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Man Utd vs Chelsea kids? Why there's no (& unfair) comparison

COMMENT: Not good enough. They're just not up to it. These Manchester United kids. They're not United standard. Just look at what's happening at Chelsea. There's simply no comparing...

Which is right. There is no comparing the youngsters Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is trying to bring through at United and what Frank Lampard has on his hands at Chelsea. And nor should there be. Indeed, those ex-players scrambling over eachother to condemn Solskjaer and the talent he's working with should know better. And instead of drawing the irrational comparison with Frank's Blue Babes, they should be informing the public of why the stark difference.

Because the answer is simple. Easy. And could actually lead to a decent debate about the differences between the two clubs regarding youth development and the use of the loan system.

It's stating the bleedin' obvious and this column apologises to those whom have already sent their remote or shoe through a screen. But the thing about comparing the kids we're seeing at Chelsea and what's coming through at United is that there is no comparison. The lads making headlines today: Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham, have also made headlines elsewhere. Mount had an outstanding year in Holland before last season's spell with Lampard at Derby County. Tomori also is no sudden star. His time with the Rams, which culminated with the club's Player of the Year gong, was actually his third loan spell after stints with Hull City and Brighton - where he didn't exactly pull up any trees. Which the same can be said of Abraham and his time with Swansea City. A period when many on the outside were encouraging the club to cut the lad loose. Again, like Tomori, it's taken Abraham three different loan spells away (Bristol City and Aston Villa included) to reach the level of what we're seeing today.

In contrast, the youngsters Solskjaer has turned to - Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong - are all in the middle of their first real experience as senior players. Yeah, they've had bits and pieces over the last two seasons. But this is the first time in their careers where there's an expectation of them as members of a senior squad. Something Tomori and Abraham were getting to grips with three seasons previous. Even Aaron Wan-Bissaka was only making his first team debut with Crystal Palace less than 18 months ago - just as Daniel James was doing as a Swansea City player. Indeed, amongst this United group, it is Axel Tuanzebe who boasts the longest time involved as a senior prospect.

So comparison? There is no comparison. But what is worth exploring is United's attitude to the loan system. An approach which is more about protecting and cultivating a saleable asset than any serious plan to develop a youngster for a first team future with the club. Tuanzebe aside, those youngsters earmarked as having the potential to be a United first teamer aren't risked to the loan system. Instead, they're kept in-house. The long-held view, dating back to Jose Mourinho's time in charge, is the most gifted are better served training with - and being around - the first team. If Reece James had accepted that offer from United 18 months ago, there'd have been no season with Wigan Athletic. Nor a Latics Player of the Year award for the Chelsea fullback.

So are United missing a trick here? Well, there is no hard and fast answer. The success and failures of youth development are always a slow burn. But the progress of Scott McTominay does offer United some hope that they're on the right track.

No-one saw the emergence of McTominay coming - outside of Mourinho, of course. Now a Scotland international and first-choice for Solskjaer, McTominay never came close to being capped at youth level by Scotland - nor England. But into his third season as a senior player, no pundit would dare claim he doesn't deserve his current status. Which wasn't exactly what was being said about the midfielder after his first season under Mourinho.

"McTominay, when I watch him, I'm not sure he's actually good enough on the ball to be a Man United midfield player," questioned former United captain Gary Neville. "Is he sharp enough on the ball to be a Man United central midfield player?"

But today - or at least last week - after McTominay's goalscoring performance for the draw with Arsenal, Neville was saying, ahem, something slightly different: “I have to say, he [McTominay] steps up every single game. He's always there and wants the ball every single time.

“He might give it away but he wants it again – and sometimes it's about having the temperament to play for a big club – and I think he's got that."

What hasn't yet been acknowledged is that McTominay's progress has continued since the change of manager. Indeed, this column would argue it's accelerated since Solskjaer and his staff have grabbed hold of him.

Which could be the same that awaits Greenwood and co in the coming seasons. So long as the club is patient and those making irrational comparisons are ignored.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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