Manchester United's transfer targets: You probably won't win anything with kids
Manchester United have been linked with young, British players, and with the launch of their nostalgic kit for next season, they are risking missing the lessons of the past.
The latest rumour links United with Newcastle United's young midfielder Sean Longstaff. In the handful of appearances he has made for Rafael Benitez's side, he has apparently impressed, and many fans believe him to be ready for Premier League football. Just how ready, and just how far up the table he will cope, is not yet clear. Despite Mike Ashley being in charge of transfers, he would still be cheaper than buying the very best that is available from the continent.
Daniel James is another player that United have been linked to in the press, and Swansea want a very reasonable £15 million for him. He has shown some astonishing pace in the Championship, and he also caused trouble at international level after breaking into the Welsh side under former United caretaker Ryan Giggs. Certainly promising, but insufficiently tested.
The appeal of these kinds of players is obvious for United. For Ed Woodward, buying younger players is often cheaper than buying established stars. With wages pushing upwards at Old Trafford, cheaper players would be a boon for the parsimonious Glazer owners. Secondly, British players are notoriously reluctant to move abroad. That might now be changing as German clubs offer opportunities to those confident enough to take them, but with David de Gea and Paul Pogba poised to leave for better, foreign sides, leaning into Brexit sentiment could still be the pragmatic move over the long term. You can't lose your best players to Real Madrid if they don't know what churros are, let alone pronounce the name.
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There's another benefit. With Manchester City funded by a state and Liverpool run sensibly and enthusiastically by a billionaire, they cannot compete by pointing to their current success. They have fallen well behind, but the glamour of the name puts them just ahead of Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in terms of appeal to players - for now.
All these reasons make sense. With United's new kit celebrating their 1999 Champions League triumph ("'Remember when' is the lowest form of conversation"), building a young, counterattacking side with the Best of Britain and some additional continental talent understandably has its appeal. Back then, Alan Hansen got clattered for his, 'You don't win anything with kids', but he wasn't wrong, exactly, just unlucky.
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The Class of '92 were exceptional. Ryan Giggs held down the left wing for the best part of two decades. David Beckham and Gary Neville excelled on the right. Paul Scholes was a flinty genius, and Nicky Butt's granite legs gave United a spectrum of talent that has not been repeated anywhere in Britain, and perhaps only bettered since by Lionel Messi and a handful of others at Barcelona. And that's the risk. Young players are vital to a side, with their fearlessness and energy, but there is so much that can go wrong. They all need to reach these standards for United to improve sufficiently.
The main problem is that most of the players United buy this summer, young or old, will not succeed. If you get half your transfers right, you have done exceptionally well. If you avoid the clangers at the same time, you will more often than not improve. But there are few guarantees of that with Woodward at the helm. As long as the players they buy end up being as good as Messi, Giggs, Beckham and Iniesta though, there won't be any problems.