Manchester United have always put a great deal of emphasis on producing talent from the youth team. Whilst more recently, we’ve seen far more profit on these players than we’ve seen talent emerging in to the first team, there is a current crop of younger lads who we have high hopes for.
“They’re all really good players,” Ferguson said of them today. “They’ve got good potential and some of them will go on loan, some have come back from their loan periods and will now have to push on and show that improvement that’s going to get them into the first team squad.”
Fraizer Campbell, Jonny Evans, Lee Martin, Danny Simpson and Chris Eagles, are amongst those who have all been marked out as players with potential, but how many of them, if any at all, will cut it for the first team?
Danny Simpson – 21-years-old
The full back showed promising signs in the chances he was given with the first team last season, his most impressive display coming in our 4-0 win over Wigan. He assisted a goal for Rooney as well as coming close to scoring himself.
He fits the bill for the typical United full back, competent in defence, yet equally keen to press forward down the wing.
After his debut for United against the Kaizer Chiefs in our pre-season tour of South Africa in 2006, Sir Alex Ferguson said that he looked “anything but a player making his first start for Manchester United.”
He has already spent periods on loan to Royal Antwerp, Sunderland and Ipswich, but is likely to be sent away again for the coming season.
Roy Keane is eager to bring Simpson back to Sunderland on loan after a successful stint with the Premiership club, and this English top flight experience would be useful for him whilst he bides his time behind Neville and Brown in pecking order.
Simpson is still a bit rough around the edges, but as a Salford born lad, he is one we’re all eager to see make the grade.
Fraizer Campbell – 20-years-old
Scoring 14 goals in 22 games in his first season for United’s Under-18s meant that Campbell was certainly flagged up as one for the future.
After an appearance in the FA Cup for the first team, he scored his first goal for United in a friendly against Macclesfield after coming off the bench for Wayne Rooney.
After scoring 21 goals in 34 games for Royal Antwerp in the 2006-2007 season, he was handed the nickname “Super Campbell”.
He made his debut for the club in that depressing derby day defeat last season, being thrown on with 15 minutes to play with the hope he could add something to our attack. With no Rooney or Saha and an unfit Tevez, Campbell was our only option, and sadly, contributed little, looking out of his depth.
Fortunately, a loan out to Hull last season saw Campbell go from strength to strength, finishing their top scorer, with 15 goals in 34 games, helping them gain promotion to the Premiership for the first time in their history.
Having received praise in the media for the impact he was making at Hull, his focus has always been on United. “I wanted to get some first-team experience and go back to United a better player,” he said in April. “Hopefully, with the experience I’ve gained, I will be able to go and compete for a place in the first team at Manchester United.”
Today, Hull boss Phil Brown, has made it clear that he will be more than happy to take Campbell back in to his team for next season, as they fight to stay in the top flight. “I spoke at length with Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of the season, having kept him up to speed with the progress Fraizer had made all season,” he said. “He was adamant that all his players would come back for pre-season training, but said when they come back from their pre-season trip to South Africa there is an opportunity to talk again. I fully trust Sir Alex’s word on that and when they come back I will be putting a call in.”
Chris Eagles – 22-years-old
Here is a player who was tipped to have enough about him to cut it for our first team, but chances of that are declining rapidly.
After Burnley emerged as favourites to sign him on a permanent basis this summer, I wrote at length about Eagles’ United career.
His goal against Everton towards the close of the 2006-2007 season looked to be the start of something special, but that sadly has never materialised. After going on loan to Watford, Sheffield Wednesday and NEC, Fergie still doesn’t seem to think he’s got what it takes, despite several appearances towards the beginning of last season.
Burnley manager Owen Coyle confessed he represented one of two clubs eager to sign Eagles on a permanent basis. “It’s a bit complicated in that there is another club interested in him, but he has real quality,” he said. “We had a terrific meeting with him and his representative, obviously with permission from his club, because there would be a big fee involved in that.”
Eagles will be 23-years-old in a couple of months time, the same age as Wayne Rooney who has been lighting up the Premiership for seasons. It really is looking as though he isn’t top class material.
Jonny Evans – 20-years-old
Evans is probably the best known of all our up-and-coming talent, but sadly, all for the wrong reasons. He was at the centre of rape allegations following United’s infamous Christmas party, falling victim to the predictable situation we all anticipated from the occasion.
Evans got a few games in United’s 2006 pre-season tour, before making his first team debut a year later in that disastrous League Cup defeat against Coventry, but also played for us in the Champions League.
However, he’s enjoyed successful loan periods with Roy Keane’s Sunderland, being named “Youth Player of the Year” in the Championship the season they were promoted to the Premiership.
As a Northern Ireland International of two years, Evans certainly has good experience under his belt for a young player, and is keenly admired at Sunderland.
Unlike other products from the Academy, who are entirely focussed on cutting it at United, Evans has admitted he’d be happy to sign for Sunderland on a permanent basis.
“If the manager here wants to make it permanent, it is definitely something I want to talk about,” he said. “I think he has always said he wanted me back. That was a real compliment to have Roy Keane say that.”
Lee Martin – 21-years old
Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs were amongst the teams hoping to prise winger Martin away from Wimbledon in 2003, when he was just a trainee, however it was United he chose to play for.
After making his debut for the club in 2005, Martin has spent virtually his entire United career away on loan, playing for Royal Antwerp, Rangers, Stoke City, Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield United.
Last month, Martin admitted that he didn’t have much of a clue what his future held, but would be happy to go back to Sheffield United. “I’m still at United and it’s a matter of going back on the first of July and speaking to the gaffer,” he said. “It’s all up in the air and nothing has been said yet. It’s a bit weird and just a waiting game at the minute. I enjoyed my time at Sheffield United and would definitely go back if an offer came in. But it’s out of my hands.”
Which of these players do you think stands the best chance of a career at United?