Trying to find the perfect balance between short-term and long-term success is a complicated issue for even the biggest of football clubs.
Take Real Madrid for example, who last summer offloaded Spanish striker Alvaro Morata to Juventus only to concede twice against him in the Champions League semi-final.
With the recent purchases of Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, it’s clear that Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has not lost sight of his short-term task which is to bring back success to Old Trafford within the remainder of his three year contract.
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However, a huge part of Van Gaal’s much talked about “philosophy” is bringing youth players through the ranks and developing their talents to the point where they can make a meaningful contribution to the senior squad.
So just who are Manchester United's youth prospects? Introducing...
GK - Sam Johnson (22)
It seemed as though Sam Johnstone’s United career may have been over this summer as the Preston-born goalkeeper looked set to join newly promoted Championship side Preston North End. However, the 22-year-old was picked to start in United’s first tour match against Club America ahead of Anders Lindegaard and the world-class David de Gea and kept a clean sheet in the process.
With huge uncertainty surrounding De Gea’s long-term future at the club and Van Gaal allowing experienced shot-stopper Victor Valdes to leave, this could give Johnstone a great opportunity to play more matches and become a more influential member of the squad as time goes by.
RB - Guillermo Varela (22)
The Uruguayan right-back is yet to feature for United’s senior side but many believe that he is now ready to make a breakthrough at Old Trafford after a highly successful loan spell with Real Madrid Castilla last season. He impressed so much, in fact, that he was included in Madrid’s Champions League squad and after honing his skills amongst stars like Sergio Ramos, James Rodriguez and Cristiano Ronaldo, Varela definitely deserves a chance to prove himself at United.
CB - Paddy McNair (20)
The 2014-15 season was huge for Paddy McNair. He made his senior debut for both club and country and showed great character, versatility and maturity as the Northern Irishman was thrown in at the deep end, coming into United’s back four at a time when the club was enduring a defensive crisis.
As he continues to develop McNair is only going to get more confident in a United shirt, and after impressive displays for both the Under-21's and the senior side McNair signed a new contract in February keeping him at United until 2017. He has already admitted his shock at playing such an important role for the first team and Van Gaal has suggested that he could be a regular at the heart of United’s defence for the next ten years.
CB - Tyler Blackett (21)
Tyler Blackett’s story is similar in many ways to that of McNair; he broke into the first team at a time when United’s senior defenders were plagued by injuries, but he didn’t disappoint. He made his competitive debut for the club on the opening day of the 2014-15 Premier League season, and throughout the campaign, whether at centre-back or left-back, the Manchester-born defender showed no fear during matches, making important blocks and last ditch tackles to help save crucial points.
Like McNair, Blackett's confidence and quality on the ball will only increase as he continues to develop, and it would seem Van Gaal has confidence in the youngster after rewarding him with a new deal until 2017.
LB - Luke Shaw (20)
After a £27 million move from Southampton last summer, Shaw endured numerous injuries last season raising concerns over his fitness for Van Gaal. Whenever he did play, however, you could see what all the hype was about with great energy, strength and technical ability on the ball on show.
He recently revealed that he was out of shape when signing for United and therefore took a fitness coach with him on holiday this summer in an effort to return sharper to pre-season and stay injury free in 2015-16. If this plan pays off there’s no doubt that Shaw will establish himself as the club’s first-choice left-back, and perhaps for his country too.
CM - Sean Goss (19)
This 19-year-old midfielder trained with the first team squad last season and impressed many of the senior players with his attitude and footballing qualities, which evidently didn't go unnoticed by Van Gaal either because Goss was the only outfield member included in the tour squad who has yet to make a senior appearance for the club.
With a good range of passing, positional awareness and confidence in possession the main features of his game, comparisons have been made between Goss and United’s current midfield maestro Michael Carrick. Expect this young Englishman to experience some first team action over the coming years.
CM - Nick Powell (21)
Nick Powell has almost become United’s forgotten man due to sheer amount of injuries that he’s had, though his debut goal against Wigan in 2012 certainly hasn't been forgotten so soon. Powell is a raw talent who possesses everything you could want from an attacking midfielder – vision, quick feet, attacking instincts and exceptional technical ability.
He’s had spells out on loan in recent times but if he can overcome his injury problems, don’t be surprised to see Powell re-establish himself and go on to run Manchester United’s midfield over the next ten to 15 years.
CM - Andreas Pereira (19)
It’s hard to remember the last time that there was so much excitement surrounding a young United starlet than there has been for Belgian-born Brazilian midfielder Andreas Pereira. He is a classy, gifted midfielder who has the touch, trickery, awareness and finesse good enough to take him to the highest level.
Not only did he make his Premier League debut last season, coming on for Juan Mata against Tottenham at Old Trafford, but he was voted as United’s Under-21 Player of the Year in a side that won the league. His current teammates have tipped him to achieve great things at Manchester United, and he has recently expressed his hope for more first team football and to eventually challenge for silverware with United and work more closely with Van Gaal.
RW - Adnan Januzaj (20)
Adnan Januzaj didn’t get a lot of first team action last season but he showed the world what he can do when he initially burst onto the scene and established himself as the brightest spark in United’s otherwise dismal 2013-14 campaign under David Moyes.
The Belgian created excitement and electricity amongst the fans whenever he received the ball and showed his ability to pick a pass, beat a man and find the back of the net. Over recent months there has been debate regarding whether Januzaj should be deployed in a no. 10 role or on the flank, but one thing that isn’t doubted is that the 20-year-old has bags of talent.
ST - James Wilson (19)
The Englishman had a debut to remember when he netted twice at Old Trafford to help United beat then FA Cup finalists Hull City 3-1 in the Premier League at just 18. Since then, praise has been of the plenty for the striker, with there being a genuine belief around the club that he can succeed at United. He netted only twice last season for the Red Devils but with the departures of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao, the 19-year-old, who has tremendous pace, strength and natural goalscoring instincts, has a real chance to hold down and enjoy a more permanent role next season.
LW - Memphis Depay (21)
This man needs no introduction. After a promising World Cup last summer under Van Gaal, Memphis enjoyed an exceptional season on all fronts as he became a regular starter for the Netherlands and steered PSV Eindhoven to the Eredivisie title by scoring 22 goals in just 31 games.
He is one of European football’s hottest talents and I for one can’t wait to see how he fares in the fast-paced environment of the Premier League. In the current tour matches in America there has been clear evidence of an understanding between Memphis and United captain Wayne Rooney, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he plays in a central role or in his more accustomed wide position, but you can be assured that the ‘Dreamchaser’ will make his mark in English football.
The future of Manchester United is bright. While it's entirely likely that the above players mentioned will slowly filter into the first team throughout the next few seasons, since nine of them were included in the senior squad's US tour, they will also be in the picture long after Van Gaal’s tenure as boss. They have the potential to lead the Old Trafford club to more periods of sustained success in a new footballing generation, but only time will tell whether their vast potential can be achieved.
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