While the season as a whole for Manchester United has been a definite disappointment, the emergence of both homegrown and purchased young talent has been a breath of fresh air and a beacon of hope for the future. What these players bring more than anything else is enthusiasm and speed, something Sir Alex Ferguson was looking for his United to exude prior to his retirement. The eras of Moyes and Van Gaal have mostly been boring and dull, but the new generation look likely to bring speed, energy and excitement back to Old Trafford.
After Barcelona comfortably destroyed Ferguson’s side in the 2011 Champions League final, the great Scot decided he needed to change the direction of his team. That summer saw Phil Jones and Ashley Young arrive, as well as Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck being promoted to the first-team from loans at Wigan and Sunderland respectively. What the quartet all had in common was easy to see, energy and speed. Together with Nani, Anderson, Wayne Rooney and Javier Hernandez, the new players started the season in terrific fashion, winning the first five games of the season with wins against Tottenham (3-0), Arsenal (8-2), Bolton (5-0) and Chelsea (3-1) standing out. The team played breathtaking attacking football at a high-tempo with an astonishing level of energy. This was the style Ferguson wanted to implement, as he saw this high-tempo, high-energy style as the future of football and the right way to catch up with Barcelona. The team struggled to keep this style up though, and after an early injury to Cleverley, United settled into their normal way of winning games, but the season ended disappointingly as United bowed out of Europe in the group stage and lost the league title to their inner-city rivals Manchester City. United also crashed out of the Europa League after being out-classed by Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Club, containing future United midfielder Ander Herrera, and their ultra-energetic style.
Sir Alex Ferguson saw what United’s future should be, now they need to embrace it.
Ferguson acted swiftly and signed Shinji Kagawa, who had impressed in Jürgen Klopps German double winners playing in a high-energy system. Ferguson clearly saw the future of football as being about energy and speed, and it’s safe to say he’s been proved correct. Kagawa was supposed to play in the no 10 role behind Rooney, but after Robin van Persie became available Ferguson couldn’t resist and bought the best footballer in England. The signing of van Persie meant Kagawa was shoved out to the left, as United became a winning machine and embarrassed the Premier League by basically winning the league in March. Despite dominating the league and playing attacking football this wasn’t the style Ferguson had sought to implement in 2011, but his hunger to finish his career with a league title meant winning was all that mattered. Towards the end of the campaign though, we saw glimpses of what Ferguson envisaged United’s future to look like. Phil Jones looked excellent at centre-half, with Rafael at right-back being arguably United’s best performer after van Persie, Tom Cleverley became a regular in midfield, and Welbeck was deemed a key man for Ferguson. Kagawa was given the no 10 role he craved towards the end of the season, while Rooney dropped to the bench on many occasions, as Ferguson didn’t see Rooney as the future of United.
After Ferguson retired and Moyes came in, United did everything they could to hold onto Rooney as he was deemed vital to the side. Kagawa and Welbeck was again moved aside for the more static Englishman who also was made captain. Moyes’ United was extremely dull and very poor, other than the outstanding performances of Adnan Januzaj, the Belgian protege who came through the academy. Moyes left and Van Gaal came in, prompting an ever more slow and predictable approach. Van Gaal has almost been at United two years now, and finally we might be seeing what United’s future might look like. To his credit, young players have been given their chance, and have mostly impressed. This season has seen the likes of Guillermo Varela, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford been given a real chance to impress, and they have mostly delivered. With the quintet joining other young players in the squad like Luke Shaw, Januzaj, Andreas Pereira, Memphis Depay, Anthony Martial and James Wilson means United have a young, exciting and enthusiastic squad with young players looking to kick on. What all these players also has in common is speed and energy. With older players like Matteo Darmian, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling and Morgan Schneiderlin also possessing these attributes, the future style of United should revolve around those two principles.
Jesse Lingard has impressed for Manchester United this season.
In particular, the emergence of Manchester-boys Lingard and Rashford points to the direction United should be heading in. They’re exciting young attackers with speed and creativity in abundance and they ooze confidence. While they’ll definitely need fine-tuning to reach their full potential, they have an arrogance about them that make them out to be confident young men ready to take on the world. They know what United means to Mancunians as they’ve grown up as United fans and are enjoying themselves more than probably any other players at the minute. Lingard’s performances at Chelsea and City as well as against Arsenal highlights his quality, and he has shown himself capable of filling multiple positions in attack. Rashford is younger and less experienced, as for example he hasn’t gone anywhere on loan like Lingard, but might have even more potential in him. He’s lightning quick, and has shown against Arsenal and City that he can score against the best teams. And he’s only 18. For both Mancunians, the future looks bright.
Marcus Rashford has started unbelievably well at United, and became United’s youngest scorer in a Manchester derby last week.
Knowing Louis van Gaal though, an high-tempo, energetic style is unlikely to happen as the manager favours control above all else. No matter whether he stays for another season, or a new manager comes in, the future of United should be what Ferguson envisaged five years ago. Attacking, energetic and quick at an extremely high-tempo. The young players in the squad further emphasises the importance of playing to the squad’s strengths. The players are there and the future is bright. Embrace it.