Ferguson troubled by failure of youth

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The Independent Football

Unwise though it probably is to read too much into one result, at least one conclusion from Manchester United's humiliating home defeat to a middling Coventry City side on Wednesday evening is unavoidable. It is that, regardless of whether there is any new golden generation on their horizon, which looks highly doubtful, United's present resources may be uncomfortably limited.

If the shadow line-up Sir Alex Ferguson chose to put out against Iain Dowie's Championship team was supposed to send out a positive message to the Premiership about the depth of United's squad, it failed horribly, their manager's embarrassment only compounded by the way a team of Arsenal understudies had beaten a strong Newcastle side the night before.

It was a miserable performance by a group of players whose talents, by their manager's admission, have been "trumpeted loudly". Words such as "shocked" and "flabbergasted" do not regularly pepper Sir Alex's post-match analyses and while, in the cynical view of United's attitude to the Carling Cup that persists even though they won it two years ago, some might wonder whether he would really lose sleep over an early exit, the emotion in his voice suggested genuine dismay.

The negligible impact made by Nani and Anderson will have hurt the most, given that the careful assessment by Ferguson and his scouts of the Portuguese and the Brazilian persuaded the release of a combined £35m in funds last summer.

At 20 and 19 respectively, the pair are hardly finished products, despite their price tags, and Nani looked as likely as anyone to rescue his team. Anderson, however, was largely anonymous. Taken off after 45 minutes of his Premier League debut against Sunderland, there is already a suspicion that he is an expensive mistake.

On the other hand, Ferguson may be equally disappointed with the lack of visible progress being made by his home-grown crop, those such as Phil Bardsley, Chris Eagles and Gerard Pique. His 13 Premier League starts for Aston Villa last season looked to have been of small benefit to Bardsley, who was taken off at half-time, while Pique struggled against the pace and desire of the double goal-scorer, Michael Mifsud.

Eagles and Lee Martin looked lightweight in attack while full-back Danny Simpson made a better impression than centre half Jonny Evans, who was another to see the substitutes board held up early.

They looked a brittle bunch, although since the era that spawned such as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Phil Neville – who all played when United suffered even deeper embarrassment at the hands of York City at Old Trafford in 1995 – successful graduates from Ferguson's experimental League Cup teams have been considerably outnumbered by those who have been tried and discarded.

More significantly, as United seek to defend the Premiership against Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal, they do not offer much insurance for Ferguson against injury.

"These boys will take some lessons from this," Ferguson said, "but they will have to learn them fast."

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