Regular readers of this column, (I’m assured there are still some), will know I’ve got a thing about Johan Cruyff.
Outspoken, outrageously talented and an innovator both on and off the pitch. Really, what was there not to like.
The late, great Dutchman also had some pretty strong views on why teams should produce their own players too. Which, given that his name will always be inextricably linked with Ajax and Barcelona, is hardly surprising.
But, given their own success in the field of youth development, means Cruyff’s thoughts on what it takes to become mes que un club should be required reading for everyone working on footballing matters at Bramall Lane.
The former Netherlands international and three times Ballon d’Or winner once recounted a lovely tale about how, during his spell in charge at the Camp Nou, coaches used to marvel at one particular member of the Catalan’s talent school ‘La Masia.’ It revealed all you need to know about Cruyff’s principles, methods and style.
“They always said this boy was the best,” he recounted. “So I looked for him in Barca’s second team, but he didn’t play for them. So I looked for him in the youth team and he didn’t play for them. So then I looked for him in the third youth team, and there I found him.”
“And I said: ‘You told me he was the best?’ And the coaches said: ‘Ah, yes, but physically, he is small.’ So I said: ‘Put him in the first team. He will grow. Everybody grows.’ And they said: ‘Yes, but we will lose.’ I said: ‘If we lose, we lose. We need to create players.’”
The boy in question was Pep Guardiola who, as everybody knows, went on to do pretty okay for himself.
United’s work in this field might not have produced a Pep, Puyol, Pedro or Piqué. But it is exceptional nonetheless with internationals such as Phil Jagielka, Stephen Quinn and Kyle Walker all progressing through the Steelphalt Academy in recent years. Four graduates, including Ben Whiteman and David Brooks, were in the squad which beat Bristol City on Tuesday evening. Three featured at Bolton Wanderers on the opening day of the present campaign. The same number who started the match which effectively saw United secure promotion to the Premier League 10 years ago.
At least one home-grown player has been named in their first choice eleven for the past 64 matches and, when you consider the contributions of fellow alumni Len Badger, Mitch Ward and Dane Whitehouse, the lesson is clear. United are at the best when they have some ‘of their own’ in the side.