From as far back as the days of Sir Matt Busby and the Busby babes, Man Utd has often had a knack of being home to incredibly talented players that are unknown until they rise to the occasion.
The Gist takes looks at why the so called ‘relatively unknowns’ thrive at Old Trafford
The year was 1992, Alex Ferguson under pressure after failing to deliver the much sought after league title for which he was hired to deliver. The time happened to coincide with the purchase of Eric Cantona from Leeds United and a special group of young players from the Manchester United academy. The famous class of 92 consisting of players who would grow to be known as the best ever products of the United academy. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Robbie Savage, David Beckham, Gary Neville and later on Phil Neville.
However, the young academy hopefuls did not have it easy graduating into the senior squad with seasoned players such as Mark Hughes, Bryon Robson, Bryan McClair. Somehow luckily, they were dealt a boost with the injury of Deon Dublin for six months and Bryan Robson. Hence the graduation of Giggs, into the senior squad.
United led a strong title bid that year, facing a tough three horse race against Norwich and Aston Villa. However, propelled by the goal scoring prowess of Cantona and eventual top scorer Hughes, United secured their first title for 26 years importantly keeping Ferguson at United. Despite the obvious big names in the squad, young Ryan Giggs shined and ran out with the PFA Young Player of the Year award for the second year in succession scoring nine league goals. The young Welshman stood ahead of his peers, showing great maturity, skill and talent that made him an almost fixture in the United starting 11.
Giggs played what might be the most important role in the history of the United academy. His starring performances laid a trust in the club’s youth and transfer policy, which led to his academy peer’s integration in the united first team in seasons to come. The exit of regulars like Deon Dublin, Mike Phelan and Bryan Robson after a second league title only enabled the creation of space for Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt to also be drafted into the first team and despite rarely making first team appearances, the class of 92 continued to dominate youth leagues. For a moment Lee Sharpe looked like he would be the pinnacle boy of Ferguson’s united era but for a bust up in which the united boss felt Sharpe’s attitude was going to get ahead of his career.
The core of this evolution was the emergence of a set of stars at the club. Not brought about by high transfer fees but by cultivated talent leading to a set of superstars modified with a winning mentality and oneness with a never give up attitude which came to be known as ‘Fergie time’.
Along with these players came another set of archetypal united player, the relatively unknown with everything to prove and nothing to lose. One of the most important signing made by Sir Alex Ferguson was the acquisition of Ole Gunner Solskjear . The Norwegian striker, dubbed ‘The Baby-faced Assassin’’ arrived for £1.5 million and throughout his United career, he dared to deceive the odds. Arriving after United failed attempt to lure Alan Shearer from Blackburn, the Norwegian used his relatively unknown and simple statue to bamboozle defenses. Some of his most impressive feats included scoring the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich and scoring four goals in 12 minutes as a substitute in United’s 8-1 victory over Nottingham Forest.
Solskjear was not the only one, Players like Darren Fletcher, now based at West Brom shone at old Trafford, the midfielder was a mainstay in United midfield whenever fit, wining several league titles at the club.
Perhaps one of the biggest relatively unknowns to shine at Old Trafford was Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez.
The Mexican was signed pre World Cup 2010 from Chivas Guadalajara and took little time to show what he was made of scoring vital goals for Mexico and the announcing himself to English football on his debut against his biggest victim, Chelsea. The Mexican’s never say die attitude and clinical finishing ability echoed what united stood for and proved to be a thorn in many sides as he scored important goal after another ending his maiden season with a solo effort against Chelsea again after 20 second that all but confirmed Man Utd as the new premier league title holders in 2011.
The Mexican went on to score 58 goals for the club, winning two premier league titles before being found as ‘surplus to requirements’ by Louis Van Gaal.
When David Moyes stepped out as the chosen one, many expected the battle warriors of Ferguson’s era to drive the team forward in a new generation at old Trafford. But things did not exactly turn out that way. With injuries to several first team players, one Adnan Januzaj, fresh from the united academy made the most of the opportunity gifted to him. The young Belgian settled in the united first team, scoring vital goals in a somewhat topsy turvy period for the team. Januzaj dazzled defences and at times looked unplayable.
Even after a failed loan spell at Borussia Dortmund in the first half of the 2015/16 season, the united starlet returned to the side and scored away at Aston Villa. The production mill did not stop there, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, probably the best players out of the united Academy since Paul Pogba broke through despite being relatively unknown to the football world. Lingard broke through the United side at a time when injuries hit the squad, a fate that has proved to be a historical catalyst for youngsters breaking into the united first team. Rashford, who has been tipped to be one of United’s best ever players if he continues to nature his talent well has been a revelation to the squad. No one would have envisaged the young striker making the impact he did in the manner he did. Two goals on his debut, two against Arsenal, a goal in the derby against Manchester City, and a shock call up to the England Euro 2016 squad.
So why does this system work so well for United?
The Gist’s thoughts
‘‘Well it’s all in the identity of the squad, a team built on hard working and a never say never mentality born from the days of the Busby babes. Young United players are drilled to be winners and a feel of self-belief and confidence that they belong on the big stage and they own it to the club and themselves to show the club and the world what United is all about. Even those bought from other clubs bring the same mentality, leaders like Nemanja Vidic, Wes Brown and John O’Shea had many fruitful years despite arriving as relatively unknowns. Average players, with the heart of a superstar.’’