides through it with the same aplomb of last year, his name will rightly – as it already should – be lined up alongside those who are untested yet relatively well known. It is with a wry smile that, just now, I’ve learned of his inclusion in the latest England u-19 side.
With his flair, the ability to find space and manipulation of the ball, they’ll no doubt be checking his birth-cert to ensure he’s eligible to play for them. It may, of course, not work out and if history shows anything, that possibility is certainly more likely than any other. Who knows? For now, what’s certain is that he’ll eagerly work at it, as will a host of others. Luck may come into it, it may not. The point is that he has a chance: like the rest. So, devote some time to watching him, and the rest of United’s young battalion. See for yourself. In their play and absolute devotion dedicated towards making it, there’s an immense joy to be had witnessing all of it. Give him, give them, time to adjust themselves for the largest leap yet.