Without fail, every match day the United faithful will bellow the lines “20 times 20 times Man United! Playing Football The Matt Busby Way!” This chant speaks volumes about what Manchester United are all about. Entertaining attacking football injected with the exuberance and raw talent of youth. United has always been a club that promotes youth, with the first era of real success based on Sir Matt’s ‘Busby Babes’.
Sir Matt set the tone for the club’s tradition of blooding youth. With the legendary Duncan Edwards setting the First Division alight at the tender age of 16, he embodied the 50’s era, terrorising oppositions until his untimely and tragic death as a result of the Munich disaster at the age of 21. Edwards was the first taste United had of one of their own coming through and being successful.
Staying true to his belief in youth, Sir Matt handed two of the ‘Holy Trinity’ their debuts, George Best at 17 and Sir Bobby Charlton at 19. Alongside Denis Law, the Trinity led United out of the aftermath of the Munich tragedy leading to two domestic titles in the 60’s and the revered European Cup in 68’. After the largely barren run in the 70’s and 80’s Sir Alex once again turned to the academy giving the fabled ‘Class of 92’ the chance to bring glory back to Manchester. After selling Mark Hughes and Paul Ince after a title-winning season, ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ stamped United’s authority not only in England over the next decade or so but also in Europe in 1999. 55 odd years on from Duncan Edwards, United fans have not lost their passion for seeing an academy product coming up.
The purist United fan will be pleased with the appointment of Louis Van Gaal, another manager famous for his use of youth. His powerhouse of an Ajax team had an average age of 23 and included a young Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and an 18-year-old Patrick Kluivert. Van Gaal’s philosophy towards youth can be seen in the faith in current crop of United youngsters. Paddy McNair, Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson have all got significant playing time in the Premier League, and have not just skated by but have looked promising. While not world beaters yet, they require time and the proper guidance to realize their potential.
While the billionaire funded Chelsea and Manchester City choose to buy in every position, United are not afraid to throw academy products into the mix. Mourinho is notorious for his insistence on buying and playing players at the peak of their career. The only anomalies were a young Eden Hazard and Oscar, who arguably at their young ages are better than most attackers at their peaks. United fans however, can always experience that joy of seeing a young lad doing well at the club we all love.
The current reserve team is littered with raw talent just ready to burst onto the scene. The squad not including the trio mentioned earlier, still boasts U21 skipper Tom Thorpe, Saidy Janko, the hugely talented Andreas Pereira and the Keane brothers Will and Michael, the latter is currently on loan with Burnley. It has been a while since there has been so much raw potential in the reserves and the next few years will be an exciting time for all United supporters. With the high-profile arrivals in the summer, this current United team could be based on the Double winning team of 1996. That team had the youngsters David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville play with the experience of Bruce, Irwin and Eric Cantona in what resulted in wonderful and breathtaking displays of attacking football.
It could very well be that United are on the cusp of another groundbreaking team just like that. With James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj already impressing and a whole host of others knocking on the first team door, I don’t see the need for another summer splurge. Blooding these youngsters for the next season or two would be an amazing way for Manchester United to reclaim the throne of English football once again. Staying true to tradition and winning the United way is what every Red wants to see, in Louis Van Gaal we have just the man to make it happen.