‘Six or seven could make it happen’ – How the Youth Cup final could launch new Manchester United careers – Richard Fay

The success of a club’s youth academy is not measured by the games it wins, but by the legacy of the players it nurtures. However, Manchester United may well have to make an exception for the FA Youth Cup final this week.

In the history of the prestigious youth tournament, United are the most successful side, having won 10 times, and on Wednesday night they will play their first final in 11 years when Nottingham Forest travel to Old Trafford in front of an exceptional crowd. most of whom will be waiting for trophy number 11.

“There’s definitely an excitement that’s starting to build,” U18s manager Travis Binnion told the Manchester Evening News. “It’s been a while since the semi-final and the week leading up to it we’ve been looking forward to it.

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“When you get to that stage of the competition, those previous successes in 1992 and 2011 are mentioned and you get compared to those bands a bit, which is good for the guys.

“People talk about the DNA at different clubs, but it’s really part of this football club. It goes right back to the fabric of it. There’s hair on the back of the neck that stands on end thinking of the Busby Babes of the class of ’92, 2011. The more than 4,000 endless games of academy products involved in the team.”

The record that Binnion talks about is still quite breathtaking. There are now 4,146 consecutive games in which a United academy player has played in a first team, and a list of 243 youth products who have played for the senior team.

With 63,455 tickets sold on Monday afternoon, United have already beaten the competition’s previous attendance record, which stood at 38,137 when United faced Arsenal in the 2007 semi-finals. extra for their academy programme, but also added pressure, as the outside world takes an ever-increasing interest in the game’s most famous youth roster.

“It’s non-negotiable at Manchester United,” said academy manager Nick Cox. “You will face difficult situations and you have to be able to deal with them. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they deal with them on the night.

“Our pressure is not to win games or trophies, although we are very competitive, but the pressure we feel as a team is to never let the boys down.

“Our pressure is to ensure that a player reaches his full potential, that we create incredible memories, that he leaves us enriched by the experience and that we can be proud of the work he does in adult life. .whether in football or not.. We have two duties here; a duty to the club to continue to develop players and a duty to the boys to make sure we don’t let them down in achieving this potential.”

Although this is the biggest crowd some of these players have ever encountered, they are no strangers to strolling past Old Trafford. The final marks the fifth time the U18s have played at the Theater of Dreams in the competition this season, and with the final now decided over one leg rather than two, that certainly looks like a notable advantage.

Cox added: “We’ve done our best to make sure we don’t get carried away with the whole cup race, that we treat every match as we would any other. But naturally, with the history of the competition and our association with it, there are excited young men and excited young coaches. That’s certainly the talking point of the training ground right now. There’s no way to keep a lid on the excitement, and why would we want to be a memorable night in. The boys need to enjoy it and make sure they savor it.

Having already made his debut for the first team, Alejandro Garnacho is the star of this exciting generation of youngsters. He has scored five goals in five Youth Cup appearances so far, scoring in all but one round before the final.

At the age of 17, he not only made his first-team debut, but trained with Cristiano Ronaldo at club level and Lionel Messi at international level. He is already a role model for those around him.

Binnion said: “He comes the other night (against Chelsea) and doesn’t touch the ball, but the reception he gets for two minutes, I don’t think you get that at other clubs.

“It’s the culmination of years and years of work. He’s done something most people will never do in their lifetime and he will continue and get better and better.



Alejandro Garnacho made his United debut against Chelsea.

“Literally a month ago he was in this group and now he’s in the first team. It’s inspiring because there are boys in the group who feel they’re going to be better than him and you have to have that confidence in yourself as a player.

“The boys in the band will believe ‘if he can do it, I can definitely do it’.

“You can’t put a price on that. You can have it all on one wall, you can say you do this and the other. But seeing it and feeling it consistently is a huge internal carrot.”

Garnacho isn’t the only one with invaluable experience, however. Many of these youngsters have already played in the EFL Trophy, Youth League or at U23 level for the club. Add to that the fact that the majority of them have represented the club in youth tournaments all over the world and age is just a number.

“Certainly,” Binnion answered without hesitation when asked if any of the Youth Cup sides could become a first-team regular. “That’s our job. We want to win the Youth Cup, but if five, six or seven of those boys go on and play in the Premier League and become household names, that’s a much bigger achievement.

“This club, better than anyone, has produced players for the game. I sincerely believe that if you are in the top six clubs, you have a duty to produce players for the English game.

“The number of players you see who had their formative years here. When you look at the teams on a weekend.

“That affiliation doesn’t leave them or us and there’s a real pride in seeing guys have careers and if you can produce three or four hundred games at any level you’ve got to be special enough to do it. .”

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A key appointment at youth level was Justin Cochrane as first team development manager. Before joining United last summer, he was on the verge of becoming England U21 manager and received offers from the Football League, but opted for a move to Old Trafford, still considered the pinnacle of youth development.

He said: “When I had the opportunity to join Manchester United and spoke with Nick Cox and Darren Fletcher, it was too big a role, too iconic a role for me as a developer to turn down. young talent.

“I’m new so can’t take any credit for the story, but it’s great to be in an environment where youth development is central to the club’s ethos. That’s what interests me as a developer. Seeing young players come in, it really puts the team in good stead for young players who potentially have an opportunity in the first team.”

Cochrane has brought new ideas to the academy, and there seems to be a real buzz around the place at the moment. It was his idea to appoint Paul McShane in an innovative player coaching role last summer and his idea to launch a work experience program which sees youngsters go to Football League clubs to get a taste of the professional game.



Justin Cochrane (right) poses with United academy manager Nick Cox

He added: “That’s how you thrive; seeing players progress and maximizing their potential. You know not all of them will be able to replace first-team superstars, but if they can go on and have a career, few doesn’t matter in the league, so you like to think you’ve done your job.

“Looking at this team, there might be a few United fans who will be happy to see in the next few years.

“They have a new manager coming so they want to make a good impression. They have the opportunity to win a trophy that would make them and their families happy. It’s a pivotal time for them but that’s not all. and end it all.

“They are still young players and the main goal for them is to keep developing day by day. This experience should be great for them and at that time they won’t be able to recreate in any other youth game. “

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