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Saturday, 30 December, 2000, 17:34 GMT
Old Trafford's youth exodus
Manchester United's European Cup winning side
Youth comes of age with Champions League success
BBC Sport Online's Bridget Chandler looks at why a new crop of young talent at Old Trafford seem to be finding themselves on the way out rather than the way up.

The sale of young Northern Ireland international David Healy from Manchester United to Preston North End is the latest example of the exodus of young talent from Old Trafford.

Healy's surprise move comes just weeks after Sir Alex Ferguson hinted the striker may be used as a first-team frontman as he attempted to overcome an injury crisis.

The ever-increasing list of names being removed from the staff is a far cry from the days when United built their success with untried talent.

In 1992, an outstanding group of young players brought the FA Youth Cup back to Old Trafford for the first time since the days of the Busby Babes.

David Healy
David Healy has left for Preston North End
Just as Sir Matt Busby's side had electrified fans in days gone by, there was much anticipation about the prospects of Fergie's so-called "Fledglings".

Under Ryan Giggs' captaincy, the youth team included the precocious talents of David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ben Thornley, Chris Casper and Keith Gillespie.

Other home-grown youngsters waiting in the wings for their turn to shine were Neville's younger brother, Philip, David Johnson and Robbie Savage.

To produce a crop of such talented players was a culmination of years of hard work by United's scouts and youth coaches.

Manchester United's success in the early part of the decade came to an abrupt halt in 1994-95 - prompting manager Ferguson to promote Beckham, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers.

Next big thing

The normally-astute pundit Alan Hansen famously declared "You can't win anything with kids". But Ferguson's side - five of whom were under 21 - went on to win the club's second double in three years.

In recent times, the talk has been of a new set of youngsters - a group hailed as the natural successors to the famous five and the Welsh wizard.

John Curtis, Wes Brown, Mark Wilson, Luke Chadwick, Danny Higginbotham, David Healy and Ronnie Wallwork have all been bandied about by the press as the next big thing.

John Curtis
John Curtis is pursuing his career at Blackburn Rovers

In the past, when the original fledglings began to mature there were places in the team to fill.

But the latest players have found it almost impossible to make an impression at the highest level due to the supreme quality of the regular first team.

In 1994, Beckham was farmed out to Preston North End by Sir Alex to give him a taste of first-team football.

His spell was successful and on his return he was instantly promoted to the first team to make his Premiership debut.


Healy, already a Northern Ireland international, followed in Beckham's footsteps on loan to the Lancashire club.

But instead of mirroring Beckham's future glories with United, Healy followed other one-time Old Trafford hopefuls Jonathan Macken, Michael Appleton and Colin Murdock to Preston on a permanent basis.

Of the original Fergie Fledglings, few found themselves having to make a living in the lower divisions.

Ben Thornley and Chris Casper never attained the heights of their team-mates, but both were hampered by serious injury.

Of Ferguson's new batch of young hopefuls, undoubtedly the most successful is Wesley Brown.

He was on the bench for United's European Cup win against Bayern Munich and has since successfully negotiated a serious knee injury to cement his first-team place.

Even Brown's immense talent has been unable to gain him first team football totally on its own merits - injuries to 10m Jaap Stam and experienced Ronny Johnsen have played a part.

Potential greats

But others have failed to make an impact at first-team level and have either left or remain in the reserves.

Defender Clegg has yet to make regular first team appearances and a similar fate is being endured by midfielder Wilson.

Despite being a highly-rated prospect, Wilson spent much of last season turning out for the reserves.

Wallwork is having better luck, having come off the bench several times during the 1999-2000 season, as is Chadwick.

Michael Clegg
Michael Clegg has yet to become a first team regular
But Higginbotham, who was loaned out to Royal Antwerp with Wallwork in 1998-1999, was transferred to Derby during the summer for a reported 2m.

He was accompanied by defender Curtis who, after a loan spell at Barnsley, was signed by Blackburn Rovers for more than 1m.

The fee for Healy is 1.5m - and the money being exchanged for young talent is sure to help Ferguson balance the books as transfer fees for top players continue to soar.

What has yet to be seen is whether in the long run United will rue the day they allowed so many potential greats to pursue their careers away from Old Trafford.

On the other hand, it could simply prove that when it comes to developing sides, Sir Alex Ferguson has an uncanny knack of knowing who should stay and who should go.

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30 Dec 00 |  Eng Prem
Magpies grab draw against Man Utd
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