Danny Welbeck is a product of the Manchester United youth system, arguably the best in England.
Follow Doron on Twitter
Watching a team made up of locally produced players and/or those who’ve come through the Academy after joining as a teenager is a joy and a privilege. Too often these days, fans of the top teams in England and abroad are denied such a pleasure for various reasons. Balancing the expectations and need to achieve today with building for the future and player production is hard to get right. So hard, that some clubs can be accused of not caring about the latter. Fortunately at United, and under Alex Ferguson, that is not the case.
This short post is inspired by a recent discussion on Red Issue’s Sanctuary forum. Welbeck, a player who seems to be splitting fans, was staunchly defended on there, particularly by those who remember United pre-Ferguson and know only too well that the impatience of the modern football fan is often proven premature.
United are a club with a special connection to ‘youth’. It doesn’t need me to remind people of Matt Busby’s great sides, and the importance he placed on ensuring that the core of the club was made up of young talented people from the local area. Although not the most successful of periods, youth remained key to United sides after Busby and up until the start of Fergie’s reign. Like Busby, Ferguson will be remembered for, on the most part, winning with youth and with style.
As a club that’s churned out players for its first team more than any other in England, it’s remarkable that the culture of ‘now’ seems to be creeping into United’s fanbase. Sure, at a time when the league’s so competitive and small errors can be so costly there’s bound to be some impatience, but with our own? No. Never.
In an ideal world, every player that turns out for United would be from Manchester, a fan, and have come through the Academy. Having accepted that won’t be the case, fans have in the past given their full backing to any player who attempts to bridge that gap between Academy and first team until the time comes when club and player part ways. It’s a credit to United of course that so many of those who don’t make it are playing in the top two tiers of English football.
We all have our opinions about player’s strengths and weaknesses, who might make it and who won’t; but when a local, home-produced lad takes to the pitch he should come with a pass, a ‘get out of jail free’ card if you like. If he makes an error we say he’ll learn and not make it next time. If he does well then we want to see more of him. But if there’s one thing that we shouldn’t do, it’s get on his back. Evans and Fletcher are two recent examples of just how wrong the boo-boys can be. It’s our duty to protect our own and find positives where others find faults. That’s not to say we should have blind faith but we should be the last group of football fans to be unnecessarily critical of our own.
Coming full circle to Welbeck… this is a forward who’s seldom played through the middle as a striker this season and had to perform a job for the sake of the team out wide. The main criticism aimed at him is that his final contribution to a move, be it a pass or a shot, is not up to scratch. That’s fair and it’s the one area that you’d say he really has to work on but that aside there’s much to be happy about.
His contribution in the last few games has been superb – playing a key part in important goals. He’s often at the heart of United’s best moves and as others drop deeper late in the game, he’s the one who’s happy to take the ball and run with it, stretching United back up the field. Not every striker is prolific and Danny may not ever be a 20 goals a season player but given how he’s often used – as a foil for others – that may not be too important as his contribution can be measured in other ways. He certainly seems to be bringing out the best out of those around him as he can take part in the quick technical interchanges of play that the likes of Carrick, Cleverley and Kagawa relish.
With 88 appearances for the club, it’s perfectly feasible that Danny could reach a century this season whilst still just 22 years old. An impressive feat, particularly given the array of striking talent that the club have had since he first broke through. At such a young age, few players are ‘complete’ – Danny only needs to look at the likes of Henry and van Persie to realise that they were also not world-beaters at the same age. He may not turn out to be like them at all but players develop at different ages and despite more and more wonderkids appearing, there’s no harm in developing that bit later.
Hopefully many United fans share the same outlook on our youngsters as myself – I’d rather see them given time and come good than binned and replaced by a big money signing. Keeping ‘our own’ within the squad is crucial so that those who are signed are aware of what they’re a part of. For the fans, there’s no greater source of pride than seeing someone who relates to us, come through the levels and play successfully for the club, however long it takes. This is always how United have done youth and hopefully will continue to do so. Just because other clubs and their nu-football fans want immediate success every year and don’t mind fielding teams of predominantly foreign signings, it doesn’t mean we have to go down that route too – the criticism some of our youngsters get and the demand for the immediate sales is getting ridiculous.