United's Youth Policy is flawed and it may do more harm than good
Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong are top talents but need experience (Photo: Matthew Peters / Getty Images)

When Chelsea were handed a transfer ban it was thought that it would be a hinderance. Losing the likes of Eden Hazard meant they may well struggle for goals, despite being able to call on Christan Pulisic, whom they had signed before the ban.

Chelsea have won seven of the last 10 FA Youth Cups, but the amount of players that have broken into the first team and established themselves is zero. Until now. 

After years of developing players and selling them, they now have three players that have not only taken to the Premier League like ducks to water but have been included in the England squad for the up-and-coming Euro Championship qualifiers.

Frank Lampard had the courage to throw three players into the first team, but he knew what he was getting. He had Mason Mount and Fiyako Tomori at Derby County last year and would have seen Tammy Abraham plundering goals whilst on loan at Aston Villa.

Mount is 20, Tomori is 21 and Abraham has just turned 22, so they are not babies, but they are certainly not the normal profile of a Chelsea first-teamer. 

Considering Chelsea used the loan system to put their conveyor belt of young talent into the shop window, it is ironic that in a time of trouble they are able to now finally put it to good use.

The experience that those players gathered and the fact that they not only got games in the Championship but excelled, helps enormously when being given the opportunity to step up and play for a top club. The benefits are clear as day.

Manchester United have placed a huge emphasis on youth too this season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hasn't been hampered by a transfer ban, he is just putting his faith in talented young players.

As with Lampard, it's courageous. Results are all that matters these days though, and having a long term plan and trying to develop youth is only lauded if your winning. Chelsea are, United aren't.

United loans not productive

United use the loan system too. They don't use it in the volume that Chelsea does, and the aim is not to increase the sell-on value of a player. However, there are few instances in recent times where a bit of experience supports the step up to the first team.

A United youth player going out on loan is generally the sign that their days are numbered and it's almost a gesture to help them get a club after release. Regan Poole, Matty Willock and Zach Dearnley were some of the most recent cases but there are plenty more.

It's cut-throat at any level at a major club, but youth levels can sometimes fall on fine margins and getting opportunities and United could definitely use the loan system better. Like they did with Axel Tuanzebe.

His profile is very much like the Chelsea boys. He played with Abraham at Villa last year and he also had a fantastic season. He got experience with United in the first team under Louis van Gaal at an early age, but the loan has brought him on leaps and bounds.

He is probably not the first choice for Solskjaer, but he is getting games and he has hardly put a foot wrong when he has featured. He has jumped ahead of the likes of Marcus Rojo and Phil Jones and it looks like his United career will be fruitful.

Experience needed

Tuanzebe is 21, but he is like an elder statesman compared to Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood. These young forwards have the technical ability to make the grade. No question. They need opportunities. No question. They also need help in the form of experience.

They need experience around them if they are going to be thrown in at United, or they need to go away and get the experience of games. If they play in a decent league and are able to flourish, then the confidence they will gain is invaluable.

As it is, Solskjaer needs them and can't afford to loan them out. Quite frankly these players are too young to have the responsibility they are shouldering at this moment in time, and their performances appear to be suffering. 

United have no leaders. There are not five or six world-class players to guide these youngsters and in the absence of either experience or class, it's inevitable the kids will struggle.

It's difficult to find consistency at that level at that age, so when it is not happening, you need people to be able to gee you up and keep your head up, or you need them to produce magic. Right now, the likes of Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard are doing nothing to help.

Rashford himself is young of course, but he could lead by example. He is playing in spurts though and generally struggling for form. The other two have no excuses. They should be approaching their peak but they are very poor.

It isn't just them. Very few players are playing well, and there are no real leaders.

Slow Introduction needed

Sir Alex Ferguson was a master at introducing youth. He threw youngsters in throughout his tenure at Old Trafford. With the exception of "The Class of '92", he did it slowly. The odd player, the odd game. 

He made sure that there were men around the kids, and class was usually in abundance. The energy and exuberance of youth should be there to compliment.

In 1996 United made a mockery of Alan Hansen's claim that you couldn't win anything with kids. Without Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel et al, then the former Liverpool man would have been proved right.

Solskjaer probably knows this too. United drubbed Chelsea 4-0 on the opening day of the season. Only Greenwood featured that day for United, and that was a short cameo when the scoring was done. 

It was a risk letting Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez go without replacing them, but Solskjaer probably felt he had enough to be able to introduce the youngsters sparingly and target the cup competitions to fully blood them.

Injuries have forced his hand, and the confidence gained from that initial result has slowly eroded. At the moment United are struggling to create chances, never mind score, and the pressure is mounting now on these young shoulders.

Solskjaer has said that he did not want to put obstacles in the way of the kids, and that's why he sanctioned the departures. Yet he contradicted that by saying he tried to get a striker, but could not get the right one. 

January is a long way off, and never the best time for recruitment. Be that as it may, United have to do whatever they can to bring in re-enforcements. This talented crop need help badly.

It's sink or swim time, and if these players are irrevocably damaged by having to perform beyond their years and not being ready then it will an absolute shame.

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