Sir Alex Ferguson has been saying for a couple of years that he is rebuilding the team and trying to bring together a group of very talented players that can play together in the Manchester United team for several years.
On current evidence, the manager is only an year or two away from doing a re-enactment of the 1995 team, where the old guard are ushered away and the young players fit in flawlessly into the setup.
Let’s take a look at the players on whom Manchester United will be relying upon in the years to come.
His form on loan at Watford earned him an England call-up and has since been marked by many as the eventual successor to Edwin van der Sar. Ferguson isn’t taking any chances though – along with Foster he also has Kuszczak on his books to ensure that Manchester United have adequate backup when van der Sar packs up.
Ben Foster’s form in the pre-season friendlies was pretty good, but the young keeper needs a lot more experience at the Premiership level before he can be expected to pick up the goalkeeping mantle at Manchester United. His season at Watford will help him improve even more, and thanks to him (and Kuszczak), United’s goalkeeping future looks secure.
Pique is one of the crop of extremely talented youngsters to come out of Barcelona’s youth academy (Fabregas and Merida are at Arsenal). As a defender he has impressed in his few first-team displays but with Ferdinand, Brown and Vidic manning the central defence, Pique has been farmed out to Real Zaragoza this season on loan (in accordance with Ferguson’s policy of giving young defenders more ‘loan time’ than other outfield players).
Pique could find his chances limited in the Manchester United first-team next year but his versatality means that he can play anywhere in defence, and next year should see him pushing for a regular first-team spot. If you think that’s far-fetched, consider that we have Heinze (28) and Silvestre playing for us on the left (with Silvestre as backup for the centre-halfs as well). At the very least, you would expect Pique to replace Silvestre in the United line up.
Read Pique’s interview at Uefa.com during the European Under-19 Championships earlier this summer
Pique’s major competition in the next few years for a starting berth will come from one Jonathan Evans, an 18-year old central defender who slotted in effortlessly to replace Rio Ferdinand in the Ajax tournament earlier this month. He is by far one of the most promising Reserve players and like Pique, he will be hard to keep out of the first team in the next couple of years.
He was sent to Antwerp along with Danny Simpson for on loan this year. If you’ve watched him play, you’ll know that this is one kid that is NOT being over-hyped. Read what Ferguson has to say about Evans.
One of the big advantages of having good young players coming through is that you can easily replace the cruft in your squad. The problem with Manchester United is that we already have a good crop of young defenders in our squad. Finding places for all these players will be hard, but ultimately it’s a good problem to have.
Although not as impressive in pre-season as Evans and Jones, Simpson is another fine prospect for Manchester United, and will provide decent coverage for the right-back position (along with Phil Bardsley) once Gary Neville finally hangs up his boots.
His rise to the first-team could be blocked by Phil Bardsley who has shown that he able to replace Neville.
A right-winger who probably would have been staying at Manchester United this season if not for the wingers already present. Martin has been loaned out to Rangers till January, but he will find a first-team berth hard to come by. The right-winger is extremely talented though and his presence in the squad, along with that of David Jones and Kieran Richardson will allow Ferguson to remove the ‘cruft’ in our midfield.
A true contender to Roy Keane’s number 16 shirt, Jones is a hard-tackling midfielder with the pace and passing ability to trouble any defence. Deserves a place on United’s bench no matter who we sign this year or the next. Should be fast-tracked into the team as soon as possible, considering our midfield troubles and the poor quality of our backups.
Along with Evans, Jones has the potential to be the best young player out of United’s reserves in the next five years. Some have tipped him as a future captain as well, although with players like Rooney and Ferdinand in the team there’s still some distance to go for Jones.
Although a member of the first team and pushing for a starting berth this season, Rossi is (along with Bardsley) still very much one of those young players looking to break into the first-team as regulars. Of course, with Manchester United’s striking problems, Solskjaer’s age and Saha’s injury troubles, Rossi has an excellent chance of staking his claim as a regular striker alongside Rooney in the first-11.
At the very least, expect Rossi to be used as a regular substitute. He still has some way to go before he can be called an ‘assured’ finisher, but the 2006/2007 season as a key member of United’s first team will do him (and us) good.
The reason I’m not worried about Gary Neville retiring soon (and for my money he should go by the end of this season). Very fast and can hit accurate crosses although he needs to improve his tackling a bit. This season should see him feature more and more for the first team and eventually replace Neville on the pitch in a couple of years.
Neville’s value to the team, like Keano’s, goes far beyond the pitch and for that reason Ferguson may find it difficult to push Neville out so soon. On the other hand he doesn’t want to be caught in the same situation as he was with Keano (not fit enough to play but still plodding on). Bardsley and Simpson are there to pick things up (along with the rest of our defenders).
Tomorrow, I’ll look at Manchester United’s old guard – the players we will need to replace in the next two years. Considering that these are also some of our best, United have a lot of planning to do.
This article is Part 1 of our 6-part Manchester United 2006/2007 season preview coverage at Soccerlens.