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Mark Payne Manchester Utd Posted by Mark Payne
Sep 4, 2014

Manchester United's spending spree harms their academy

Robin van Persie has said that he does not need knee surgery and has vowed to fight for his place after the arrival of Radamel Falcao.

Manchester United's remarkable spending spree clearly shows their intent to regain supremacy in English football. While the dramatic nature of the purchases reveals their desire to get there quickly, it is also indicative of a philosophical change at the club. For so long the standard-bearers of youth football, Manchester United are now just another big corporation in the market.

England's 20-time champions are not shy in promoting themselves as nurturers of young talent. The club has always prided itself on giving youth a chance and fostering from within. Indeed, with the Busby Babes and Fergie's Fledglings teams of historic import, two of the finest sides in English football history are testament to this philosophy.

- Mitten: Why Cleverley, Welbeck left
- Report: Rojo granted work permit
- Report: Falcao: United talks began long ago

This week that has changed. While it has been an important week for United in terms of clarifying the ambitions of the club, it has not been the finest week for the academy or the players within it.

The arrivals of Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria can only excite those who intend to watch the team this season. However, the departures of Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley are both notable for what they represent as much as for their impact on the playing squad.

In both cases, Welbeck and Cleverley have hovered around the United first team for a few years now with the words "potential" and "home-grown" attached to them hopefully and with a little pride. This was no doubt because they, and Jonny Evans, were the last true graduates in the squad.

Cleverley, alas, has been struck down by that common slayer of young English players: overhype. His finest period in a United shirt came during his injury of 2011, when his reputation grew on the back of a decent 20 minutes against Manchester City in the Community Shield.

Evans has played well in spurts, but at the age of 26 he could be expected to have grabbed his career by the scruff of the neck by now. He palpably has not.

Welbeck has scored some spectacular goals for United and put in a terrific shift as a willing team player, but he seldom scored and has been overlooked for a regular starting berth ever since he broke into the first-team squad.

At least by leaving for Arsenal, Welbeck has taken charge of his own destiny. It is a shame he could not have done so by forcing his way into the first team and making himself undroppable at United. His first and last flaw was that he did not score enough, lacking the final ruthlessness of a Ruud van Nistelrooy or Robin van Persie.

United's class of '92 is rightly lauded throughout the game as an example of what good youth development can produce. It was nonetheless an outlier in terms of productivity.

The attacking prowess brought by academy product Ryan Giggs during his long career is a quality that needs to be infused once again within the club's youth ranks.
The attacking prowess brought by academy product Ryan Giggs during his long career is a quality that needs to be infused once again within the club's youth ranks.

Since Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes et al broke through, United's graduates have emerged less regularly. John O'Shea and Wes Brown came into the side in the early 2000s and served the club admirably. Brown started the 2008 Champions League final and O'Shea sits high in the all-time appearance chart. Both men lined up against United for Sunderland a couple of weeks ago and were aghast at the lacklustre side they faced.

Although there are plenty of young English players in the current squad, many of them were actually highly priced acquisitions: Phil Jones cost 19 million pounds and Chris Smalling 10 million pounds. Even Adnan Januzaj was brought in from Anderlecht at the age of 16.

Januzaj perhaps represents the last great hope for United's youth in the current setup. With Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane also on the radar, manager Louis van Gaal will develop the younger players at his disposal further, but they will need to make the grade. The manager has a great record of bringing through youth, but they need to be good enough, just ask Welbeck.

The development of academy product Adnan Januzaj under new boss Louis van Gaal will be closely watched by the United faithful.
The development of academy product Adnan Januzaj under new boss Louis van Gaal will be closely watched by the United faithful.

Whereas Sir Alex Ferguson could be permitted the occasional whimsical decision on players he had nurtured since early youth, Van Gaal knows that he will be judged harshly if he does not deliver results -- starting at QPR on Sept. 16.

As such, he can only have the highest standards across the board. By bringing in Falcao, he is saying to his strike force that they need to match his output or get out of town; Welbeck obviously didn't fancy the challenge. The arrival of Di Maria sends a similar message to the midfield.

But this is far from being the end of United's academy. Even if simply assessed from a financial point of view, it is still a crucial aspect of how the club is run. The Premier League is full of players who have been schooled in the surrounds of Carrington and that production line will not come to an end any time soon.

There is always great cheer when a local boy dons the shirt of the club and attacks the opposition goal. The enduring affection for Giggs is testament to that fact. However, for the time being, Manchester United need to get back to the top as soon as possible.

As the club moves forward, the principles upon which it was built will not perish, but they need to move with the times. The simple fact of the matter is that sentiment cannot be a factor right now, and United need to catch up with Manchester City and Chelsea, who have been spending freely for close to a decade.

The other foundation upon which Manchester United has been built is a commitment to attacking football. That is something that has certainly been lacking over the past 15 months. As soon as that is back in the equation, it will be time to start bleeding the young players through again.

In the meantime, it's over to you, Louis.

Mark Payne

Mark Payne has been ESPN's Manchester United correspondent since 2008 and writes about football for a variety of media outlets. He is the author of "Fergie's Last Stand," now available in paperback. You can follow him on Twitter @Markjpayne.

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