Last night I sat perched in row ZZ of the heaven stand at the ABSA Stadium Kingspark watching Manchester United play their second game of their pre season tour to South Africa. United, playing mainly a young, fringe team, came away with a 1-0 over Orlanda Pirates. This followed their 1-1 draw in the opening game against Kaizer Chiefs. Not “the Kaizer Chiefs” and “the Orlando Pirates” as the British media have been calling them. The South African media aren’t saying “the Manchester United.” United’s trip to South Africa ends on Saturday when they play the winner of Thursday’s match between Chiefs and Pirates.
Sitting as high up as I was it was fine for following and watching the game, but not so if you wanted to make out individual players most of the time. Which was a pity as United had started with the likes of Evans, Gibson, Martin, Eagles and Campbell, and this would have been the ideal time to take a look at the youngsters knocking on the first team door. With the 40-50 thousand fans watching the game a mixture of Pirates fans and local United fans the atmosphere was loud and passionate. The loudest cheers were reserved for Tevez, who on live evidence, is the driving force of the team. The man is a bulldog, strong, aggressive and full of running. He gives it all, whether it is the Champions League final or a pre season friendly. And everyone appreciates that. While it was sad for everyone in Durban that Giggs did not feature, sad for the real United fans, it was a pleasure to see Tevez in action. Scholes had a brief cameo too. But it was the youngsters that were on show.
Like I said early it is not always possible to tell who’s whom from so far up, so a full basis of a players performance could not easily be gauged, but there was enough to suggest whether or not someone could play. Evans at the back had the luxury of having Rio Ferdinand next to him. Ferdinand gets a lot of stick from United fans at times, who think he isn’t as good as he is said to be. Last nights match was a friendly, but what was very obvious was the class of Rio. He is a superb defender, a great leader, and has the touch of flair player. Rio had a calming affect on the young players in his team, and never again will I doubt his ability. TV follows the ball. In a live match you can see so much more. Rio organises the defense, and positions himself so well that it sometimes looks like he isn’t working as hard as he is. He’s world class.
As for the kids, at 22 Eagles is the oldest of the bunch, and although he does look a good player he is now at an age where he has to decide if he needs to go elsewhere or continue to try for a first team place. Ronaldo, Nani and Park are all ahead of him for right wing places, and he really needs to be playing a lot more at this stage of his career. Martin, on the other flank last night, has promise, but does not look like he’s going to get in ahead of any of the first team. He took his goal well, looked to have good pace, but did lack strength at times, and also dived in for tackles a bit dangerously. He should have had a penalty to go with his goal, after being taken down in the box, but like Eagles, does not yet look like he is going to break into the team. Gibson in central midfield looks a bit more promising. He fitted in well and looked tidy and composed throughout. Already capped at international level with Ireland, he looks like the best bet from the three. Frazier Campbell upfront is wanted by Hull, who he stared for on loan last season. With United light in numbers upfront he has the best chance of the players on view to get a first team chance, should he stay. His time on loan has done him the world of good, in terms of confidence and physical development. He looks to have a bit of pace on him, which would make him something different to Tevez and Rooney, as a front player who could run onto balls. Lacked a bit of composure last night, but that will come with more games. Evans, who has played more at international level for Northern Ireland then he has for United, is wanted by Sunderland, whom he has spent much of the last 2 seasons at on loan. Fergie is said to think highly of the young defender, and while he won’t get past Rio and Vidic yet, he could find himself getting more games this season to aid in his development, particularly with Pique having left.
It’s been a long time since anyone from the youth or reserves has made it to the first team squad. Brown is the last one to have made a lasting impact, while O’Shea and Fletcher have come through as squad players. It is perhaps becoming harder and harder to actual make that break through, but in truth, if you’re good enough, and patient enough, you’ll get your chance. When it come you have to take it. That will be the challenge of these young players on tour. Taking their chances.