Former Manchester United right-back Paul Parker has told FourFourTwo that the Red Devils can’t rely on their academy products like Chelsea have this season.
Last weekend's 1-1 draw with Everton was the 4,000th consecutive match in which at least one of United’s academy players has featured, with Jesse Lingard, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and goalscorer Mason Greenwood all playing at Old Trafford.
But while left-back Brandon Williams has also made a positive breakthrough into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team in 2019-20, United are enduring another disappointing season in 6th place – one point behind Spurs, and four adrift of 4th-placed Chelsea.
The Blues themselves are now famed for their busy loan system, with many of the players who spent temporary stints away from west London – including Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Tammy Abraham – having stepped up after the club faced a transfer embargo last summer.
Parker, who played for United from 1991-96 and spent a brief time at Stamford Bridge in 1997, believes the Old Trafford giants must buy quality in January and beyond, and can’t depend on their academy to steer them through like the Blues’ youngsters have done this term.
“There’s a big difference – Manchester United have got kids and Chelsea have got young men,” Parker tells FourFourTwo. “They’ve been out, they’ve been overseas, they’ve had to live on their own, feed themselves, doing their own washing maybe.
“They’ve played in Belgium or wherever, they’ve played in hostile grounds, against different styles of football, had good days and bad days, missing family – they’ve done all that and come back hungry.
“These United players have only been playing in the Premier League 2, playing tippy-tappy non-contact football, so they haven’t done anything as such really, compared to those Chelsea boys.
“They’re lacking life experience. Those Chelsea boys have, in a certain way, done an apprenticeship which footballers don’t today – they don’t even clean boots anymore. So you can’t compare them. No way. They’re nowhere near, talent-wise or in terms of life skills.
“If United are going to want to bring young players in, they really need to beef up the squad with quality players; better players who can help those younger players come through.
“Some United fans – well, I don’t know whether to call them fans – are picking and choosing who is and isn’t good enough. But when you’ve got young players, it isn’t about ‘now’ – you know they’re going to be inconsistent, you know they’re going to make mistakes, so you want to know how they’ll deal with it afterwards. But they don’t even want to give them any time: that’s the problem.”
As a result, Parker says United’s current crop of young hopefuls are a far cry from the legendary Class of ‘92 who broke into Alex Ferguson’s mid-90s side.
“The likes of Nicky Butt and Gary Neville were cleaning boots, they were apprentices,” he tells FFT. “They were like men – they’d come in and train with you and weren’t sheepish, they were confident in their ability.
“And because they had the boss – who was there behind them as well, letting them know that they deserved to be there and to train with us – they were quite strong in that way.
“It’s changed since then. Because they don’t do that little bit of graft, it’s all easy now. They’re treated like professional footballers at 16 years of age; not kids who are coming through, who are having to clean terraces and wash down toilets.
“It’s a different thing, and people keep thinking about 1992. Christ, it’s 2019 – it’s completely different. Life’s changed.”
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