Not only have Manchester United secured a third Champions League final in four years to go with a record 19th league title but the clubs youth programme looks set to pay rather handsome dividends in the near future as well. In the second leg of their FA Youth Cup Final tie against Sheffield United Sir Alex Ferguson’s youngsters dismantled their opponents 4-1 on the night, 6-3 on aggregate.
Just like their senior counter-parts the young Red Devils were unable to claim victory away from home but at Old Trafford they were imperious. Watched by a crowd of around 25,000, Ravel Morrison and company played with the verve and swagger that harked back to the magic crop that produced the famed Fergie Fledglings.
While Paul Pogba, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Will Keane all put in very solid performances, there is no doubt that the real star of the show was Morrison. Rarely have fans seen a player so preternaturally comfortable on the ball even in tight spaces. The 18 year old flourished under the pressure of playing in a final and demonstrated his all-round technical ability with a great display in which he bagged himself two goals, not to mention the tremendous array of passing that helped dominate the game.
However, although winning the FA Youth Cup is a great achievement and previous winners from United alone have included the likes of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Paul Scholes, the celebrations should not obscure the fact that the young players from this side still have a lot of work to do before they can break into the first team. There is a great deal of potential in the squad and it would be marvellous if all the players went on to forge top flight careers but this trophy should mark the beginning of the hard work rather than the end.
For all those United fans who are drooling over the prospects of seeing such players mature and develop into world beaters the lessons from the 2003 youth side should serve as a cautionary lesson. While Scholes et al went on to change the face of the English game in such a drastic manner, the 2003 crop which also won the tournament barely made a dent in United’s first team. The best of the group were players such as Chris Eagles or Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, both of whom have excelled in the Championship but have been unable to carve out a career in the Premier League.
Players like Pogba, Morrison and Tunnicliffe clearly have the talent to make the grade as top footballers but nobody can rest on their laurels at a club like Manchester United. Even now, the next generation of players will be looking to replicate their feat while the first team lot will hardly give up their places willingly to up-and-coming youngsters. For the youthful champions, the hard work is only just beginning.