Ever since Alan Hansen wrote off Manchester United’s title chances in 1995 with the dismissive claim that “you never win anything with kids,” Sir Alex Ferguson has seemed determined to prove him wrong at every chance.
United boss Ferguson was back at it on Sunday as the Premier League leaders held their nerve to win the League Cup final after a penalty shoot-out against Tottenham despite fielding a team packed with youngsters.
A mature display from center-back Jonny Evans was at the heart of United’s ability to subdue Tottenham, while reserve keeper Ben Foster kept a cleansheet and then saved Jamie O’Hara’s penalty in the shoot-out.
Darron Gibson gave a commendable performance alongside Paul Scholes in midfield and only gifted teenage forward Danny Welbeck failed to shine, but his time will surely come.
Liverpool legend Hansen was made to eat his words all those years ago as Ferguson’s decision to give a group of unknown youngsters their chance paid off in spectacular fashion.
David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and brothers Gary and Phil Neville established a United dynasty that rules to this day.
The Scot believes in the sink-or-swim method when it comes to discovering if his prodigies have what it takes to survive at the highest level because he knows there is no substitute for the experience of playing and succeeding in this kind of showpiece.
“Think of next year now,” he said. “All the young players at the club know that if they get through, they will play in the final. It gives them a great incentive to see Evans, Gibson and Welbeck in the team.”
Welbeck and Gibson were making only their sixth starts for United and neither has appeared in the Premier League. Yet the talk has been of a new emerging crop of kids capable of emulating Beckham and company.
But producing influential performances against the likes of Derby and Blackburn earlier in the competition is one thing. Taking on a team of motivated internationals at the home of English football is quite another.
Welbeck, scorer of a sublime goal in the FA Cup at Derby, had a golden opportunity to banish any butterflies in the opening minutes when Scholes’ long pass sent him clear on goal.
A poor first touch allowed the chance to escape and, his confidence dented, the teenager faded before being replaced by Anderson after 56 minutes.
Gibson, a rangy Irish midfielder with the build of a rugby center, filled in capably for Michael Carrick and underlined his ability with a fierce swerving shot from long-range that flashed past a post in the first half.
Evans, the who has deputized for Nemanja Vidic so effectively this season, cut a composed figure alongside Rio Ferdinand.
Time and again he snuffed out the danger as Tottenham advanced menacingly down the right flank.
Gibson had held his own in midfield before making way just before extra-time for Ryan Giggs.
The aging midfielder scored in the shoot-out but fittingly it was Foster — a potential regular England keeper of the future — who helped United win in the shootout.
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