Narrow Crawley win highlights lack of quality in United’s reserves

After an unconvincing win against Crawley Town in yesterday’s FA Cup tie, the strength of Manchester United’s fringe team was again called into question. With the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs edging ever closer to retirement, and Edwin van der Sar calling time on his playing career in just a few months time, were the players on display yesterday capable of ensuring the United torch burns brightly through the next decade?

On the evidence of yesterday’s lack of effort, and indeed recent performances, no. Darron Gibson, seen by many a few years ago as a replacement for Scholes, is now 23 and has not shown enough to suggest he will be bossing the Red Devils’ midfield when he too is 36. Similarly, United supporters would rather see Giggs play on until middle-age if Gabriel Obertan and Bebe are being prepped to take over from him. Bebe has performed at reserve level, but being 20 that form should now start to materialise in first-team games, particularly against non-league opposition.

There is a mix of home-grown and imported youth talent through the United ranks, with the two wingers, Obertan and Bebe, brought in for contrasting fees in the last two summer transfer windows. The former, who has revealed his desire to leave the Red Devils, has not impressed when given starts, and the latter, bought for a significantly higher fee, has consistently failed to perform in his appearances this term. While other young imports, such as Javier Hernandez, have taken to the English game like a duck to water, the general outlook for buying in the next generation of first-teamers is somewhat hit and miss.

The multi-Premier League winning United side was based largely on gifted products from their youth academy, which has not seen many true world-class graduates since the likes of Scholes and David Beckham arrived. However, while only Darren Fletcher is a regular first-teamer from the current generation, the ranks below the current disappointing crop do boast some big potential.

None more so than Ravel Morrison. Although reportedly coming with an attitude perhaps worse than has hindered many young English talents, Morrison’s quality cannot be questioned. In terms of his footballing ability, only praise has ever been heard for the winger, and in Sir Alex Ferguson the youngster has a mentor as good as any in harnessing talent from a troubled footballer. Likewise, Ryan Tunnicliffe has been setting the youth world on fire, and the energetic midfielder has been likened to Roy Keane. Of course, being just 18, both Morrison and Tunnicliffe have plenty of work ahead, but they represent the next generation of talent ready to take their chance where Gibson, Obertan and Bebe have so far failed to do so.

There is undoubtedly an interesting battle happening at United, with imported talent going head-to-head with home-grown prospects. But if the recent unimpressive showings from expensive foreigners are anything to go by, focusing on developing the ability in the youth team should be the way forward.

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