Loanees from Manchester United’s youth ranks may be struggling because of the huge step-up in physicality and intensity.
That is according to former United striker Will Keane, who went out four times from Old Trafford during his career at the club, and is now at Wigan Athletic.
United sanctioned loan departures for midfield youth duo James Garner and Dylan Levitt in the summer, to Watford and Charlton respectively. Tahith Chong (Werder Bremen), Aliou Traore (OGC Nice) and Matej Kovar (Swindon) were among the other academy graduates to head out on loan.
There has been plenty of attention of Garner and Levitt, 19 and 20, who have had contrasting experiences so far this season. MEN Sport reported in the past week that United are considering recalling Wales international Levitt due to a lack of game-time at Charlton. Garner has fared a little better at Watford though has been left on the bench in recent matches.
Keane, who had his own struggles on loan at Queens Park Rangers in 2014, told the MEN how difficult it can be for youngsters.
He said: “It’s tough. I think the style of play, with these lads coming up through the ranks and then getting in the reserve team, they’re used to that and it’s a very technical game.
“And it’s not men’s football, so when you have that first exposure, it probably is a bit of a wake-up call to a lot of players, really. It’s a different game.
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United’s next game is against City in the Carabao Cup semi-final in midweek.
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“You step into a first-team environment; I remember my first experience when I was at QPR — I went to Wigan for an emergency loan for a few weeks first — but I went to QPR off the back of an injury and I hadn’t really got myself back fit. I threw myself into it thinking it would be a really good opportunity, they were at the top of the Championship, and it was tough. For a young lad up front, you’re playing against big centre-halves and you’ve got to put yourself about. And if you’re not fully fit and ready for that, it makes it even more difficult.
“It’s about them adapting to that and it’s a results-based business. So if the lads aren’t playing, maybe managers feel they’ve got to pick their team who they know are reliable and used to the level. They’re not going to be waiting around for players if they’re taking a bit of time to get used to it.
“The whole purpose of going out on loan is to get that game time and to keep developing as a young player. So if Levitt isn’t getting the minutes at Charlton, you want to be somewhere where you’ll be playing, to keep progressing.”
Keane explained how United’s coaches decide on whether to send players out on loan or not. He believes the success or some loanees will depend on their physicality and readiness for the cut-throat nature of league football.
“It’s a bit of all parties,” added the 27-year-old.
“It depends what clubs are interested in the player and then if they probably think it’s the right thing to get experience, it’s the next step before getting into the United first-team environment. For some players it’s natural, but you obviously have exceptions like your Marcus Rashfords who go straight into the first team and light it up and stay in, Mason Greenwood of late.
“It’s about trying to pick a club that suits you as a player, whether it’s style of football, but it’s very different to reserve football. I think for some players it’s a big wake-up call because it’s a very physical and intense game compared to what they’ve been used to.”
Keane believes all the current United loanees may return to Carrington having benefitted from the experience of going out on loan — whether they played regularly or not.
He added: “I think for the lads who go back to United, it makes you appreciate even more what you’ve got there, when you experience different facilities.
“Man United are one of the top clubs in the world and you can get used to what they’ve got there, so it makes you appreciate how good the place is. For me, just to get out and play senior football, to get my career up and running, that’s what you want to do. You want to become established as a first team player. Certain ones didn’t always go to plan for me, but it’s about playing games.”