It has never been easy to make the grade as a youngster at Manchester United, and as United have experienced more and more success it is probably as hard now as it has ever been.
The "Class of '92" were exactly that - class. Since those legends broke into the first team, United have continued to blood youngsters some of whom have served United well. The numbers who don't make it far outweigh the ones that do. It is said that when you leave Old Trafford, the only way is down. That is generally true, and whilst Gerard Pique makes a mockery of that sentiment, for the large part players don't go on to bigger and better things.
Suffering the setback of rejection at a club like United can be heartbreaking, but there are plenty of examples of players that have used their fantastic football education to ensure they still make a good career in the game. Here, we take a look at a 'reject' XI and show that there is life after Old Trafford.
Tom Heaton (Goalkeeper)
Tom Heaton was at United from the age of 11, and after 13 years he was released and had to make his way elsewhere. He was a member of the team that won the 2003 FA Youth Cup, although he didn't feature. He progressed through the ranks at United and managed to get to third choice, but never got to the position to make an appearance. Edwin van der Saar was the main reason for that. Heaton had a succession of loans, one of which was at Cardiff, and in 2010 he made the decision to make a permanent switch to the Welsh Club after being released by United.
He earned the Young Player of the year award in his first season, but was made second choice when Malky Mackay took over as manager.
He did help the club reach the League Cup final though, and almost became the hero. He saved a penalty from Steven Gerrard in the shoot out against Liverpool, but ultimately they lost out. He refused a new contract and went to Bristol City on a one-year contract. After another good season in the Championship, he made another move, this time to Burnley where he remains. He is now the captain, regarded as one of the best 'keepers in the Championship and has established himself as third choice for England seniors. He is a solid, dependable goalkeeper, with his best asset being his shot stopping but also very commanding in the air.
Robbie Brady (Full back)
Brady was scouted in his native Ireland and signed forms for United as a 16-year-old. He is a big talent, and in 2012-13 having been on tour with United it looked like he was going to make a breakthrough in the first team. It never materialised and it was somewhat of a surprise when United sold him to Hull City, whom he had previously had two loan spells with, in January 2013. He flourished with the Tigers, and although he started out as a left winger, he can and does operate at left back.
After Hull's relegation from the Premier League, Norwich, who went the other way snapped him up. He has a wand of a left foot and is pretty deadly on set pieces providing superb deliveries. Although he is still in the early stages of his career, he was an integral part of the Republic of Ireland team that qualified for Euro 2016 and his future is very bright. Although it would be unlikely that he returned to United, there is every possibility that he could yet end up at a top club once more.
Phil Bardsley (Full back)
Wayne Rooney's sparring partner. He was a tough, no nonsense full-back that has no shortage of ability. A Salford lad, he came through the youth set up at United and made his debut for the reds at 18. He had no shortage of confidence, and when he broke into the United side, it appeared he had a bright future with United. Of course, a certain Gary Neville was in front of him, but in 2005 he made a few appearances in Neville's absence and was a squad regular. He played 15 times that season, but it was to be as good as it got for Bardsley at United, and his development was in the form of loan moves once more.
One spell at Rangers should have been a perfect stepping stone, but a training ground bust up saw him return to United early. This may have had a bearing on United's decision to sell him to Sunderland in 2008 for £850,000. It seemed small change for a talented player, and Sunderland got good value. He spent seven seasons at the Stadium of Light, winning the player of the year award in 2011 before switching to Stoke City and teaming up with one of his boyhood heroes, Mark Hughes, in 2014-15. He never gained international recognition with England, but in 2010 decided he would pledge his allegiance to Scotland, through his Father and has made 13 appearances to date.
Ryan Shawcross (Centre Half)
Born in Chester, he was raised in North Wales, and actually played in the local leagues when he was a youngster. As a kid he was tall and lanky, and whilst his physique hasn't changed much, he has filled out. He made two appearances for United, in the League cup games as against Crewe and Southend, but he did very well when he was out on loan at Royal Antwerp and then Stoke City. Stoke were so impressed, they made his deal permanent in 2008, although United allegedly had a buy back clause inserted. At various stages there was rumours that Sir Alex would re-sign Shawcross but it never materialised and he remains a rock at the back in the Potteries.
Shawcross can be considered very unlucky not to have a lot more caps for England. Currently he has a solitary cap, and a big reason could be the result of an unfortunate tackle on Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal, where the Welshman suffered a bad break of the leg.
It was not a malicious tackle, but there was a lot of fall out from that and it seems there is a stigma attached to him. It is unfair, because he is a very good defender. He will put his body on the line, and is one you want in the trenches. There have been better players in front of him for England, but not many and the consistency he has shown should have earned him many more caps. That he cannot get in the squad is pretty remarkable.
Michael Keane (Centre Half)
Keane is similar in stature and playing style to Shawcross. He is tall and gangly, and has an element of Gary Pallister about him when he strides out of defence with the ball. He is now with Burnley in the Championship, and it is somewhat of a surprise to see him there.
Keane made his debut for United at the age of 18, and has a similar pattern to his progress. He had a taste of first team football, went out for a few loans, and then got sold. The surprising thing was the timing. He had made his Premier League debut in the August of last year, and within a month had been sold to Burnley, who were of course also in the Premier League at the time.
Having seemingly impressed Louis van Gaal in pre-season and to be involved in the squads, what happened? MK Dons. The League Cup shocker has spelled the end for several United players, and whilst Keane would not have been judged on that sole outing, nobody came out of that game with any credit. He proved to be a mainstay in Burnley's season in the Premier League, and remains so following their relegation. He represented the Republic of Ireland at youth level, but has switched to England and has caps all the way up to U-21 level. It would be no surprise to see him eventually join the full squad, because at 22 he has plenty of time on his side.
Robbie Savage (Midfield)
The Marmite man! Savage was one of those players that polarised opinion, and now he has taken to punditry, nothing has changed. He was, of course, part of the youth team that won the Youth Cup in 1992 and he played as a centre forward in those days.
Surrounded by such superstars, it is possibly unsurprising that he may have been overshadowed, and despite getting a professional contract with United, he never got loaned out and he never featured in United's first team. Wrexham born, he took to the third tier and Crewe Alexandra. He was converted to midfield, and his career took off from there.
The majority of his career then on in was in the Premier League with Leicester City, under Martin O'Neil, Birmingham and Blackburn. He played for Derby in the Premier League, but after relegation spent the last three years of his career in the Championship. He was involved in a recent spat with John Terry, when Terry reacted badly to comments from Savage, and dismissed his career and Savage as a player.
He was very disrespectful, because regardless of whether you like him or not, over 600 professional club appearances and 39 Welsh caps, you are entitled to your opinion. He was a tenacious player, always gave 100% and whilst he may not have been the best technically he was an important component in the teams he played for. You never got a minutes peace, and you wanted him in your side. He never got the plaudits that his former youth team colleagues got, but he was a decent player without a doubt.
David Platt (Midfield)
It is possibly not widely known, or more likely forgotten, but David Platt started his career at United. He signed a professional contract in 1984, but at the end of the 1984/85 season he was released.
Of course, it would have been difficult to make an impression in midfield with Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside and Remi Moses around but considering the career Platt enjoyed it was still surprising looking back. However, Platt also went the same way as Savage and began remodeling his career. He did so to great effect. As a goalscoring midfielder, they didn't come much better. He spent three years at Crewe in the old fourth division and scored over 50 goals, earning a move to Aston Villa in the old second division. He hit the ground running and helped Villa get promoted to the top tier.
His goals continued to flow, and he got international recognition that would catapult his career. He was named in the squad for the 1990 World Cup, but it took an injury to Robson to open the door for Platt. In the knock-out game against Belgium, he was summoned from the bench and in the 120th minute scored a wonderful volley to win the game. He scored two more in the tournament and his reputation was now global. Within the space of three years he had three different teams in Italy as he moved to Bari for £5.5 million, Juventus for £6.5 million and then Sampdoria for £5.2 million. These were incredible sums at the time, but he justified his fee's with his performances.
He returned to England to sign for Arsenal and finished his career at Nottingham Forest. 27 goals in 62 appearances for England meant that Ron Atkinson possibly made a bit of a mistake all them years ago.
Danny Drinkwater (Midfield)
Danny Drinkwater plays for a team that is top of the Premier League, and it is not Manchester United.
He joined United as a nine-year-old, but like so many others he got experience out on loan before being let go. He is a Manchester lad, like Bardsley, and it is sad when local lads get let go. Drinkwater is not the type to mope though, and the move to Leicester City in 2012 (for a fee) has rejuvenated his career. He spent time at Huddersfield, Cardiff, Watford and Barnsley on loan, but never featured for United and the move to the Championship has battle hardened him as a player. After an indifferent start, he helped the Foxes gain promotion to the Premier League and was named in the Championship team of the year in the process.
Leicester won a lot of fans for their great escape last season, and now they are in dreamland having reached the summit of the Premier League. It is unlikely that they will stay there, but they have been playing some wonderful football and Drinkwater has been at the heart of things. He is combative in the engine room, but he has no shortage of ability.
The 25-year-old is becoming the heartbeat of the team, as with a sprinkling of flair players around him he is the one who is providing the solid base for them to play. He will face his old club this weekend, and it is probably a fairy tale that he faces United when they sit one place below them in the table! He has been capped at U-19 level for England, but it would not be a surprise to see him make the full squad in the future.
David Jones (Midfield)
Jones only appeared twice for United and one of those games was in another fateful day in January 2004. It wasn't quite an MK Dons moment, but Exeter came to Old Trafford as a non-league team and went away with a 0-0 draw and they could easily have won. Sir Alex was furious, but Jones was one of the players who were absolved from blame. A certain Mr Pique played that day also. Jones made his debut as a substitute earlier that season against Arsenal, and it looked like he could have a future at Old Trafford. Despite him signing a three year contract, he never played again for United. He had loan spells at NEC Nijmegen in Holland and Preston in the Championship, but eventually was sold to Derby.
He has played most of his career in the Championship with Derby, Wolves, Blackburn, Wigan and Burnley but he is a quality player making over 300 career appearances. He is one that dictates the tempo, and he is brave in the sense that he is not afraid to tackle but also in that he is always wanting possession. He has a great left foot and although he has not always been a regular at his clubs, he has established himself at Burnley where he is alongside Heaton and Keane. He only made one U-21 appearance for England, but he could easily have played international football for Wales where he was often courted. He held out for England, and now at 31 it is likely that he will not have the opportunity on the international stage.
Andy Ritchie (Striker)
Another Manchester lad, Andy Ritchie was a surprise that he did not make it at United. By the age of 19 he had two hat-tricks in a United shirt - his first when he was 18 against Leeds United - and normally a player that does that sort of thing is not let go lightly. He scored 13 goals in 42 appearances for United, but he was sold in 1980 to Brighton when United were managed by Dave Sexton and they had the likes of Joe Jordan and Lou Macari ahead of Ritchie in the pecking order. It was still a shock, but Ritchie proved his class throughout his career.
He was a good player technically and a worker, but he knew where the net was. He moved to Leeds from Brighton, but really made his name at Oldham in the late 80's and early 90's. He almost broke United hearts in the 1990 FA Cup semi-final when he scored at Maine Road in the replay, but United managed to come through 2-1. A spell at Scarborough was proceeded by a return to Oldham where he finished his career. He only managed one U-21 appearance for England, but he scored 210 career goals and was a super player.
Mark Robins (Striker)
Robins was a talented striker, although he was what would be described as a 'box player'. He could link up play, but his strength was getting on the end of things. But when he got his chance in the first team he also proved to be a scorer of important goals, and probably one of the most important in Sir Alex's reign. The third round of the FA Cup in 1990 was away to Nottingham Forest, which was a really tough tie. Defeat may have meant Sir Alex getting sacked, but Robins ensured that didn't happen, stooping to head in the only goal of the game. He also scored the semi final winner against Oldham in the game that Ritchie scored for the opposition.
He, like so many others, was hampered by Hughes and Brian McClair being in front of him, but in the time he played at United he was a threat when he was on the pitch. He was at the start of the success story, and won an FA Cup and Cup Winners Cup medal, despite not playing against Barcelona. So his short time was successful. He left United for Norwich and scored a double against Arsenal on his debut. He fell out of favour at Norwich and joined Leicester, but from that point his career took him to a number of places including spells abroad most notably at Copenhagen. He scored 106 goals in his career and in six U-21 appearances for England notched seven goals, though he never won a full cap.
Careers beyond United
This team would probably not win the Premier League, but there is no shortage of quality and they would more than hold their own.
Of course, there are players such as Guiseppe Rossi, Pique and Paul Pogba who could have been mentioned, but all of those were taken from other academy's and the likes of Ravel Morrison haven't exactly made a career just yet.
Players like Kieran Richardson, Kieran Lee, Danny Simpson and David Healy have done fantastic and even if you do not reach the level of Manchester United there are so many examples of how coming through the ranks at United can mean a good career despite being shown the exit door.