Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if football banned transfers for monetary reward.
Well, you don’t actually have to imagine. The A-League, where former Sheffield United midfielder Nick Montgomery can now be found captaining Central Coast Mariners, does not permit players to be traded within the competition when a fee is involved. Although, as Anthony Caceres’ arrival at Melbourne City demonstrates, those willing bend the rules or apply a little imagination when interpreting them, there are loopholes to exploit. (Caceres, a former team mate of Montgomery in Gosford, was recently signed by Manchester City for $325,000 before being immediately loaned back to their Melbourne-based sister club).
The arrangement has provoked uproar Down Under, especially when it emerged Australia’s governing body the FFA is planning to conduct a review of its policy at the end of the present campaign.
What, I hear you ask, has this got to do with United? The answer is, to be honest, not a lot. But it did set me thinking. How would they fare if England adopted similar rules? What options might Nigel Adkins have at his disposal for tomorrow’s game against Port Vale were Premier and Football League teams prohibited from buying their rivals’ talent?
Inevitably, in Bramall Lane’s case, it would focus attention on a youth system which has proven remarkably successful in recent years. So I decided to scribble down a starting eleven comprised purely of players who have graduated from its academy programme and are still operating at first team level. The end results, in my opinion, suggest United might do pretty damn well: George Long, Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire, Kyle McFadzean, Kyle Naughton, Stephen Quinn, Jacob Mellis, Louis Reed, Aymen Tahar, Billy Sharp, Nicky Law.*
United’s bench, using exactly the same criteria, also appears reasonably strong: Substitutes: Aaron Ramsdale, Matthew Lowton, Terry Kennedy, Ryan Cresswell, Jordan Slew, Callum McFadzean, Adam Chapman.
Actually, if England are serious about producing more accomplished professionals, adopting the A-League’s system might not, albeit with a few tweaks to ensure that clubs do not lose access to financial lifelines, be such a bad idea. But my fantasy football game (feel free to tweet your own XI’s to @JamesShield1 by the way) also underlines the importance of long-term planning. Yes, United need to gain promotion to ensure they keep their best home-grown players. But they can not govern themselves solely on a season-by-season basis either.