Tunnicliffe3I often get asked on Twitter, why such and such a Reserve or Youth player isn’t playing for the first team as they are playing well at the level they play at.

My answer to virtually all the questions is that the player in question is simply not good enough to be involved in the first team.

Names that spring to mind over recent seasons include Magnus Eikrem, David Petrucci, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Matty James and several others. I try to explain the enormous difference between Reserve and First team football and the deficiencies of the player in question.

Take the example of Magnus Wolf Eikrem. I was getting swamped with Twitter followers demanding he be in the first team and I told every one of them that he would never make the grade at United. Just because he was man of the match in several Reserve games, it counts for nothing when it comes to getting the ultimate promotion to the first team squad.

Eikrem was a decent player who is now doing well in his native Norway but, for me, he wouldn’t make the step up because he lacked consistency, he drifted in and out of games, he was too easily knocked off the ball and several other reasons. These reasons led to his release from United that surprised many but it was what I expected and wrote about it often.

Most people are forced to watch Reserve and Youth games either via MUTV or streams on their computers. I’m lucky in that I’ve been in a position that means I’ve been able to watch live the Reserves since the mid ‘80s and the Youth team since about 1990. This has the benefit that I can watch the whole pitch, not just where a camera is pointing so am able to watch players off the ball, their movement, do they talk to team mates, do they follow the instructions shouted at them from the bench, do they make runs to make space for a team mate or are they happy to sit back and watch others put in the work? This makes it so much easier to judge a player than for those not lucky enough to be able to attend. It’s not that I have a great eye for a player, simply that I get to see them for the full 90 minutes rather than only when they are on the ball.

Ryan Tunnicliffe was mentioned a hell of a lot last season as his Roy Keane like performances for the Reserves caught the eye of many United fans. After every game he played well in, I would get more questions as to why he was being overlooked. My view on Tunnicliffe is that his game is based on power and bursts of speed when on the ball. It’s also my opinion that his power will be easily matched by the giants that populate the Premier League and his pace wouldn’t be enough to get him picked regularly. As his loan spells haven’t exactly been brilliant, it seems that indeed that has proved to be the case.

Players need to be exceptional talents to get in the squad in front of players brought in from all corners of the world, players like Januzaj who has stood out since the very first game I saw him in about three seasons ago. Quite simply, the boy is a brilliant talent who could save United a fortune in the transfer market in years to come, assuming we can keep hold of him!
I suppose the bottom line is that is a world of difference between a very good Reserve player and even an average first team player and very few will ever make that giant step up.