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Manchester United's status as best producer of talent under threat from neighbours

By Paul Scholes

When I was a kid, if Manchester United wanted to sign you then joining Manchester City was not even a consideration.

United did not have to persuade. We'd have walked there ourselves.

Thirty years on, the picture in Manchester is very different and as a United fan, it worries me.

Trying to look at it from a neutral perspective, I have to say that what City have achieved is impressive and their impact on the youth scene in Manchester began long before the opening of their City Football Academy this week.

City have taken great strides in their youth academy programmes, to the extent where there are even United players past and present who have, or at least once had, sons at City's academy. That will be difficult for a lot of United fans to get their heads around. I guess when it comes to a parent wanting the best for their child, it takes precedence over even the deepest of loyalties.

Producing players is a very difficult process. I was part of a group who managed to battle our way right through the youth teams and reserves at a club we loved to be very successful in the first team. We know that it does not happen often.

Clearly City feel that if they can produce just a handful of first-team players from their new £200m academy it will have been worth the investment and surely that is right.

United have won 10 FA Youth Cups, more than any other club and eight more than City. Yet the buzz in Manchester is that it is City who now have the better academy programme and that they are getting the better players in the local area.

How that has happened, I can't be sure, but it will come down to more than one factor. Clearly the offer of a professional contract when a boy turns 17 and the size of that contract can never be ignored. It is also about the coaching too.

I am more in favour of creating players who know how to do the jobs they need to undertake in a game. At City the emphasis has, I am told, been more about teaching kids to play in certain systems.

I have heard that when the clubs play each other across the age groups, it is City who come out on top.

Some say winning is not that important in youth development. I disagree. You learn about being a footballer by playing matches and you learn about winning by winning those games.

At United, in the under-16s and under-18s, we were expected to win every week. My contemporaries, people like Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs, were born and bred winners, and that was the way United liked it. Winning games prepared us for the first team, where we were expected to win every time.

It is a nice idea to say to kids, "it doesn't matter about the result," but when you become a professional you quickly realise that is all that matters. The sooner you get the winning mentality, the better.

United last won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 and they were beaten by Chelsea in the semi-final the following year. City last won it in 2008 and in the last three years have been knocked out in the fifth round - twice by Fulham.

What might concern United fans is that in the last two years, their team has been eliminated by Burnley and Huddersfield Town.

The FA Youth Cup is just one way of taking the temperature of a club's academy. United have a fantastic history in producing players and there will always be boys who will want to come to the club. The issue is whether they are good enough for the first team.

Some of the current lads who have been promoted, such as Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett, have benefited from an injury crisis, but will they be there to stay in the long term?

The bigger picture is how City have upped the stakes with their new complex. United's Carrington base is a great training ground and academy, but City have taken theirs to another level. These things matter now.

It is a long way from the days when I used to get three buses from my home in north Manchester to the old Cliff training ground in Salford.

It is a subject that I make no excuse for returning to. In those days you were expected to get yourself to training on time. There were no minibuses to ferry you around. None of the mollycoddling. It was sink or swim and I loved it, especially being with my mates all day.

It taught me about being a good player and taking responsibility for myself. I learned to be streetwise, but things change and you can take nothing for granted.

In the modern era, United, with their history of being the greatest talent producer, have to watch that they do not become second choice in their own city.

Source Independent

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