Are ‘the kids’ alright? Assessing the youth of Manchester United and Chelsea

“The Kid’s”. It’s a phrase we have been hearing a lot so far this season. Due to some poor mismanagement at Manchester United and some questionable transfer ethics at Chelsea, youth has been pushed to forefront of both squad’s and finally been given it’s chance to shine.

Listening to respective interviews from Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would lead you to believe that they are doing it because they think it’s right, and have a fierce urge to show the world what these young player’s can do. The truth of the matter is that in both managers cases their hands are tied.

Both managers would jump at the chance of signing some established player’s to bolster their chances of finishing in a top four spot , but you won’t catch them saying that in public. For now it’s all about nurturing talent and reiterating how proud they both are to give all these kids a shot at the big time.

To be fair these sentiments may have some credence, but if Solskaer had the chance to sign a couple of decent established midfielders then you wouldn’t be hearing the names Pereira and McTominay much at Old Trafford. Likewise Lampard might not be doing the proud father act so much either, which the English media are lapping up. At the end of the day he would jump at the chance to have someone like Virgil Van Dijk at the heart of his defence, rather than Fikayo Tomori.

When investors get weary of taking the cheque book out yet again after a number of poor signings year after year, a manager is forced to look inwards when it comes to strengthening and improving his team.

This is the situation Solskjaer finds himself in at Manchester United, one he has his predecessors, and to a degree, Ed Woodward to thank for. The message was clear from the beginning of the transfer window and has remained strong since – youth will be given a chance to prove itself here at Old Trafford, just like it had done in the early year’s of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign of dominance. The problem for this current group of potential young superstars is that a lot of them aren’t that young anymore and don’t look like they have the potential to take the club back up to the top of the table, where both ownership and the fanbase expect to be.

Take Andreas Pereira for example. At 22 year’s of age can he really be considered young in today’s game? The answer is no, but he is still described by Solskjaer and by fan’s as one of the younger player’s that they’re hoping will establish himself as a starter for the club, and hopefully go on to be a great player. The stark reality is that he may have nearly reached his full potential already.

If you take a look at neighbours Manchester City you see that they signed a player only one year older than Pereira this summer in Rodrigo, for a fee upwards of €60 million. Here is a player that is ready to come in and play first team football with one of the best sides in Europe, and at no stage has he been referred to as a young developing player by Pep Guardiola. At 23 years-old, he is being trusted to come in and perform at a high level, because that’s the standard he was at when they bought him.

Pereira is only one example. In the case of a lot of United’s so called youth players, the truth is a lot of them are not up to the standard that the club aspires to. After United’s game with Arsenal on Monday Night Football recently Jamie Carragher asked Roy Keane “had he seen any of the qualities needed from the young player’s at United to make the step up”. His answer was “no, not really.” He then went on to talk about their honesty on the pitch, which is just a nice way of saying that they are limited.

Marcus Rashford is maybe the one player that has come through recently that looks like he could one day be a top Premier League player. But even at the age of 21, you would have to say that there quite a big gap in quality between him and a player such as Leroy Sane, who is only two years older than him and who was one of the best players in the league when he was Rashford’s current age. That is the standard Manchester United must try and aim for and it doesn’t look like it will be possible with the current group of youngster’s.

Over at Stamford Bridge, Frank Lampard finds himself in a similar position, but with potentially much better prospects. His side are in the middle of serving a two-year transfer ban, handed down due to breaches of the regulations regarding the transfers of player’s under the age of 18 years of age. Luckily for Lampard though, the club has a massive amount of young player’s on their books, mostly spending their time on loan at various club’s around Europe. This has allowed him to add some really exciting prospects to his squad such as Mason Mount, who at only 20 years of age looks like one of the most exciting attacking midfielder’s in England.

Another is 21 year-old striker Tammy Abraham. Abraham has scored seven goals in his opening seven league games for the blues this season and looks to have benefitted greatly from his stints in The Championship with various clubs. Callum Hudson-Odoi is another talented prospect that ironically may keep Chelsea’s last big signing before the ban – Christian Pulisic – out of the team.

The major difference between Chelsea’s young hopefuls and United’s bar the standard in quality, is that player’s such as Mount and Abraham have plenty of first team experience having done their due diligence in the lower divisions. Both have seen their careers on an upward curve over the last couple of seasons. This is unlike some of Manchester United’s players, who are been thrown in at the deep end, such as Mason Greenwood – or who have not left the club on loan to gain some much needed experience, such as McTominay.

The race for a Champions League spot will be dictated heavily on how well both sets of young players perform for their respective teams. In Chelsea’s case, they look to have far superior talent to choose from in Hudson Odoi, Mount and Abraham. Manchester United, on the other hand, can dip into the transfer market if things are still on a downhill trajectory come January.

“You’ll never win anything with kids.” muttered Alan Hanson famously all those years ago. For Manchester United and Chelsea this season, that will probably ring true.

Author Details

Philip Flanagan

A West of Ireland based football writer/blogger. You can find me daily over at The Bottomless pit of football.

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