Manchester United's English contingent - do they need to worry?

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An English football club no longer means English football players. The influx of foreign players since the inception of the Premier League is well documented and subsequently in recent years we have seen clubs field teams consisting of no English players at all.

The nouveau riche have changed the game forever with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, and we have seen a disconcerting trend spread amongst the league. Clubs were no longer willing to give young English talent the opportunity to develop, instead preferring to throw millions at the 'next Vieira' or Ronaldo or Shevchenko (though in the case of the latter I'm not sure it's a favourable comparison). The list is endless.

Manchester United

Manchester United have a proud tradition of fielding a core group of talented English players. Even just considering the Premier League era they can boast David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole, Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, amongst others.

If we look at the current United squad they are just a right back short of fielding an all English eleven. Hoping to be a part of the first team squad heading into the new season there is Ben Amos, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Tom Cleverly, Michael Carrick, Nick Powell, Wilfried Zaha, Ashley Young, Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Jesse Lingard and James Wilson.

That is potentially 13 English players pushing for a place in the squad, discounting other youth players that will be hoping for an opportunity at some stage this season.

A bleak outlook

Look at that list again though, how many would you select in your first choice eleven? Three? Four at a stretch? A disappointing season under David Moyes has seen the stock of most players fall and it's the English ones suffering the most.

The English players are under real pressure and aside from Shaw they all face an uncertain future. So what is next for the thirteen strong contingent?

The 13

Amos has failed to represent the side in the Premier League and at 24 is a year older than the first choice goalkeeper David de Gea. Let's assume he's on his way out.

Chris Smalling, a surprise signing in January 2010 joined up with the squad for the start of 2010/2011 season. He enjoyed a stellar first year with the club drawing comparisons with Rio Ferdinand.

Now entering his fifth season in the club he's almost gone backwards since that first year. Whilst never technically excellent his aerial ability, reading of the game and excellent tackle win percentage suggested the potential to emulate the man he was being compared to. If the next 12 months do not pan out they way he, or United fans hope, then this could be his last year at Old Trafford.

I first noticed Phil Jones in 2011 when United won the title at Ewood Park. He was monstrous that day, a colossus force at the heart of Blackburn Rover's defense. A few short weeks later and he was a United first-team player.

"There's no telling what this boy can do," was what Sir Alex Ferguson told the world, and comparisons were drawn with Duncan Edwards. Now entering his fourth season Fergie's words are truer than ever, only perhaps not in the way he had intended.

We still don't really know what Phil Jones can do. He has been used as a utility man throughout his United career and if he is to finally become the player many thought he would then this year is monumentally important for him. With Jonny Evans the better all round defender and the rumour mill in overdrive about a new central defender arriving he cannot afford to spend another season 'filling gaps'.

Unlike Smalling I do think think he'll be at Old Trafford long term, even if just for his versatility.

In Shaw they have the English player whose United career is most secure. Originally wanted by David Moyes it was Louis van Gaal who gave the final green light. With frightening potential and a manager who believes in youth, he could dominate the left back position for a decade.

Moving in to midfield we get to Cleverly. It was less than two years ago an Arsenal supporting friend of mine told me that they key to the 2014 World Cup was a midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Cleverly and Carrick. At the time it was hard to disagree, Tom had just broken into the first team squad following a fantastic loan spell at Wigan Athletic and I still remember a long ball he played to Ashley Young with the outside of his right foot, on the half volley, on the opening day of the 2011/2012 season, it was sublime.

He seemed to suffer more than anyone last year under Moyes and much criticism was directed his way. Like Smalling, this season may represent Cleverly's last chance at Old Trafford. He needs to finally deliver on the potential he showed two years ago but with Ander Herrera ahead of him, and probably more to arrive, the chances look bleak.

Carrick joined United in 2006 and has since gone on to make over 250 appearances for the club. Having polarised opinion for much of his time in Manchester his performances in the 2012/2013 campaign finally saw him gain the recognition he deserved. Voted the player's player of the season it re-affirmed to everyone what a quality midfielder he was.

His struggles with England looked to be over too, with nine of his 31 caps coming in 2012 and 2013, however he too was 'Moyes'd' and just 12 months on from being in the first eleven for the national team he was left out of this summer's World Cup squad. Despite being 32 his immediate club future prospects are safer than many on this list, he is still a very good central midfielder and a fantastic person to have in the squad although with more expected arrivals in his position may struggle for game time.

Nick Powell enjoyed a fruitful season on loan with Wigan last year and despite a few injury problems cemented his status as someone who United fans should be excited about. One driving under the influence of alcohol incident later and he has barely had a mention.

Van Gaal may be renowned for giving youth the opportunity but the road to the first team looks a tough one for Powell. Even if Anderson and one of Fellaini, Fletcher and Cleverly leave that still leaves at least Herrera, Carrick, two of the previous and a probable new arrival in his way. 

Talk of playing further up the field, as he did for Wigan, and he'll find Januzaj, Mata, Rooney and probably Kagawa blocking the path. It's not all bad news though as with youth on his side this season would probably best be used on loan at a Premier League club.

Zaha first appeared on my radar after his stand out performance in Crystal Palace's League Cup victory over United at Old Trafford in 2011. He was superb and caused problems for the United defense all game long down the right, left and through the middle.

Despite signing in January 2013 it was not until the summer that he joined up with his new teammates and yet despite some excellent performances away on tour he appeared to be frozen out as soon as the Premier League season started. There were rumours about his performances in training, and others about his relationship with Moyes' daughter but whatever the reasons were, his only Premier League minutes in a United shirt last year came in two consecutive substitute appearances last December.

Van Gaal's appointment should mark a fresh start for the former Palace man but 18 months after signing he needs to demonstrate, and quickly, that he is cut out for this level.

I'm not sure there has even been a United player disliked by his own fans as much as Ashley Young. Recent memory would suggest Gabriel Heinze came close, but that was because of the way he left the club.

He has shown, in very brief glimpses, that he at least can contribute. His performances in the home win versus Arsenal and the away win versus Spurs in his first season demonstrated that. There though, is the problem in a nutshell, you have to go back three seasons to find anything of note.

Rooney was one of the very few players to emerge from last season with any credit. He carried the side for long periods, though his future looks as uncertain as any. Two very public spats with the club that both times were rewarded with lucrative new contracts have tarnished his reputation irreparably with many United fans and, having spent the past 12 months as the main man under Moyes, he is facing an entirely different proposition with the Scot's replacement.

The incoming managers' relationship with Robin van Persie has led many to suggest Rooney will have to get used to playing second fiddle to the Dutchman, as he did under Sir Alex, and it remains to be seen just how the club may manage the situation.

Last season saw Welbeck enjoy his best year at the club, at least in terms of goals scored, but he too faces a monumentally important 12 months. A striker in his youth he has been unable to make that place his own since being promoted to the first team squad. The likes of Van Persie and Rooney have ensured that Welbeck has spent the majority of his time in a supporting role either on the wings, or on rare occasion centrally behind the striker.

Falling into the same category as Jones his versatility is hampering his progression and should the coming season not go as hoped he may find himself, to the dismay of United fans, seeking pastures new in 2015.

Lingard was already being talked about when he awakened the wider population to his talents on the Asia tour last year and, having outshone Januzaj, was being touted by many as the next youth player to break through. He ended up on loan at Birmingham and did fantastically well with a four goal haul on his debut and was even recalled to United at Christmas with the hope of featuring in the second half of the season.

Nobody though, is quite sure what happened next as it would appear Moyes, under increasing pressure, bottled his initial decision to give the youngster a run and he was soon shipped off on loan again, this time to Brighton. This summer is another great opportunity for him to impress on tour and in Van Gaal he now has a manager who has the conviction to trust youth. 

Wilson's two goal debut came as a surprise to some, but for those that follow the Manchester United youth sides it triggered little more than a 'knowing eye-brow raise'. With uncertainty surrounding the future of Javier Hernandez there may just be a place in the squad for a young striker.

He would be unlikely to secure a loan move to a Premier League side as a first choice striker and after his debut many would think he is too good for the Championship so being in and around the first team squad may be the best thing for him. Being able to train alongside the likes of Van Persie every day under the watchful eye of a manager who has no qualms about looking to young talents, this could be a big year for the aspiring forward.

What does it all mean?

It doesn't make great reading does it? Aside from Shaw you could argue that every other Englishman in the squad is under pressure. Could it really be that within a year or two there could be as little as three or four Englishman in the squad? The ramifications of this could be huge.

Struggles to continue

England's dismal World Cup showing was compounded by watching Germany demolish all who stood in their way. Our golden generation never came close to achieving the success many believed possible and we now face the prospect of even our best players struggle at their respective clubs.

It is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.

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Manchester United
Premier League
England Football

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