Guest post by Poll Emma
Breaking the world transfer record will always dominate the news headlines. When a club spends£89 millionbringingback a player they’d allowed leave for free, the internet will go in to meltdown. Chelsea had previously shown their willingness to admit a mistake. They let Matic go in 2011 as part of the 21m deal to bring David Luiz to Stamford Bridge. Three years later, Chelsea would part with 21m to resign the midfielder. United decided to rectify their error of 2012 by making the Juventus midfielder their marquee summer signing, which brings us to the question: which other former United youngsters could follow Pogba back to Old Trafford?
Manchester United have a world renowned youth system. For decades, world class players have been developed by the Reds. George Best, Bobby Charlton, Norman Whiteside, Johnny Giles, and Jimmy Nicholl to name just a few from previous footballing eras. In the ‘90s, Alan Hansen’s infamous “youcan’t win anything with kids” jibe came at the end of an opening day thrashing by Aston Villa. The Scottish pundit would be red faced by the end of the season, as David Beckham, the Neville brothers, Paul Scholes and Nicky Buttwrote the amazing story with which we’re all familiar.
In more recent times, the production line has, admittedly, slowed. But Paul Pogba is by no means the only example of a past pupil making his name. United have been struggling over the past three seasons since the irreplaceable Sir Alex finally needed to be replaced. Recent signs under Mourinho have sown promise, but improvement is still going to have to happen if they want to push through to fulfill their promise and win trophies. The January transfer window is just around the corner, and all signs suggest Ed Woodward will likely get out the red checkbook once again.Which former United youngsters could follow Pogba back to Old Trafford? We’ve categorised the candidatesby quality.
Tier 1 players
Pogba has already returned. Whatever criticism has been levelled at the Frenchman, it’s quite clear to anyone with a footballing brain that the world-record signing is one of the best midfielders in the game. The only former United youngster that might currentlybe considered above him is Gerard Pique. The Barcelona centre back spent seven years in the Catalan side’s youth setup before United pulled off a masterful coup by bringing him to Old Trafford. The 17-year-old Pique, was initially part of the under 18 side at United. Just twelve senior appearances in four years would follow until United made a significant error of judgment. Pique was excelling in the reserve team for United but the Ferdinand + Vidic partnership was proving impossible for him to break. Barcelona saw their opportunity and resigned the player for a paltry sum of £5m, four years after he had previously departed. The chances of signing Pique are slim. He is settled in Barcelona and is part of a history-making side. His contract runs until 2019, so barring the ‘tax issues’ seemingly haunting Barcelona now, United may need to move on to more realistic targets.
Tier 2 Players
Using the words ‘Tier 2 players’ and ‘United’ in the same sentence may seem sacrilegious to some. Not every signing needcost tens of millions. Many of the best Ferguson buys were players a little off the radar. Vidic, Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane were by no means superstars when they signed. This is the area Mourinho could explore to unearth some gems for the future. The money being pumped in to the game has distorted the market. Higuaín for £80 million is the perfect example. Juventus couldn’t keep the Pogba cash for more than a few weeks.
The first former United youngster to consider is Danny Drinkwater. The Premier league winner is the heart and soul of the Leicester team. His mature, competent performances were a major reason the unfancied Tigers secured the title. Drinkwater hasn’t looked out of place in the Champions League this season either, with Leicester easily securing a place in the last 16. Michael Carrick plays in a similar style to Drinkwater. The statistics showing how many points United earn with Carrick starting a match, versus when he’s omitted are simply staggering. Judging solely on statistics, Carrick has been United’s most important player for some time. At 35 years old, he’s coming to the end of his time at United. Would Danny Drinkwater, who at 26 is nearing his peak, be a suitable replacement?
Norwich City may not be the first team on the minds of fans when it comes to transfer targets. Leicester City missed an opportunity when they failed to sign Robbie Brady in the summer. The Canaries were apparently asking for £20 million for the Irishman. His excellent Euro 2016 and World Cup qualifying performances helped to inflate his price. Making the case for Brady’s return to Old Trafford is not as hard as it sounds. United are sorely missing an excellent crosser of the ball and someone who is deadly at set-pieces. Zlatan has received some criticism for his performances this season. Pace has never been the Swede’s strong point. Towering over defenders and heading goals home is Ibrahimović’sbread and butter. There may to no better player in the air than Zlatan. Supplying these opportunities is an ongoing issue for United, and Brady could be a player to fill the void. Luke Shaw hasn’t been able to establish himself as the club’s left-back for a variety of reasons, while Darmian is a right-back being asked to fill in. Robbie Brady is only 24. The Irish international has proven that he’s good enough for the Premier League and the international stage. Mourinho could do worse than consider Brady for a return to United, where like Drinkwater; he could finally make his first-team debut.
Tier 3 Players
Danny Welbeckshould really be rated higher than Tier 3, but his recent injury problems do not bode well. Since signing for Arsenal in 2014, Welbeck has managed only 36 appearances and 8 goals. The major criticism aimed at him during his time at Old Trafford was a lack of killer instinct in front of goal. 20 goals in 92 appearances for a striker at United falls below expectations. If Welbeck could find fitness again, he could perhaps become a target down the line. Mourinho likes to play two wing forwards. Lingard and Rashfordbeing the two he’s primarily called on this season. Welbeck often plays in that role with success at Arsenal, where he’s able to create opportunities for those with a better eye for goal.
There are two defenders that fall in to Tier 3. Danny Simpson made three appearances for United before departing for Newcastle United in 2010. An unsuccessful season at QPR was followed by a seemingly innocuous move to Leicester in 2014. What happened next has now been told many times. While Drinkwater acted as the captain in midfield (next to the rampaging Kante), Simpson earned rave reviews with his performances at right-back. Antonio Valencia has been doing an admirable job in a position that he has adapted well to. If United were looking for an alternative option, with title-winning experience, Simpson could be a decent fit.
James Chester might seem like a bridge too far at first glance. However, the Aston Villa summer signing has become a standout performer for the rejuvenated club. The Welsh international shone in the Euro 2016 championships, but West Brom were happy to cash in when Villa came calling. Still only 27, Chester could be a late bloomer. United have leaked goals this season. Mourinho has dire injury concerns, so could be tempted to make a splash in the January transfer window. James Chester will definitely not be a target, but could perhaps be one for the future.
Ryan Shawcross has been one of the best Stoke City signings ever. Closing in on 300 appearances for the Potters, the non-nonsense tackler is unlikely to ever feature in a starting lineup for United. The Stoke City captain is perhaps better known for overly aggressive challenges. While Mark Hughes has brought in some skillful operators to the Britannia Stadium, they will always be a fully committed side. Shawcross embodies this never-say-die attitude, which is something Mourinho loves in his players. While the defensive side of his game is strong, the one-cap England international sometimes struggles with the technical side. Mourinho may end up signing Shawcross just to see the look on Arsene Wenger’s face.
Giuseppe Rossi made five appearances for United, scoring one goal. His move to Villarreal in 2007 suited both clubs. The Italian international would enjoy six successful seasons with ‘the Yellow Submarine’. If we were writing this article in 2012, Rossi would perhaps be a ‘Tier 1’ former United youth player. However, since his move to Fiorentina in 2013, Rossi has gone off the boil. Loaned out to Levante to recover fitness in January this year was followed by a loan move to Celta Vigo this season. Rossi continues to struggle and at the age of 29, is unlikely to ever pull on the famous red of United again.
Money continues to flow in to football with the Premier League being the largest recipients. Pogba’s£89 million transfer was bonkers when taken in isolation, but when you look at the complete picture of world football transfers, the world-record transfer fee was undoubtedly close to his valuation. United are willing to bring back former youth players. Could Drinkwater provide them composure in midfield? Could Robbie Brady be the man to at last fill the left-back spot? Could an obscure signing like James Chester help United to become more secure at the back? The biggest club in the world continues to be a work-in-progress where creative solutions are required to bring the glory days back. While fans shouldn’t indulge in history, it’s quite normal to be asking the question; could former United youngsters provide the belief and passion to bring the glory back to Old Trafford?