Why the loan system is breeding Manchester United stars of the future


Manchester United’s youth system is amongst the most vaunted in Europe. And with good reason. United have famously named at least one youth product in its matchday squads since 30th October 1937.

However, the current win at all costs attitude of most of the Premier League clubs’ board of directors means the bedding in period for these youngsters is limited at best and non-existent at worst.

Such is the pressure cooker environment to win silverware and points, en-masse youth first team call-ups such as the “Busby Babes” and “The Class of ‘92” are confined to history.

Players like Marcus Rashford, who made the leap from the under-23’s direct to the first team are the exception, not the rule.

Thankfully, there is another route to the first team for United’s young starlets. The loan system.

In the absence of a La Liga style “B” side, wherein top clubs reserve teams play in the lower divisions against full-time professionals to gain valuable first team experience, the English loan system is the next best thing.

The La Liga model has seen the likes of Lionel Messi progress from the Barcelona C and B sides through to the first team with unparalleled success. However, where the loan system can better this model is that Premier League youngsters can play for other Premier League clubs gaining professional experience at the top-level of Football before they make their way to their club’s first team.

One of the best examples of this model is Danny Welbeck, who enjoyed a successful loan spell with then-Premier League side, Sunderland in the 2010-11 season wherein he scored six goals in 26 appearances including important strikes against top sides Chelsea and Everton. Injury truncated his season, but following these fine loan displays, he was rewarded with a starting spot in the United first team in the following season’s Community Shield curtain-raiser versus Manchester City, in a match United won 3-2 after trailing 0-2 at half time. He started the first Premier League game of that season up front, alongside Wayne Rooney and continued to be a first team regular during Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes’s tenures as manager.

This is not a new development either. In the 1994-95 season, David Beckham made five appearanceson loan for Preston North End, scoring twice, including one free kick and an amazing finish directly from a corner. These set-piece skills which would later become his trademark were soon put to spectacular use for the United first team, which he was integrated into later that season.

The most recent example of the loan system being used to great effect is the case of home-grown talent, Jesse Lingard, who was loaned out four times between 2012 and 2015, initially for then-Championship side Leicester City, before his spectacular debut for Birmingham City on loan on the 19th September 2013 wherein he scored four goals on debut versus Sheffield Wednesday. This performance caught plenty of attention at Old Trafford and his loan was extended from the initial month until the following January when United, impressed by what they had seen called him up to the first team.

Despite impressing, United still believed he needed further seasoning and Lingard’s third loan club was another Championship team, Brighton and Hove Albion, wherein he racked up four goals in 17 appearances during the remainder of that season.

Lingard’s energetic displays caught the attention of new United manager, Louis van Gaal who at the start of the subsequent 2014-15 named him as a starter in his first Premier League match versus Swansea. Unfortunately, for Lingard, his match was cut short by injury after just 24 minutes and he had to be content with a final loan spell once he recovered. He joined his fourth Championship club in three years in Derby County.

These experiences led to Lingard becoming a first team regular for United during the 2015-16 season, a position he is yet to relinquish, etching a place in United folklore by netting the extra time winner in the 2016 FA Cup Final victory over Crystal Palace.

Of United’s current crop, three familiar youth team names have been on loan elsewhere in La Liga, the Premier League and Championship; Andreas Pereira, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe.

Pereira has spent the season with Valencia which was a source of frustration for United manager, Jose Mourinho who confirmed during pre-season that Pereira was in his plans for the first team this year. Despite alienating the United boss, Pereira has starred for Valencia, scoring once in 18 appearances with four assists. So much so, if reports are to be believed, Valencia want to make the move permanent. However, Pereira has expressed a desire to make it at Old Trafford.

If Pereira represents a potential opportunity for a youth product to break into the United first team proper next season then Fosu-Mensah and Tuanzebe appear to have just as much cause for optimism and opportunity for success.

Fosu-Mensah impressed with Premier League side, Crystal Palace, appearing 26 times, playing a significant role in turning Palace from relegation contenders to a safe mid-table side. In doing so, he has made an excellent case to be Antonio Valencia’s deputy at right back in the United team in 2018-19. Tuanzebe for his part spent the second half of the season, with Championship high fliers, Aston Villa, making five appearances, and showing glimpses of the presence and skill that gives United such high optimism for his development as a first team United player.

In the current Football climate, the loan system is without a doubt, the greatest opportunity for stars of the future to get the opportunity at top Premier League clubs when success needs to be immediate.

In United’s case, history has shown that this method of breeding stars demonstrates a bright future for United’s proud record of youth players progressing to the first team.

Written by Paul Benson

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