Manchester United and Barcelona have dominated European football over the last ten years, and will again meet in the Champions League final on May 28th at Wembley. Much of both clubs success must be accredited to excellent youth systems, with a number of the key players in each side working their way through the respective academy’s; but who are the next superstars in the making that will keep the English and Spanish champions at the pinnacle of European football for years to come?
Barcelona enter into the final as favourites, and have played an impressive brand of attacking and possession football in Pep Guardiola’s reign over the last three seasons that has been rarely contained and much applauded. The side is full of international superstars, with the likes of Victor Valdes, club captian Carles Puyol, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and the mercurial Lionel Messi some of the world’s best players. The common theme of these players is that they all learnt their trade at La Masia and are products of the club’s stellar youth system.
Over the last couple of years a number of other youth team products have made their way through to the first team. Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez are now mainstays in the Catalan side, but who are the next young Messi’s in the making?
Bojan Krkic became the youngest Barcelona player to feature in a La Liga match when he made his debut for the first team at just 17 back in September 2007, boasting a record of 800+ goals in seven youth team seasons. The diminutive attacker has been hampered by injuries this season however, and is being linked in the Spanish press this week with a move to Valencia. Jeffren is a flying winger who has made fleeting appearances from the bench for the first team over the last two seasons, whilst Andreu Fontas has been included in the first team squad on occasion this season, but the central defender has struggled to break into the side. The most promising of the current batch of players however is Thiago Alcantara, a clever attacking midfielder who has made 14 appearances for Guardiola’s side this season, but will look to become a more regular feature next season.
United’s stranglehold over English football in the last 15 years was been largely due to the rise of youth players into world beaters, with Scholes, Beckham, Giggs etc putting all-comers to the sword. The current side have less internally developed players in its core, but Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans, John O’Shea and Darron Gibson have come through the ranks and are first team squad members.
Who the next big name youth product will be is yet to be seen, as the club have resorted to buying players straight into their first team, and the previously largely English or British first team is now more multicultural. Danny Welbeck, who has impressed on loan at Sunderland this season and made an appearance for England is a product of Carrington, as is Italian 19 year old Federico Macheda. However the brightest prospect for United is 21 year old midfielder Tom Cleverley, who on loan at Wigan has showed creativity, a range of passing and an excellent work rate this season; the player may very well make the Old Trafford first team next campaign.