Saturday 20th February, and Marcus Rashford is on the left-wing in his second start for the under-21 side of the season, he had not made his first-team debut yet. United lost 1-0 to City that day in a near-empty Etihad Stadium. A month on and Rashford finds himself in similar surroundings but this time applauding the away end with home fans streaming out and Sky Sports cameras being rammed in his face following a brilliant display which saw him humiliate City’s defence and claim the winning goal in the Derby.
With City’s £200 million Academy Headquarters a mere footbridge across Alan Turing Way from Sunday’s events, you have to question the reports of how United are supposedly being left in the dark by City’s and other clubs’ investments. Jacqui Oatley tweeted after the game “Rashford was in MUFC side thumped 5-1 by CFC in FA Youth Cup in Jan. Yet none of those Chelsea players (champions) has played in 1st team.” Which wound up a lot of envious Chelsea fans, however there is a point. These teams throw money at their academies but what are they getting in return, talented first-team regulars? Or just good PR? With such a small and injury prone squad in the first team at United, we are reaping the rewards of our youth system this season.
Many of the papers on Monday morning went with the ‘Youth 1 Nouveau Riche 0’ narrative and rightly so, Rashford proved that you can invest over £1billion into a football club, extend your stadium, throw £50million at England’s ‘next best thing’ or even charter buses back to Stockport for your fans. But there’s always a chance that a spirited lad from Wythenshawe could come and humble you in your own back-yard. Sunday’s celebrations were elevated by the fact one of our own players had got the goal, epitomising the identity of Manchester United Football Club. His explosion into the team, as well as other fresh young faces performing well has lifted the support and provided us with hope as well as expectations for the future.
You’ve probably seen a lot of hair on your timeline recently, with United reportedly signing 16 year-old Feyernoord youngster, Tahith Chong. Honestly I have not seen him play and I’m sure everyone has seen some YouTube highlights. He looks a fast and direct left-winger and had been playing for United at a younger level before now. However what I do know is Feyernoord, like most Dutch clubs, have a strong pedigree for talent; having produced players such as Robin Van Persie, Georginio Wijnaldum, Leroy Fer and Jordy Clasie to name a few. Hopefully he is more than just a haircut and can emulate the success of previous Dutch players at United.
There have been reports this week coming from the FA Headquarters of a restructuring of the under-21 league. It would involve up to 16 Premier League under-21 sides inclusion in the Football League Trophy otherwise know as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Before now there have been plans to introduce Premier League B teams similar to Spain’s system. However this went down very badly with supporters of lower league clubs opposing it and Premier League supporters not really phased by it.
Although I agree the current under-21 format does need restructuring, despite this proposal offering more competitive football and higher levels of youth football exposure, I feel it is too much of an infringement on the lower league clubs including the fan culture. Could you imagine United under-21s playing Walsall in the final at Wembley? The FA have revealed Premier League clubs would have to pay compensation to lower league sides if they were to deny them the opportunity to get to Wembley, but is that enough?
It would be interesting to see how under-21 sides fare against League 1 and League 2 opposition, however it is too interrupting to lower league sides, you only have to look at the excitement around Ashley Fletcher’s current club Barnsley, who are playing Oxford United in this seasons JPT Final, it would be wrong to take that away from them. The loan system would also prove to be problematic with many under-21 players currently in the lower divisions.
One of those players in the lower divisions is Kieran O’Hara who, after a slow start to his loan at Morecambe, seized his chance with both hands at the weekend. When regular keeper Barry Roche was sent off in the 14th minute at Leyton Orient, O’Hara came of the bench making his first appearance in over a month for the Shrimps. His first job was to face a penalty, which he brilliantly saved, he went on to have a storming game however Morecambe lost 1-0 due to an unfortunate own goal. This is the chance he needed to get some game-time and hopefully he can show the Lancashire side what he can do. Ashley Fletcher and James Wilson both played 75 minutes where as Nick Powell and Tyler Blackett did not feature at all.
— United Youth (@United_U21) March 22, 2016
Currently Sunderland sit 4 points ahead of United however they only have 2 games remaining whereas United have 5. There is an International break next week so the under-21 side resume on the 4th of April against Chelsea, kick off 7pm at Old Trafford.