Sir Alex Ferguson led the way in youth development
A look at the reasons behind the development of Manchester United's academy players & their limited first-team opportunities
Manchester United's youth system has produced some world-class players like Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Neville Brothers and Beckham.
On closer inspection of their careers, in the early years it's evident that Sir Alex Ferguson never pushed any of his young talents. It's common knowledge that the most efficient method for clubs to get players is through their youth academies.
The players who come from the youth academies are usually teenagers and face stiff competition from first-team members in the squad who are older and stronger comparatively.
If they manage to make it to the first-team they face the same pressure from the media and fans as older and experienced professionals are exposed to.
These young players are expected to cope with this and perform at high standards.
Youngsters are also prone to injuries and stress, both physical and mental. These factors can have a very strong effect on them and can potentially hamper their growth professionally.
Medically speaking all our bones consist of cells called osteoclasts. Osteoclast is a type of bone cell that removes bone tissue by removing its mineralised matrix and breaking up the organic bone which help the bone to grow and sculpt. These cells are active in teenagers and leave the bones relatively soft, and open to damage.
As a footballer there are several ways for one to damage these cells. The fact that would come as a surprise to most of us is that if a bone is damaged at this age it is very quick to heal, but the activity of osteoclasts is hindered.
The recovery after a bone injury/fracture needs to be given a lot of time, if it is not then it is sure to create problems in the later stages of the player's career. If the bone growth is hindered, it poses a serious problem to a footballer.
The classic example of this effect being Michael Owen. At the age of just 18 he made a mighty 44 first-team appearances in all the competitions for Liverpool, whereas Scholes and David Beckham had made a handful of appearances at the age of 18.
Even though Owen might not have had any injury problems during this age, during his 1999/00 season, Owen returned to action after almost five months of layoff. He played intermittently throughout the season and managed to complete only six full games by January.
During a frustrating spell punctuated by recurring injury setbacks, he only played 90 minutes on three occasions since mid-October.
Owen injured his hamstring once again while playing against Middlesbrough in January. He remained out of action for well over a month and later received treatment from German doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson was quite upfront and frank about Owen's development at Liverpool, and criticised how he was pushed at a very early age which clearly halted his progression.
Ferguson said: "You can play too much football, particularly young players growing and developing physically." All of which resulted in Owen ending his career at the age of 33.
Another player who might face a similar plight is Manchester United's very own Wayne Rooney. The England international also started his career at the tender age of 16 and he made close to 100 first-team appearances for both Everton and Manchester United.
In an interview, Rooney admitted: "When I get up in the morning after a game, I struggle to walk for the first half an hour. I ache a bit. It wasn't like that when I was a lad."
If you take a look at some of the graduates from United's famous class of 92 and the manner in which their development was handled by Sir Alex, it is quite remarkable.
Scholes has made 718 appearances, Beckham has played 719 games for many clubs, Gary Neville 602 and above all, Giggs is still going strong at the age of 39 with a massive 943 games for United.
All of these players have one thing in common, they broke into the first-team at 19 or well after the age of 19 years.
This is the reason why Sir Alex prevented Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison making an early entry into the first-team; had they stayed it might have been the repeat of 92 with Pogba, Morrison, Adnan Januzaj, Welbeck, Zeki Fryers, Jesse Lingard, Michael Keane and Will Keane all forming the next generation of United talent.
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