Next generation of Manchester United stars ready to assume the mantle

The Manchester United defender Phil Jones, right, is amongst those ready to lead the new-look side to success.

Sir Alex Ferguson has always trusted young players, but the exceptional current crop have left him with almost no option.

At 37, Ryan Giggs would still rather think of himself some days as more like an 18-year-old with 19 years’ experience. But then he sees his younger Manchester United team-mates wearing their “mad clothes”, listens to their conversations and cannot help but feel out of the loop sometimes. “It is when they start talking about computer games,” he says. “They play something called Black Ops, it goes completely over my head.”

The thirtysomethings at Old Trafford have all been watching from the sidelines recently. Giggs, the club’s oldest player, has not started either of United’s two league games and watched the Community Shield in his suit, not even selected among the substitutes. Michael Carrick has not played a single minute of the wins against West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur. Dimitar Berbatov has been restricted to 26 minutes over the course of three matches.

A theme has developed and, with it, there has been a discernible change behind the scenes. Voices that were rarely heard a year ago have become louder, growing in confidence. “A lot of the older players are no longer there,” Sir Alex Ferguson says, “so we have a young element in the dressing room who are starting to take control of the place.” The manager gives the impression he is enjoying this changing of the guard. “The young players have created a good spirit around the place. There is a perkiness about the dressing room.”

The average age of the team against Tottenham on Monday was 23 years and one month, making it the second youngest side Ferguson had ever put out in the Premier League. The youngest was against Hull City on the final day of the 2008-09 season when United were preparing to play in the Champions League final and Ferguson fielded a team of reserves and academy graduates, with four players handed their first league starts and seven substitutes aged 17 to 21.

Monday was a very different occasion – the first home match of the season, difficult opponents, no Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic – and amid all the praise for the young players a certain amount should be kept back for the manager. It was he, after all, who had the conviction to play Tom Cleverley ahead of Carrick and Danny Welbeck instead of Berbatov. Another manager might have removed David de Gea from the side after his mistakes in the previous matches but Ferguson stayed calm, remembered Peter Schmeichel’s early difficulties in England and decided he had to put his trust in a goalkeeper who, at 20, is half the age of the man he is replacing, Edwin van der Sar.

When Ferguson spoke after the match he gave the impression there had never been a single moment when he was worried how the team would cope without the assuring presence of Vidic and Ferdinand. It had always been his way to trust young players, he reminded us, but there had come a point with the current crop where they left him with almost no option. “This group has such fantastic ability,” he said, “it forces you to play them, really.”

Phil Jones is a case in point, a 19-year-old who gives the impression he is in his 10th year at Old Trafford rather than his 10th week. Sir Bobby Charlton and Paddy Crerand, team-mates from the European Cup victory of 1968, found themselves talking last week and decided they had already seen enough of Jones to pay him what, in United terms, is probably the ultimate compliment. “If you talk to Bobby Charlton,” Crerand says, “Phil Jones reminds him of Duncan Edwards with his power and build.”

Others will inevitably compare Jones, Cleverley, Welbeck and Chris Smalling with the last group of United players to come off the conveyor belt and create such a frisson of excitement. For now, however, it is probably better to think of the 1995 group of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, the Neville brothers and Paul Scholes (with Giggs a couple of years older) as a once-in-a-lifetime coming together. Cleverley is not Scholes and neither is it fair to expect him to be. But he is doing a fine job keeping Carrick out of the team and, in the process, has turned down the volume, a little, on those who cannot comprehend why the club have not brought in a new category-A midfielder.

Too much can be read into one game, of course. These are only the embryonic stages of the season and Welbeck, for one, can still look raw at times. He is, however, an elusive opponent and the back-heel with which he set up Anderson’s goal against Spurs was an exceptional moment of penetrative forward play.

Then there is the emergence of Smalling – a player, like Jones, whose development means the Old Trafford crowd no longer needs to fret unduly about Ferdinand’s injury problems. Plus the fact Rafael and Fábio da Silva, at the age of 20, did not even play on Monday. Anderson has already shown in flashes that he can have a productive season and, like Jonny Evans, is still young enough, at 23, to be regarded as promising. Ashley Young is 26, a year older than Wayne Rooney and two years older than Nani. Javier Hernández is another 23-year-old and could feasibly be at Old Trafford for the next decade.

Ferguson has been remarkably unselfish when it comes to putting into place a team that will still be around long after his tenure has ended. “We compete in the present but at the same time build for the future,” he says. On both counts, United have reason for optimism.

nicely written article. yup.. i must agree with the writer here.. fergie did well choosing his future lads. these young boys really are proving something. they’re not individually talented or skillful but as a team they showed great strength. let’s hope we’d get more silverwares this year. champion’s league? hm.. that might need much better individual players to beat barcelona.. good luck guys.. article from The Guardian.

City 2 United 3

New players, same old spirit. Sir Alex Ferguson handed four players competitive debuts at Wembley in the Reds’ injury-time Community Shield victory on Sunday, but despite the fresh faces United displayed the same never-say-die attitude that has become the hallmark of the manager’s modern teams.

In the space of six second-half minutes, goals from Chris Smalling and Nani turned around a two-goal deficit and seized back the momentum Manchester City had stolen at the end of the first period. Then, with the match in the fourth minute of injury time and seemingly poised for penalties, Nani charged down a Vincent Kompany clearance on the halfway line, sprinted clear, rounded Joe Hart in the City goal and slid the ball home to clinch the season’s first piece of silverware.

Many had written United off by half-time after goals from Joleon Lescott and Edin Dzeko – albeit against the run of play – had given the Blues what looked to be an unassailable lead. But changes at the break, including the introduction of debutants Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley, prompted a United fightback that epitomised the strength of character Sir Alex so often speaks of.

The Reds began brightly at Wembley, barely allowing City a kick for the first five minutes and going close when Smalling volleyed goalwards amid a mini melee inside the Blues’ penalty area. The young defender, usually deployed as a centre-back, enjoyed plenty of freedom down the right flank and delivered a number of dangerous crosses.

There was little evidence early on of charitable spirit in this Community Shield clash, as players from both teams flew into tackles on a surface made slippery by a heavy dose of rain just after kick-off. Nemanja Vidic and Mario Balotelli squared up to each other for the briefest of moments before Edin Dzeko and Anderson both earned bookings after they were involved in a shoving match following a late challenge by the Bosnian.

Barely a minute later, Micah Richards lunged in on Ashley Young and was perhaps lucky to escape with only a yellow card. Wayne Rooney couldn’t inflict further punishment; his free-kick whizzed just over the crossbar.

Welbeck and Nani then combined to unlock the City defence, although Welbeck’s final ball across goal was cut out by a Blues defender. The young striker then headed tamely into Joe Hart’s arms as United looked to turn early dominance into goals.

A number of niggly fouls disrupted the game’s flow around the half-hour mark and fuelled the already hot atmosphere inside the stadium. One infringement resulted in a United free-kick 30 yards from goal, which almost made its way into the bottom corner via a deflection off the end of the Blues’ wall. Another handed City the lead on 38 minutes.

It was David Silva’s teasing left-footed delivery from the right wing that did the damage. It curled over Vidic but in front of Rio Ferdinand, into an area where Joleon Lescott soared high to head past David De Gea from six yards.

The Spanish goalkeeper’s debut got worse in first-half injury time when a dipping Dzeko shot from distance deceived the 20-year-old and doubled City’s lead. The ball was struck with some venom, but it was its late movement in the air that caught the former Atletico Madrid man by surprise.

So, after a bright start and plenty of early promise, Sir Alex’s men found themselves, somewhat harshly, two goals behind at the break. The boss responded by making three changes – Phil Jones and Jonny Evans came on for Ferdinand and Vidic, Tom Cleverley replaced Carrick – and within 13 minutes the Reds were level.

Like the game’s opener, United’s first goal owed much to set-piece delivery of the highest order. This time it was Ashley Young, bought from Aston Villa in the summer and renowned for his dead-ball prowess, that sent a curling ball into a packed penalty area. When it arrived five yards from goal, Smalling was on hand to volley past Hart and reduce the deficit.

Six minutes later, Nani dinked a delightful finish over Hart to cap a passing move that was as easy on the eye as it was devastatingly effective. Indeed, the Reds will do well to score a better team goal this season.

Nani started the move by passing crisply to Rooney on the edge of the box and continuing his run into the penalty area. Wayne moved the ball on to Cleverley with a cheeky backheel and he, eyeing Nani’s run, laid the ball sideways for the Portuguese to collect in his stride and chip past the advancing Hart.

De Gea did well to keep out a rasping drive from City substitute Adam Johnson on 76 minutes, while Cleverley whistled a shot just over the bar at the other end. With three minutes to play the Spanish goalkeeper shot up an arm to repel a close-range Micah Richards header, although the goal wouldn’t have counted anyway: referee Phil Dowd had already blown his whistle for a foul inside the area.

The Reds then blew two late chances to win the game before Nani stole the show in dramatic fashion and saved everybody the pain of penalty kicks. It seems winning’s a hard habit to shake…

United: De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand (Jones 46), Vidic (Evans 46), Evra (Rafael 72); Nani, Carrick (Cleverley 46), Anderson, Young; Rooney, Welbeck (Berbatov 89)

Subs not used: Lindegaard, Park, Berbatov

City: Hart; Richards, Kompany, Lescott, Kolarov (Clichy 74); Milner (Johnson 67), De Jong, Toure Y, Silva; Balotelli (Barry 59), Dzeko

Subs not used: Taylor, Savic, Wright-Phillips, Aguero

good start to the season. let’s hope for more. this season, the fight would be different. there’s no scholes to pass from down the middle straight to strikers, there’s no brown or o’shea to back up our defenders, and definitely no van der sar to protect the net.. those names will be missed. will de gea be able to cope with the pressure? cleverly comes back and showed he can. phil jones looks good at the back. young was awesome on the flanks. and was happy to see smalling suiting well to the right full-back. really have lost one ever since neville becomes old.. good luck manchester united.. we shall win again.. and barca.. let’s meet again in the finals.. article from Manchester United Official Website.