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Dion Fanning: Don't let facts get in way of myth of United youth policy

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No sooner had it been proven that Ed Woodward was now among the golden circle and received friendly texts from Mendes, than he had to deal with claims that he was now abandoning what Manchester United stood for. There is a dangerous sentimentality accompanying the fall of the Manchester United empire.

No sooner had it been proven that Ed Woodward was now among the golden circle and received friendly texts from Mendes, than he had to deal with claims that he was now abandoning what Manchester United stood for. There is a dangerous sentimentality accompanying the fall of the Manchester United empire.

Manchester United supporters looked fondly on Danny Welbeck because he had been at the club since he was nine, but in his dispassionate way Van Gaal seemed to see that as part of the reason for selling him (Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

Manchester United supporters looked fondly on Danny Welbeck because he had been at the club since he was nine, but in his dispassionate way Van Gaal seemed to see that as part of the reason for selling him (Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

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No sooner had it been proven that Ed Woodward was now among the golden circle and received friendly texts from Mendes, than he had to deal with claims that he was now abandoning what Manchester United stood for. There is a dangerous sentimentality accompanying the fall of the Manchester United empire.

A transfer window in which Manchester United replaced Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck with Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, even if Falcao is only for one season, can hardly be viewed as a failure.

Ed Woodward has spent the first year of his time in charge at Manchester United dealing with the criticism that he was unable to function in the transfer market. This summer, he demonstrated that he was close friends with Jorge Mendes and, in conjunction with Mendes, he has spent the last panicked weeks of the window establishing that even if Manchester United were desperate, they could be desperate with the elite. When they panic, they panic big.

No sooner had it been proven that Woodward was now among the golden circle and received friendly texts from Mendes, than he had to deal with claims that he was now abandoning what Manchester United stood for. There is a dangerous sentimentality accompanying the fall of the Manchester United empire.

The men who helped build that empire are at a loose end. Even if their lives are full and their days contain many engagements, they cannot have the sense of purpose they possessed when they were at the heart of Manchester United, and Manchester United was at the heart of everything that happened in English football.

Now they must find that purpose in other ways, even if it can sound like a lament. Some, like Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, are close to power still, while others, like Phil Neville and Paul Scholes, create roles for themselves in the media. Those who are in a position to comment do so with differing degrees of acerbity but they all share an understandable vision of the new United looking very much like the old Manchester United.

Mike Phelan is one who is lovingly embracing nostalgia, forgetting that selling young players has always been the Manchester United way and the club didn't think it was abandoning a principle when it sold Luke Chadwick and Jonathan Greening, certainly not when it considered its other defining principle: what does Alex Ferguson want?

The Class of '92 now stands for something more, an abstraction, a utopian ideal which is more powerful than the facts. In the year since Ferguson's retirement, it has become the governing myth. Perhaps it is more palatable than the reality that one man's fierce and unreasonable hold over all he surveyed created the modern Manchester United, even if that unreasonableness also created the conditions for its decline.

In the recent documentary to celebrate 50 years of Match of the Day, Alan Hansen's comments about winning nothing with kids were brought up again. It was probably too much to expect a show which spent a long time pointing out that people used to look forward to watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night to offer something other than cliche about Hansen's comments.

Hansen's own view is that he didn't realise that the kids he was talking about were so exceptional. It would probably have sounded like stubbornness if he had insisted that he was right, not just in the general but in the particular.

Manchester United won the double that year with Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona and Andy Cole. Pallister was signed for a British record fee for a defender, while Keane and Cole's signings were British transfer records. Even at this high point for youth players in the modern Manchester United (although the treble would match it), they were still driven by the pursuit of the best players and their team wasn't so much supplemented by them as built around them.

Since then, United's return on youth investment has been more in keeping with the standard. The Class of '92 remained so durable they created a sense that youth players were central to United but the future generations haven't made a similar impact. Wes Brown was the only academy player from later years in the side that won the European Cup in 2008.

Manchester United supporters look fondly on Welbeck because he had been at the club since he was nine but in his dispassionate way Van Gaal seemed to see that as part of the reason for selling him. Van Gaal had his standards and expecting him to be reasonable would defy the true spirit of Manchester United.

* * * * *

Like many great businessmen, Daniel Levy sometimes appears wasted in the world of football. With its unpredictability and its stubborn insistence that somewhere down the line the truth will be revealed, football should be something the entrepreneur cherishes, mimicking as it does the brutal world of the free market, the survival of the fittest.

Yet there is something prized more than the wholesome tussle between free marketeers and that is government backing. Nothing says modern capitalism more than state intervention, nothing allows a business to feel that it can develop a well-placed strategic initiative going forward than the idea that somebody else might pick up the bill.

Tottenham Hotspur announced last week that they would have to consider a year away from White Hart Lane thanks to a delay in redeveloping White Hart Lane, a decision which was only taken after Spurs lost the long and bitter fight with West Ham to move into the Olympic Stadium.

The Olympic Stadium was a substantial prize. The club would have to spend something to redevelop it but there was a massive contribution from the taxpayer which would make that more palatable. West Ham have since denied that they're getting a free stadium. Spurs would instead remain in their north London home and build a new stadium beside White Hart Lane. The local council reduced Spurs' obligations towards transport and other community aspects and Spurs will not be required to include any affordable housing among the apartments they will build on the current ground.

Yet Spurs now face a year away from White Hart Lane while Archway Sheet Metal Ltd, a company located alongside the ground, fight the compulsory purchase order as they look for adequate compensation to leave. They are reportedly the number one point of reference for steel in the catering and hospitality sector and they produce, among other things, the Archway Doner Kebab grill. More importantly, they understand how football and business work together.

dfanning@independent.ie

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