Thoughts on the United academy, and why we haven’t produced another class of 1992

We have a lot of good young players current in our reserves and academy. A lot of credit for that should go to those in charge, such as Brian McClair, Warren Joyce, Paul McGuinness, etc. A lot of credit should also go to Sir Alex Ferguson, of course.

These players have a lot of talent, but obviously, not all of them will make it into the first team. The cream of the crop will make it, while the rest will be sold to clubs where they can continue their development and further their careers. I haven’t been watching our reserve team and youth team consistently for many years, but those that have say the same thing i do, which is we haven’t had such a good group of young talented players for many years now. But this doesn’t surprises me.

The reason it doesn’t surprise me is because of the rules and regulations that United have had to overcome to produce such a group. Class of 1992 is a world famous class, and we all know the names of those that graduated from that class, into our first team, and became top players for many years since then. Clearly we haven’t had a batch as good as that since then, and this issue has been used like a rock, which some supporters throw at United. I can understand why they do that, but i don’t think they are aware of all the facts.

90 minute rule (introduced in 1998, by FA)

In 1998, a new rule was introduced by the FA, which was known as the “90 minutes rule”. One of the key features in those rules was that United (and all other clubs) couldn’t sign under-16s who lived more than 90 minutes driving distance away from the club and couldn’t sign under-12s who lived more than 60 minutes driving distance away from the club, unless the young player’s family moves into the 90 (or 60) minutes radius of the club interested in signing the player for their academy. Along with that came tribunals which decided the cost of a young player that the buying club had to pay to the selling club (in most case, against their will). Each player’s case was judged individually, and often the cost of buying the player was quite high.

To put things in perspective, what would have happened had the “90 minute rule” been applied before 1992. The famous class of 1992 consisted of 6 players:

Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt. (i excluded Terry Cooke because he didn’t exactly become a key member of the first team squad)

Under the “90 minute rule”, Giggs would not have been signed from City, because the tribunal would have put a huge fee on his head when he transferred from City, which United would arguably not have paid. Scholes would have to sign for Oldham, Beckham would have not been allowed to sign for United since we was from London and based there. The Neville brothers would have probably signed for Bury, and the only one that we would have been likely to sign, is Nicky Butt, but even that is debatable considering the number of clubs based in the same “youth catchment area” as us (due to the 90 minutes rule).

You can imagine how much our history would have changed had the “90 minute rule” been applied earlier, especially before 1992. But now imagine what our history, quality of batch of academy products, etc could have been post-1998 had this rule not been applied.

What notable football figures have said about the 90 minute rule

This rule was detested by Sir Alex Ferguson, since it deprived United from being able to scout all over the UK for the best young talent and then bring them to our academy. He said the following,

“Manchester United are being unfairly restricted by the FA regulations. The 90 minute rule is one of the most ridiculous rules i have ever known. The academy rule is a real handicap to us, you would have thought it illegal to deny a young boy the chance to come to a club like Manchester United.”

I am going to quote Brian McClair (United Academy Director), and his thoughts on the “90 minutes rule” and the impact it has had on United’s academy, and the quality of its conveyor belt of talent to the first team.

“We hosted an under-16 tournament with Barcelona here two years ago, and we put out a local team. All our players are from Greater Manchester, less than an hour’s drive. We played well, but they won the tournament. They had a team with six players from all over Spain, three from Africa and one from Argentina. You are going to struggle against that. We work a local system here, all the kids live within an hour and we think we have done OK. But we think that kids from all over the country should have that opportunity to come. We are envious of the structure that other countries have. As it is, the Academy system (due to 90 minute rule, introduced in 1998) is not perfect for us. But it is not hurting us more than anybody else. It’s not perfect for anyone.It used to be an open competition (pre-1998) where you could scout anyone all over the country. What it (90 minute rule) means is that a player like David Beckham, who lived in London, wouldn’t be able to come to United now under these rules. That’s not fair on the boy if he wants to come here. It can also mean that some of the best boys won’t always be able to train and progress with boys of their standard. That can affect their progress. The Class of `92 wouldn’t have happened if the rules now had operated then. You can’t scout anybody these days. I can’t go and watch a Manchester City against Bolton game for instance and scout a player. You have to work with what you have got. But the Academy system starts so young these days that you are having to make a judgment on a player aged just eight! Because of the rules what it can mean is that if you don’t find a decent group at eight years of age then you won’t have a decent group going right through (the youth system, at every age group). The whole concern is about the development of footballers.”

McClair mentioned that not surrounding a good young player with many others of his age group, has a negative impact on that player’s development and potential. Alan Irvine (Everton Academy Director), said the following. “I found that by putting good players together they all improved. The individuals develop the group and the group develops the individuals, and quality goes through the roof.”

McClair and Irvine are both on the same page, and have similar thoughts on the negative impact that the 90 minute rule had on the academies of United and Everton, along with others from all around the country.

Due to the limits and restrictions placed on United, the Academy could only scout and recruit from a limited number of players from the overall UK market. This coupled with sky high fees that buying clubs had to pay, due to tribunals set up, resulted in United and many other clubs with ambitious academies having to look abroad and recruiting talented youngsters for cheaper and with less regulations to put up with.

As McClair said: “You have to abide by the rules, but we have to do what is best for United. If it is appropriate for us to scout more abroad, then that is the line we will go down. We all want home-based players (lads from Greater Manchester) to do well, but if we find a couple of kids in France who are better, we will definitely endeavour to try and get them”.

I agree with what he says. If Manchester is not producing sufficient talent to satisfy our Academy goals, then we are well within our rights to look abroad and find the best young talents and bring them over to our academy. This is a by-product of the 90 minute rule and the tribunals, and UK academies (including United’s) would not be looking for talent from abroad to shore up the academy, if we were given the freedom to scout for young talent from all over the UK, just like it was pre-1998 going back many, many decades. Had it not been for such backwards rules imposed in 1998, it is likely that we would have managed to produce another batch as talented as 1992, and there would be less foreign players in our academy (except for those that are simply outstanding and among the best in their age group worldwide).

These are some of the difficulties that the United academy has had to go through for the past 15 years, and that is why i think its unfair when many United fans criticise the academy, because they aren’t willing to look at the problems facing the academy, let alone acknowledge them.

United academy vs La Masia

People keep saying our academy should be producing talents like the Barcelona academy is doing. But do those people know whether or not the conditions and regulations governing the Barcelona academy is the same as those facing United’s academy? No. Majority of them don’t know that Barcelona have much less restrictions and regulations to deal with than United.

Barcelona can bring a 14 year boy, from any corner of Spain, and have him live in La Masia and boarding houses. United can’t do that, since we would need the player’s entire family to come over to Manchester (within 60 or 90 minutes radius of the club, depending on the player’s age). Therefore, Barcelona not only have permission to scout and recruit from all of Spain, but they can also bring the boy to their academy without needing his whole family to move with him. Not only that, since the boy can live in their boarding school with other young talented boys, they also have more access to him and can train him even more. United on the other hand have to deal with geographical scouting/recruitment restrictions, no permission to put the boy in a boarding school run by them, and so have less time to train the player. So, a Barca player from any certain youth team age group, tends to be more talented/developed than a United player from the same youth team age group. Not only that, but when United want to sign a young player from another English club’s academy, it is usually a very expensive transfer due to the tribunal system. But Barcelona can sign any young player they want from another Spanish clubs academy for peanuts.

These are some of the main reasons why i think it’s ridiculous to compare the academy of United, to that of Barcelona. Also, its no surprise that the United academy hasn’t produced young talent like they used to for around two decades, no surprise it hasn’t produced a class like the 92 batch, no surprise we struggle to produce top quality youngsters for the first team, and no surprise why our academy is packed with foreign youngsters.

New rule introduced (EPPP, introduced in 2012/13 season)

But, i think our academy can once again reach old heights that were achieved two decades ago, and the many more decades before that. This is mainly due to the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan).

It will take a long time to explain the EPPP, and i will instead leave some links for you to read on this topic in detail. I am just going to explain the impact it will have on our academy in the near future and onwards.

The EPPP (introduced in 2012/13 season) will essentially grade all academies in the country, with the best academies given Tier 1 status, and the worst given Tier 4 status, and there are two Tiers in between, Tier 2 and Tier 3. It is likely that we will be given Tier 1 status (grading not yet complete), and this new system will have huge advantages for us, which i will list below.

1.) The 90 minute rule will be completely nullified. This means that we can scout and sign young players from all over the country. We will be able to bring some of the finest young talents to our academy and train them, like we used to do pre-1998.

2.) Instead of tribunals, we now have fixed compensation scheme if we want to sign a young player from another club’s academy. These tariffs are much cheaper and very affordable compared to the prices the tribunals used to set when the 90 minute rule was imposed in 1998.

3.) It will increase the amount of time we can spend developing a young player, due to our academy having/getting Tier 1 status

I can’t find anything negative these new rules will have for us really. As long we scout well, recruit effectively, develop the players properly and give them no reason to leave our academy for another clubs academy, then this system will see our academy return to the good old days, and then we can finally produce a conveyor belt of young talent ready for the first team, like all United fans want.

Also, the Premier League has been planning on starting boarding schools where schoolboys, with natural football talent, can be housed. They will do their normal schooling there, along with training with their club, and all this will increase the amount of time the club and their coaches have to develop the young players. One such boarding school is supposed to be built in Manchester, and this idea was planned before the EPPP rules were introduced. The plan of the boarding schools was to bypass the 90 minute rule that the FA had imposed, but despite the EPPP now nullifying the older rule, the boarding school idea still seems to be underway. There was speculation that in the next few years, Manchester United will have their own boarding school and accommodation for the students/players, similar to what Barcelona have in La Masia.

Conclusion

Our academy has suffered for the past 15 years due to the brainless FA coming up with and implementing the 90 minute rule. Our academy standards certainly dropped due to it, but due to EPPP and other measures, it is likely that the Academy standards will rise to its previous heights again.

One of the worst things about the 90 minute rule was that Sir Alex’s contacts and scouts in the UK had much less significance and weight due to the stupid rule. The EPPP, and the appointment of Moyes will give United a solid reason to build contacts and scouts in the UK again, so that we can scout and recruit the best young talent in the country for our academy. Moyes has stressed how important the academy is to United’s history, traditions and future plans. This is another reason why Moyes was the right choice. He is a British manager, who has been in the Premier League for a long time. He certainly has contacts and scouts in the country as well, and due to him being young, he can build more contacts, scouts and agents, which he can use to make the Manchester United academy as great as it used to be. Had a non-British manager been appointed as United manager, then its unlikely we would have been able to take full advantage of the EPPP, since they don’t have a large network of contacts in the local game. If not for anything else, then Moyes was at least the right choice for the academy to succeed. I feel the academy has done the best it could under the rubbish 90 minute rule, but i am confident the academy will see its standards increase now that the EPPP and Moyes have arrived.

Useful links

http://www.footballacademytalk.com/football-academy-revolution-or-disaster-the-new-fa-elite-player-performance-plan-eppp/

http://www.premierleague.com/content/premierleague/en-gb/youth/elite-player-performance-plan.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/22293207

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/8324495/Henry-Winter-Premier-Leagues-elite-plan-radical-overhaul-of-academy-system-to-help-top-schoolboy-talent.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/8956990/Elite-Player-Performance-Plan-will-put-youngsters-on-a-par-with-continental-contemporaries-says-Ged-Roddy-Premier-League-Youth-Director.html

http://pitchsidetalk.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/elite-player-performance-plan-an-insight/

http://www.thefootballschool.co.uk/2012/07/02/why-the-elite-player-performance-plan-eppp-will-not-work/

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