Beckham, Scholes, Butt NevilleIt was announced yesterday that Aaron Ramsey chose to sign for Arsenal over United, following weeks of us being tipped as the favourites to sign him. I addressed this issue yesterday, which brought about lots of interesting feedback from United and Arsenal fans alike.

The general conclusion seemed to be that Arsenal’s bid was more impressive, with Wenger flying the lad out to Switzerland, all expenses paid, to talk the manager in person. In contrast, United captain Gary Neville was the one to do the meet and greet for us. Arsenal certainly made a more impressive case for signing the player, which maybe suggests United weren’t as keen as the Gunners to get his signature.

In the case of Aaron Ramsey’s idol, Ryan Giggs, the manager showed up on his doorstep on his 14th birthday, asking him to sign for the club. This is a story Ramsey is probably more than aware of and maybe this showed the player that United weren’t as bothered about signing him.

However, a point I’d like to contest is that Arsenal is the club for nurturing young talent, in contrast to United, who haven’t done this successfully since the “kids” in 1995. Apparently, Fergie doesn’t compare to Wenger on this front…

Beckham, the Nevilles, Butt and Scholes have been a blessing and a curse for United’s name. We won everything with these players, beginning with the League title and FA Cup double in their first season as starting XI players.

When we won the European Cup in 1999, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and David Beckham were all 24-years-old, Becks celebrating his birthday just a couple of weeks before that magical night at the Nou Camp. Phil Neville was 22-years-old. On the bench were 19-year-olds Wes Brown and Jonathan Greening.

However, the negative side that comes with these players is that they set unattainable standards for our future youth team products. Since then, the likes of Wes Brown, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher have faced plenty of criticism, with them being compared to the great youth products of the 90s.

Truth be told, I’d be amazed if any team in this country, any time soon at least, repeats the achievement of bringing through so many talented young players at one time. The Treble is something no other English team has ever managed, but to win this with so many homegrown players is quite simply remarkable.

Since our legacy begun to take its shape under Sir Matt Busby, United have always placed importance on bringing through youth players.

Arsenal fans tend to throw in stats about how much our squads cost comparatively (although they might be interested to know our wage bill is surprisingly similar, with a difference of just £2 million in the 05-06 season) but that argument holds little weight with me. Money dominates football these days and if you’ve got it, you should spend it. Arsenal announce every season that Wenger has money to spend, yet it doesn’t get spent. Either the club are lying and Arsenal don’t have the money to spend, or Wenger is choosing not to.

With little money spent on transfers, but vast amounts spent on wages to secure these players, Wenger has created a good Arsenal side. They were top of the table for more weeks than any other team last season, they made it to the League Cup semi-finals, and European Cup quarter-finals. I am not knocking that achievement, but do believe that producing a good team, that almost wins things, isn’t good enough. Or at least, it shouldn’t be good enough for Arsenal. They are still, as Jose Mourinho would say, losers.

United have always mixed squad players with youth team products. In more recent years, we’ve had to buy more players to put in the starting XI, whilst our youth team products tend to warm the bench. That is undeniable. However, the players from our youth team have a place in our squad. There won’t be a game that passes where we don’t have at least a couple of youth team products involved.

25 players have represented United this season (not including the one Carling Cup game, where we embarrassingly got dumped out by Coventry, but where several of our current youth team players featured. To include this game would give an unfair representation of how much our youth team players contributed to this season), 9 of them have come from our youth team, 7 of them cost £7 million or less, and 9 of them were big money players.

If Wenger prefers to spend a little and bring in most of his players young, then that is his prerogative. It hasn’t worked yet, maybe it will work in the future. Ferguson, however, prefers to spend the money he has available to him, whilst still putting faith in the players who have come through the ranks, and bagging a few bargains (Patrice evra cost £5.5 million for example. Ramsey will cost Arsenal £5-6 million if reports are to be believed). The result of this last season was a Premiership and European Cup double. I don’t understand this view point that somehow United’s success should be belittled because we choose to spend money. “The signings Fergie made last season cost more than our entire team” is something I’ve heard a lot. So, what? Do Arsenal fans want a pat on the back because they spend less than United and win nothing?

If all United did was fork out £15+ million for all their players, I would understand the frustration. However, people seem to overlook just how many players who have come through our ranks feature. Darren Fletcher is no David Beckham, but a player of his ability would cost at the very least £5-7 million. Before Arsenal fans slate him, they should remember how he ran rings around Cesc Fabregas a couple of months ago, and the two goals he put past them, as well as his good performances in Europe.

Wes Brown played more games for United this season than any of our other players. In the 06-07 season, both Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea played in over 40 games. Ryan Giggs has played first team football for United for 17 years and Paul Scholes for 15 years. Are they past it? Well, that’s what we’ve been told for the past few years, ever since they got in to their 30’s. That argument was harder to make when Scholes scored the goal that put us in to the European Cup final this season, and Giggs scored the winning penalty in the final, as well as scoring a goal that felt like it had clinched the Premiership title against Wigan. Just because our youth team products aren’t the centre of our team anymore, it doesn’t mean they do not still play a crucial role.

So now we have address our youth products, it is now important to look at how Fergie incorporates and nurtures the young talent he buys. The most glaring example is Cristiano Ronaldo, which is overlooked every time somebody claims Fergie doesn’t turn potential in to brilliance. When he arrived at Old Trafford, he quickly picked up the nickname “one trick pony” by our rivals. Loads of stepovers, no end product. Yeh, he had bags of potential, just like any youngster Sir Alex or Wenger buys, but he was a long way off being World class.

Yet, in five years, Ronaldo has become the best player in the World. His former coach at Sporting said earlier this year that Ronaldo was unrecognisable to the teenager he once watched play. He has won every major trophy available to him in England, scoring in a League, FA and European Cup final. Last season, spending the majority of his time on the wing, scored 42 goals in 48 games. For the second year running, he has been named PFA and Footballer Writers Player of the Year. How people can claim Ferguson doesn’t nurture young talent amazes me.

Tevez, Rooney, Nani and Anderson are the foundation for the team in the distant future, who have an average age of just 21. Whilst Rooney’s merits have already been proven, in their first seasons, Tevez finished in the top 10 scorers in the league, Nani scored a couple of wondergoals (against Boro and Spurs), as well as finding the back of the net against Liverpool and Arsenal, whilst it is Anderson who has brought about the most excitement. Getting the better of Cesc Fabregas in their two meetings this season, Anderson has gone from strength to strength this season, featuring far more than we would have imagined. Fighting off competition against Scholes, Hargreaves and Carrick, Anderson has made a real impact on our team and fans, and it won’t be too far off before the Brazilian gets recognition on a European and World level too.

In the European Cup final against Chelsea, the average age of the outfield players who featured (Brown 28, Ferdinand 29, Vidic 26, Evra 27, Hargreaves 27, Scholes 33, Carrick 26, Ronaldo 23, Tevez 23, Rooney 22, Nani 21, Anderson 19 and Giggs 34) was just 26-years-old. Over half of them joined the club when they were teenagers.

The average age of the outfield United team that beat Dynamo Kiev 4-0 in the Champions League this season was just 22-years-old: Simpson (20), Vidic (26), Pique (20), Evra (26), Ronaldo (22), Carrick (26), Nani (21), Fletcher (23), Rooney (22), Tevez (23).

When Arsenal and United met at the Emirates earlier in the season, much fuss was made about Wenger’s “kids” getting a good result. A draw at home against us. However, there was less than a year difference in the average ages of the players.
Sagna (24), Toure (26), Gallas (30), Clichy (22), Eboue (24), Fabregas (20), Flamini (23), Rosicky (27), Hleb (26), Adebayor (23).
Average age: 24.5

Brown (28), Ferdinand (28), Vidic (26), Evra (26), Ronaldo (22), Anderson (19), Hargreaves (26), Giggs (33), Tevez (23), Rooney (22).
Average age: 25.3

United have more money to spend than Arsenal, no doubt, however, United spend this money on a mixture of youth and experience. Whilst Wenger can be applauded by his idealistic view of bringing in and nurturing predominantly young players, his three barren years at the club would suggest he’s got to bare the fruits of this decision sooner rather than later. Let’s not forget, since winning his first trophy in 1990, Fergie hasn’t gone longer than one season without winning something. It seems Wenger is afforded all the time in the World for this “project”.

Arsenal fans may be very happy with Wenger’s way of doing things, and if it proves to be a successful method, they will be even happier. However, United fans have little to complain about in regards to Ferguson’s approach of nurturing young talent, spending money when it’s there, and ensuring there is enough experience in the squad to cope with adversity.

Whatever reasons Ramsey had for picking Arsenal over United, to claim it was down to the fact Wenger is better at dealing with youth is pretty moronic. Wenger may have slightly more young players in the first team at Arsenal, but Ferguson still has plenty, and they all have a European Cup winners medal.