Manchester United's academy transfer spree could be a stroke of genius

Manchester United’s recent transfer windows have shown up elements of poor planning. One area in which the club may have got it spot on, is with a youth transfer drive over the past two seasons.

The reality of Brexit hit football this week when the FA announced restrictions on signing youth players from overseas.

The Independent report English clubs can no longer sign players from European clubs who are under 18.

These restrictions already applied for non-EU clubs, for instance in Brazil or Russia. Now the likes of Holland, Spain and France are added to the no-go list.

There are also limits on players under-21, with a cap of six who can be signed from abroad.


Brexit has been in the works since the referendum in the UK in 2016. United deserve credit for being active in the youth transfer market ahead of this.

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Youth transfer spree

United bought nine players to the club this past summer, six from abroad. This type of prolific spree is not sustainable long-term, because there are only a limited amount of academy spots. You can’t sign nine top tier talents every summer, or they will hurt each other’s development.

United have simply been stocking up in advance of the deadline, for the past two summers. The club deserve credit for this foresight.

This past summer United signed Radek Vitek from Sigma Olomouc, Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Tromso, Marc Jurado from Barcelona, Alvaro Fernandez from Real Madrid, Alejandro Garnacho from Atletico Madrid, and Willy Kambwala from Sochaux.

The previous year United landed Hannibal Mejbri from Monaco, Dillon Hoogewerf from Ajax, Mateo Mejia from Real Zaragoza, Bjorn Hardley from NAC Breda, and Johan Guadagno from IF Brommapojkarna.

There was some good planning here. If just one of these players becomes a regular in the first team, it will repay the investment. United obviously hope for a higher number than that.

The new rules obviously put United at a disadvantage in comparison to European rivals.

Marca reported how Dortmund wanted to sign Garnacho but failed because he preferred United. Under the new rules, United would not be able to compete for his signature.

Red-tape has held up United’s pursuit of Russian prodigy Sergey Pinyaev.

Sport-Express report how the Chernatovo Moscow youngster, 15, has had trials at United and impressed, but no deal can be struck before he reaches 18 as Russia was outside the EU. This type of restriction will become commonplace from 2021.

The problem is by time young players reach 18, their price tag can rocket. The elite talents will already have been playing first team football by then, just look at our own Mason Greenwood.

Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri both signed at 18 this summer and have cost United millions. It may be worthwhile investment still, but you can understand the attraction of snapping up even younger talent for a fraction of the price.

Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

What options are open to United now?

United have at least paid attention to the domestic market amid the focus on overseas players.

This past summer United signed Charlie McNeill from City, and Joe Hugill and Logan Pye from Sunderland.

In the past month deals have been struck to sign Jack Kingdon from Morecambe and Tom Wooster from Barnsley. Both will join the under-16s initially.

The club also have a lot of strong English talent on the books like Will Fish, Shola Shoretire, and Teden Mengi.

There will be added focus now on potential signings under 16 in England and Scotland. There will be plenty of competition, with clubs across the country now refocusing their strategy. United’s finances and big name obviously gives us an advantage over domestic competitors.

One loophole could be exploited by City, who co-own clubs overseas like Girona. They can still sign under-18 players and then loan them to the Spanish club.

There are no plans in the pipeline currently for United to do anything similar, but United could look to strike up a partnership, like the one which existed with Royal Antwerp in Belgium 20 years ago. That would allow United to potentially sign under-18 players and loan them abroad to develop.

United will likely be assessing these options, and The Athletic claim it is an option being considered. For now, the pressure is off.

Photo by Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images

The club’s transfer activity buying players from abroad for the last two years should sustain United for next season.

Most players are still 16 or 17 and have plenty of time to develop and could benefit from not having another big batch of competition added in 2021.

It looks like United have invested well. Players like Garnacho and Hansen-Aaroen have made bright starts this season, while Fernandez has joined Mejbri as an under-23s regular already.

The club are ahead of the game, as usual, when it comes to academy talent. And we should have faith that the next move has already been figured out.

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