Manchester United could take a leaf out of their long-term rivals books and favour a youth policy that will only benefit the Red Devils moving forward under Ten Hag
While Arsenal ultimately came up short in their pursuit of Champions League qualification last term after falling spectacularly at the final hurdle, there was one constant positive throughout their campaign.
The Gunners managed to push local rivals Tottenham Hotspur right to the wire and did so with a youthful, vibrant team littered academy graduates such as Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah. This is a model Erik ten Hag can look to deploy as he prepares for life at the helm of Manchester United.
For all of the Red Devils concerns (and there are plenty), being starved of young, talented players is not one of them. As is the United way, the club have more than enough talented teenagers waiting in the wings if and when they are required.
Given Ten Hag’s background as the manager of Bayern Munich reserves and his time as first-team boss of Ajax, it is likely the Dutchman is a huge advocate of promoting young talent. Ajax’s entire model in recent years has been to rely upon players made from within the club before selling them on at a huge profit.
One of the players the Eredivisie giants did that with was Frenkie de Jong – United’s current main transfer target. While efforts to sign the current Barcelona star are ongoing, Ten Hag can use the opening exchanges of his first pre-season as Red Devils boss to get a good look at the young stars already on the books.
Hannibal Mejbri was handed his first-team debut under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, before enjoying a brief run in the senior side at the tail-end of last season during Ralf Rangnick’s ill-fated interim reign. Fans have immediately taken to his combative approach and no-nonsense challenges.
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Given United’s recent midfield exodus has seen the likes of Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic all depart, there could be a clear pathway emerging for Hannibal to stake his claim for a place in the first-team fold on a regular basis.
It is a similar situation for 21-year-old James Garner, who has only just returned from an incredibly promising loan spell with recently-promoted Nottingham Forest. The attacking midfielder reflected on his pre-season ambitions back at United.
“That’s what I’d like to do; go on pre-season and impress, it’s all up to me, really. It’s down to me as a player to impress him and hopefully make a mark,” Garner explained. “It’s huge (next season). I feel like last season my career has only just started, I’m still young, just turned 21 couple of months ago.
“I’ve had such a good season this season, with the national team and at club level as well. As you said, it’s very important now to hopefully play in the Premier League next season.”
It is the same story for Alejandro Garnacho, the exciting 17-year-old winger who joined United from La Liga giants Atletico Madrid. The teenager enjoyed a stunning season for United’s under-18’s and signed off with a return of 14 goals and six assists in 34 appearances across all competitions.
Those kind of numbers are difficult to ignore, as is lingering transfer interest from Real Madrid already. Ten Hag could soon be cornered into a position where if he doesn’t start handing Garnacho first-team minutes he risks losing him altogether.
Recent rumours have suggested that while Los Blancos are circling, United are preparing to offer him a new, drastically improved contract to commit Garnacho’s long-term future to the club. Keeping him at United could spark the beginning of the Red Devils very own youth revolution.