Last updated : 10 January 2003 By Editor
From the Telegraph:

The uplifting story of Michael Tonge, who so shone for First Division Sheffield United on Wednesday night, does not cast much light on whether Sir Alex Ferguson was right or wrong to release him from Manchester United's academy.
Tonge's tale just highlights how wrong was Ferguson's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, to dismiss the importance of many smaller professional clubs.

Tonge was given a second chance by a club perceived as second-rate by the rich and famous and will soon be lured back to a Premiership outfit, his confidence and career rebuilt during his successful spell at Bramall Lane.

The history of football throws up many examples of players becoming stellar talents after suffering rejection by noted employers: David Platt famously left Old Trafford for Crewe Alexandra, Aston Villa and a World Cup semi-final.

Had things worked out differently for Tonge while rising through Manchester United's academy, the teenager would now be pushing along with erstwhile under-16 team-mates like Danny Pugh and Daniel Nardiello to catch Ferguson's eye.

But there is a silent lore at Old Trafford that a youngster may be good enough for most clubs but still not good enough for United. So the Mancunian handed back his red No 4 shirt and packed away all his medals from such tournaments as the North Tyneside Youth International.

Despite the fine brace, Wednesday indicated that Tonge is - for now - not yet a £5 million player, let alone the laughable £7 million sought by Neil Warnock, the club's manager.

But Tonge's current rate of development, his refusal to make hasty decisions in possession and obvious potential mark the England Under-20 international out as a genuine prospect. One day he may be worth £5 million.

Ferguson rarely makes mistakes in releasing youngsters. Even prominent Premiership players like Robbie Savage, a member of the famous '92 Youth Cup-winners off-loaded to Crewe Alexandra two years later, would never have made it in United's high-class midfield.

Other youth products who found gainful employment after rejection by Ferguson include David Healy, Danny Higginbotham, John Curtis, Ronnie Wallwork, David Johnson, Shaun Goater and Jonathan Macken among others. Good players but not good enough for United - the old story.

Ferguson could sleep easy knowing that few would come back to haunt him, although Keith Gillespie did for a while.

United's production line has slowed in recent seasons but occasional gems emerge such as John O'Shea. Those who fail to make the grade know that a Nationwide club like Sheffield United may just take a chance on them.