Manchester United and their ever-glowing academy system needs no outside help when it comes to nurturing promising young players, and neither does their incoming manager Erik ten Hag for that matter. Many parallels can be drawn between Ajax and the impending challenge that awaits the new boss at Old Trafford.
However, while Ten Hag and building foundations through homegrown gems go hand in and – as they do generally speaking for both United and the Amsterdam club – there can also be no harm in taking note of how Pep Guardiola has dealt with his own shining light at Manchester City.
Following a season that has thrown up more disaster than dazzlement, you can forgive any United supporter for waxing lyrical about their Madrid-born Argentine young star, Alejandro Garnacho, even if the traditional Old Trafford way is to remain circumspect and keep lofty predictions under wraps . They deserve hope to cling onto.
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Ten Hag brings a bucket-load of hope and, while the impending summer rebuild over one window will not solely decide his fortunes as United manager, United must begin next season in a better place than they finished the last one. Among the debris left by past failings in the market and an underperforming current squad – barring a rejuvenated David de Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo from last season – there are shoots of recovery in the next generation at United.
If the famous Class of 92 perhaps set expectations too high for academy teams, this current group – headed up by the magnificent Garnacho – showed their own potential in their stunning charge to FA Youth Cup glory.
Playing a fundamental role in that trophy win, Garnacho has already been tipped as a success story for the first-team – even though he’s only played 12 minutes in two cameo appearances. But United can learn lessons from Manchester City looking ahead.
Garnacho – not yet 18 – has already rubbed shoulders with Lionel Messi and Ronaldo. At such an age that honor is usually reserved for those with a PlayStation controller in hand. Dizzy and jaw-dropping heights for the teenager then, but United are the best placed to keep his dazzling feet on the ground.
So, too, was Guardiola when Phil Foden started to emerge at the Etihad Stadium and only over the past 18 months has the England starlet, 22, developed into an ‘undroppable’ member of this star-studded City team. In a process heavily condemned at the time, Guardiola held Foden back and held him back some more.
For most Premier League sides, the Stockport-born playmaker would have been good to go at 17 or, perhaps, even younger than that. Ultimately, though, he was kept on a leash before Guardiola could do so no more and he burst into life as one of the very best young players on the planet.
Along the way, Foden was dropped after superb performances yet constantly lauded by the revolutionary Catlan in his press conferences. Even that raised question marks over Foden when compared to Messi given that the Argentinian genius shouldered unbridled responsibility from Guardiola starting on day one.
Without getting into that age-old debate debate, Messi was from a different playbook altogether, as Garnacho can now testify. Along with Ronaldo, the Argentina captain has set an impossible benchmark for the next generation to follow.
However, if United are serious about Garnacho and the levels that he might go on to reach, they can look to Foden and Guardiola for a perfect blueprint in the short-term. That involves keeping the player’s development in-house and, in turn, resisting any temptation they have to send him out on loan.
It has certainly worked for Foden and it can work on the other side of Manchester.