A new season breeds new talent. The end of last season saw the retirement of two of the biggest stars at Manchester United in midfield magician Paul Scholes and goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar. When a player retires, it is up to someone as talented to step into the breach and provide that joie de vivre that every scout up and down the country looks for. The academies at every Premier League side contain players with the ability to become the next Scholes or the next Van der Sar, but with the influx of foreign players since the turn of the century, homegrown footballers have not really been given the opportunity to perform.
Cue the Football Association. The introduction of the home-grown rule last summer, which basically requires eight players in a 25 man squad who have been affiliated with the club for three years prior to their 21st birthday, indicates that there will be a change in the reliance on overseas players. British youngsters will now be given more opportunities to showcase their talents and surely that will help to strengthen the national side, if the future crop of England players are gaining regular first team football in a world-class league.
In Manchester, this case has never been more evident. With the two Manchester sides, City and United, holding the FA Cup and Premier League in their possession respectively, the focus will be on whether the sides can extend their reign and try and solidify their status as the new English capital of football. Obviously, there will be new marquee signings for both sides, but the talent held within the academy ranks is magnificent. Both sides hold England representatives and both sides hold players from outside of England that are making waves in their own countries.
At Manchester United, the current FA Youth Cup winners, the headline-grabbing player is Ravel Morrison. Morrison makes headlines on the pitch with his finishing ability and makes headlines off the pitch after his charge for assault against his girlfriend. There’s no doubting the talent of the 18 year old, but it is whether the Premier League champions are willing to give the Wythenshawe-born wonder enough support and guidance to keep him away from trouble.
Other talents at the club include striker Josh King, who impressed at now League 1 side Preston before his injury, and defender Reece Brown, younger brother of Manchester United defender Wes. United also hold England Under 19s captain Matthew James, who is expected to be the future Paul Scholes in the central midfield at Old Trafford, and young French midfielder Paul Pogba, who signed from Le Havre when he was 16 and has been making immense strides with United and France, gaining under 18 and under 19 berths with his national side. Pogba is a marauding central midfielder who will surely become a French international in no time.
United’s cross-city rivals Manchester City are also building an academy to be reckoned with. City’s Elite Development Squad (EDS) has been galvanised, due to the influx of money from owner Sheikh Mansour, and the club can now get the best of British as well as introduce some foreign talent into the side. Defensively, City hold England internationals and two are Reece Wabara and Courtney Meppen-Walter. Both players have represented England with 19 year old Wabara playing for the England Under 20s and Meppen-Walter representing England at both under 16 and under 17 level.
With City’s particular defensive frailties, the youngsters could be given chances in the near future with Wabara himself making his full City debut against Bolton Wanderers on the last day of last season in a 2-0 win for the Blues. City also hold a Swedish diamond in their EDS with striker John Guidetti impressing heavily. 18 year old Guidetti scored an impressive hat-trick on his reserve team debut and spent some time on loan at Championship side Burnley last season. The Swedish striker has also made his City first team debut and has amazing goalscoring prowess, especially with his stunning overhead kick in a Manchester Senior Cup game against Stockport last season.
Both academies provide players to the reserve teams of the two sides and have had success this season with United winning the FA Youth Cup in a two-legged final affair against Sheffield United and City’s EDS finishing third in the league behind their rivals. However, City’s academy side have signed up for the new NextGen series, which pits the best academies in the world against each other in a Champions League-esque format. The home-grown rule will really take effect in Manchester and both clubs have set themselves up perfectly to introduce home-grown talent into their side as they look to push on both domestically and on a European stage.