It has been a very productive season for Manchester United’s academy teams, with young players blossoming for the under-18s and under-23s.
But last month’s cancellation of the remainder of the academy campaign highlighted the deficiencies of the Premier League set up, which is not pushing the young players enough.
It saw United’s under-23 team play just four matches from December 17 onwards until the end of the season. That is not enough for any player’s development.
Why so little?
Prior to this point, the under-23s had been kept comparatively busy, thanks to involvement in the EFL Trophy which saw United enter an under-21 side.
From mid-December on, the lack of games became problematic.
The academy season had a winter break, resuming on January 6, with two further games that month, which included a 21-day break between games on January 10 and 31st.
A match in February against Swansea was postponed at their request, meaning United’s under-23 team had NO games that month.
United filled this time by going on a training camp to Portugal while the first team were in Marbella, with a couple of players flitting between the two squads.
There was one further game on March 2 before the season was postponed following the first team’s victory over LASK on March 12.
In these games, United elected to give necessary game time to recovering first team stars Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe, which was important, but it removed further game time for some of the already deprived under-23 cohort.
The lack of football has a detrimental effect on players. In the early part of the season, James Garner was able to mount a case for first team involvement thanks to repeated strong academy performances amid a busier schedule.
In 2020 he did not play a first team game, and a lack of under-23 football has to be a contributing factor.
Garner scored three goals in his four under-23 games in 2020, but spread over three months, and weeks apart, it was hard for him to build any momentum.
Dylan Levitt meanwhile was coming off an injury in early January, meaning he got the opportunity to start just two under-23 games in 2020.
Largie Ramazani was the star of the first half of the campaign, scoring nine goals. All this momentum was lost when the calendar year changed and games became more irregular.
Take a player like Ethan Galbraith, not always a starter, he played just two matches in 2020. That’s not enough to help him kick on.
Add in these unprecedented delays, and talents like end up with a severe lack of football at a key stage in their development.
Had there been a busier schedule from December to March, this would not be being felt so dramatically at youth level.
United attempted to redress the lack of matches by arranging friendlies in Portugal and Belgium. This was useful, but should not have been necessary.
The season being aborted in the way it was is unfortunate, but it should shine a spotlight on the insufficient number of opportunities given for United’s youngsters to play competitive matches.
It may lead to United looking to push more players out on loan next season, a risky proposition in itself.
Not all players will be ready for loan moves, and United have to choose these moves wisely.
It would be a shame if United end up being pushed into sending players out, due to concerns that the current academy set up can’t offer them the chances they need.
The Premier League need to make a change from the top. Nobody wants a situation where these young footballers are tasked with playing twice a week, but a regular schedule shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Just four games being played between mid-December and mid-March has not done anybody any favours.
Even now, it is afterthought. United sat second in the Premier League 2, which would have secured a promotion play-off place.
There is no word on whether United will go up, or stay put, or indeed if anybody at the Premier League cares.
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