David Moyes, as he looks to overhaul his Manchester United squad this summer, must look at players around Europe who used to play for Manchester United and who left before they reached their potential. In some instances, this was down to personal ambition (Pogba), a desire to move home (Piqué) or an inability to get into the first team (Ljajić,Tošić, Rossi).
Including substitute performances, between them they played fewer than 50 games for Manchester United.
Brendan Rodgers has consistently noted his small squad (although, it should be remembered, there are a fair chunk of Liverpool players out on loan at present including a couple he bought) but he too might look at some players who are playing at a high standard who were once at Anfield. Given the problems at the heart of Liverpool's defence it isn't fanciful to think that Mikel San José (now at Athletic Bilbao) and Gabriel Paletta (now at Parma) wouldn't have been useful. Emiliano Insúa, a squad player at Atletico Madrid, surely would bolster the troublesome left-back position.
Including substitute performances, between them they played 70 games for Liverpool - sparked upwards by Insua's 40-plus appearances in 2009/10.
Of course, I focused on Liverpool and Manchester United because of the big game this weekend. I don't bet on my own team but there's value in a Liverpool win. If you are bet minded and fancy a flutter click here but an examination of other leading clubs in England would tell a similar story. The same could be said of other clubs around Europe (cf. Sergio Canales)
So, what's the problem? Both clubs had better players available at the time and, rather than consign these lads to a lifetime of run outs in the Carling Cup. It may even be argued that the clubs have better players now or, at least, the ability to buy such players should they need to.
The problem is an increasing one for the globalised game. The bigger clubs want to bring in lots of young talent but only a small percentage of those players will make it to the first team.
In the instances above, the players have gone on to make a mockery of the decisions made by their former owners. They used the experience for their own benefit. Others, however, have been less lucky, Pacheco has been the next big thing at Liverpool for years now. Nemeth, for all the buzz around him, never got near the first team and has bounced around since. Vladimir Weiss, a young gun at Manchester City and a loan star at Rangers, is now playing in the Qatari league (aged 24).
This trawler like approach does lead to gems being discovered. Pogba, undoubtedly, was a gem that slipped through the net. Liverpool will benefit from Sterling's youthful move from QPR and will likely benefit from Ibe's move. In some instances - like Paletta and Ljajic - the players will shine elsewhere and will likely have benefitted from their time at an elite club during their development. In some instances though the stagnation - the lack of games at a young age - will stunt their development.
So what should clubs do? In this Moneyball era no club wants to buy a player at top dollar in their mid-20s. They'd much rather buy them at 18 and either sell them in their late 20s having got their best years whilst also making a huge profit. Moreover, the thought of missing out on a star to a competitor is one that will make manager's lose sleep like a phonecall from a player outside Chinawhites.
Unless and unitl UEFA, or FIFA, introduced tighter limits on the number of players a club can stockpile (this would have the other positive effect of talent being more evenly distributed and make leagues more competitive) this is something we will have to leave to the clubs.
It seems too much to ask clubs to leave players alone to develop as other clubs will swoop in their place. As Smith identifies, there seem to be two ways forward here:
First, encourage clubs to leave players at their club of origin until they are ready to put them into the first team squad.
Second, clubs to continue the process of loaning players out to clubs they know well and trust to develop the players.
I can't think of any other business that would operate in such a way. Look at major corporations and their selection policies. They seem to be far better at talent evaluation than football clubs are. That should change - for the good of the clubs and, more so, for the good of the players.
It is pleasing, as a football fan, to see the likes of San Jose, Paletta and Insua playing well around Europe. It is disappointing as a Liverpool fan to think what they could have done for Liverpool over the years.