Opinion: Ralf Rangnick has failed Manchester United’s youngsters in favour of underperformers

Known for having an eye for young talent and his successful recruitment track record, Ralf Rangnick has failed to utilize one of the most talented crops of players the Manchester United academy has ever pushed out in favor of consistently underperforming seniors. 

United are firmly in cruise control against Brentford at Old Trafford. It is the last home game of the season. With the score at 3-0 and with plenty of ticks left on the clock, not one academy player got a run out. Instead, the last substitution was used to bring on Edinson Cavani, who was MIA in the months prior and is about to leave. 

The preceding two subs were used to give a standing ovation to Juan Mata and Nemanja Matic, who are set to depart the club in the summer after being part of one of the worst decades of football in the club’s history. Fred and Phil Jones went on to replace them. And while the former is understandable, still playing Jones is absolutely inexplicable. 

There are plenty of other examples where an unpredictable change or a gamble could have paid dividends. But Rangnick persisted with playing the seniors. 

A common excuse to be heard is that the German head coach does not want the youngsters to be in the toxic environment that is currently the first team. But how is training with them and sitting on the bench and watching this United side perform any more beneficial to actually playing and picking up valuable senior experience? It’s not. 

In addition, inclusions in matchday squads have taken away youth team minutes from the likes of Alejandro Garnacho and Hannibal. It seems extremely counterproductive and just down right incompetent at times. Not to mention, Rangnick’s decision to trust Anthony Elanga has been repaid handsomely with the young Swede at the heart of the very few good things United have done on the pitch during the German’s tenure.

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Elanga has continued to develop while working his socks off for the badge, but that too was not enough to convince Rangnick to throw a few more youngsters out there. Instead, the German was shown further gratitude for his trust from his senior players this past weekend when United found themselves on the receiving end of a mighty 4-0 thumping at the hands of Brighton.

While there is nothing wrong with gradually bleeding a youth player into the first team environment, both Garnacho and Hannibal have been on the bench and around the first team for enough time to get minutes. There comes a point where making youngsters watch these performances from the sidelines and continuously opting not to choose them starts sending the wrong message. It’s like telling them that they are no better than what is currently out there and that would be a monumental lie. 

When United got ran off the pitch on the red side of the Mersey, the first tackle of the game was put in by 19-year-old Hannibal who was a late substitute. Before, not a single United player acted like they were in a rivalry game. The experienced veterans offered Liverpool their easiest fixture of the season, bar maybe the reverse fixture at the Theater of Dreams. 

Since then, Hannibal has been left out of three of four matchday squads. Those six minutes were his first and potentially last of the season. The rumor mill suggests that it was a method of punishment from Rangnick for the teenager being reckless and picking up a quick yellow card. That would explain a lot of things. But contrary to what Rangnick reportedly thinks, Hannibal was the only player trying for him and the club. 

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Teenage sensation Garnacho has been in the matchday squad for United’s last six Premier League fixtures. His lone appearance – a stoppage time cameo against Chelsea at home – was so short that popular football site Transfermarkt didn’t even record it as a minute played.

With United en route to the worst points tally in their Premier League history, 18-year-old Shola Shoretire – who was being gradually brought through by Ole Gunnar Solskjær at the end of last season – was completely forgotten about in this campaign. 

Shoretire made a surprise appearance on the bench against Chelsea with United in a bit of an injury crisis, but that was it. The creative midfielder’s only other first team appearance of the season was 22 minutes against Young Boys in the last Champions League group stage game. 

The often misconstrued thing is that nobody is asking Rangnick to play the teens in every single game, be it from the start or from the bench – though the results could not have been any worse if he did. The issue is that they have not been given a chance. They have been massively let down, underused and their progress and development significantly stagnated. 

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For a club that preaches “if you’re old enough, you’re good enough” and under a coach that promotes building around young talent, United fans have simply not seen it. Initially, with Rangnick’s lack of attachment to the club or the current squad, it felt as though maybe it would be easier for him to give up on some players in favor of new blood. But that has not been the case. 

The seniority in the squad has been over-trusted, even during Solskjaer’s time at the helm, and as a result, the results have once again hit rock bottom with the players feeling untouchable. One can only hope that the incoming Erik ten Hag will right his interim predecessor’s wrongs and give the kids a chance when they have earned it. 

Barcelona follow that model relentlessly and they already seem to be back on the right path all within the same season. 

Continuing to play an out of form and horribly under performing senior instead of a young talent, that may very well be the future of the club, is wrong and one of Rangnick’s many shortcomings as the interim boss. Instead of starting to invest in the future now, the fans spent the best part of the last six months watching the rot spread during undeserved farewells.

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