Manchester United have a proud record of having at least one homegrown footballer in the first-team match-day squad since 30 October 1937. However, the club has been resting on its laurels in this regard, allowing other clubs to overtake them when it comes to investment in youth.
The academy reportedly costs £3.5 million to run, while Chelsea spend double that and Manchester City eclipse all, pumping £12 million a year into their academy set-up. It seems that youth policy has become an afterthought at United, with the board focusing on securing new commercial deals and the progress of the first team, instead.
This is a remarkably short-sighted strategy and it is no surprise that former players including Robin van Persie, Andy Cole, Darren Fletcher and Phil Neville have chosen to send their sons to City’s academy. The success of the set-up across the road has finally instigated action - the Guardian report that United are belatedly conducting a “root-and-branch review.”
However, it is thought that making the academy set-up competitive again will take years of planning and investment. It is partly due to the lack of impetus directed at the academy over recent times that the academy director role has been vacant for almost a year.
The club recently failed in poaching Tottenham’s esteemed academy director, John McDermott. He has a strong working relationship with Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane, with Tottenham reaping the benefits of a considered approach to developing and scouting young talent that United lack.
Sir Alex Ferguson set the club up for his era of success by re-building the scouting system and academy set up in his first few years, so it is disappointing to see that the club have now let this fall by the wayside.
Manchester Evening News have reported that the club deny claims that the Glazers want cost cuts behind the scenes at Old Trafford. Austerity measures are certainly not what United needs at this stage but it remains to be seen whether the Glazers are willing to invest in the longer term future of the club.
American press outlet the Tampa Bay Times have noted the similar predicament that the other Glazer sporting interest, NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers, find themselves in. Their record with the the under-performing NFL team won’t inspire hope among fans.
Last year saw the Glazers step up their siphoning of United money, with the announcement that the six children of Malcolm Glazer will be paid more than £15 million every year in dividends.
The family have already made an estimated £230 million from share sales, despite the club’s debt remaining at over £400 million - a legacy of the controversial debt-laden takeover. United have lost approximately £700 million to interest and other finance-related costs since the American family bought the club.