The Manchester United FA Youth Cup final offers silver after another disappointing season

On Wednesday night, a group of teenagers who are barely out of school will play at Old Trafford in front of more than 50,000 people. For some Manchester United fans who show up to watch the FA Youth Cup final, it will be a welcome opportunity to turn away from the gloomy season of watching the first team. For others, it will be an opportunity to look to the future.

Winning the competition – essentially the FA Cup for young players – is no guarantee of success in senior football, but if United players under 18 win Nottingham Forest and lift the trophy, they will follow in some familiar footsteps.

“When you get to this stage of the competition, those past successes are mentioned and you compare yourself a bit to those groups which is nice for the boys,” said under-18 coach Travis Binnion. “They can see what careers they have had and what names they have become. It’s nice for the boys to see what’s there for them if they continue to improve and develop their games.

“We want to win the Youth Cup, but if five, six or seven of these boys continue to play in the Premier League and be famous names, it’s a far greater success.”

Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, George Best, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Pogba they all have winning medals, and if the last group joins them, there is a good chance that at least one of the players on the show will, at some stage, play a key role for the first team.

United lifted the trophy a record 10 times, and at least one player from each of those winning teams recorded 80 or more senior appearances. The ’92 class, featuring Giggs, Beckham, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, contributed a total of 3,000 appearances and 100 major trophies. The last United team to win it in 2011 included Pogba and Jesse Lingardboth are still part of the 2022 team. Tom Heatonwinner with United in 2003, rejoined the club last summer.

It was a tough campaign for Pogba, Lingard, Heaton and the rest of the first team, but the youth entry into the Youth Cup final gave the club a much-needed boost.

“With the history of the competition and our connection to it, there are some excited young men and some excited young coaches,” said academy boss Nick Cox. “There must be talk of a training ground right now. There’s no way you can keep the excitement going, and why would we want that? It’s going to be a night to remember. Guys have to enjoy it and make sure you enjoy it.”

“I’m thrilled that 50,000 fans will show up and I hope they have a good time and leave feeling proud of their club. But I certainly don’t feel like we’re taking on extra responsibility for what’s happening at the first team level. Our pressure is not to win games.” or trophies, but ensuring that the player reaches his full potential. “

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United are treading a thin line with their young players. The final is heavily advertised, and a record audience is expected (all proceeds will go to the Manchester United Foundation), but the club also wants to ensure players are not put in the spotlight too soon. Pre-match interviews with the team were conducted in groups of three to ensure that no individual received too much attention, and although there was obvious pride among the coaching staff when Alejandro GarnachoThe 17-year-old striker, who signed from Atletico Madrid in 2020, was called up to the Argentine senior team, United was wary of too much noise about his achievement for fear of creating a title about “the next Lionel Messi”.

When Giggs, Beckham, Neville, Scholes and Butt won the Youth Cup 30 years ago, it was easier to keep players secret. The Academy Games attracted a handful of enduring fans, and without social media, they only became widely known when they were regulars on the first team. These days, Garnacho, whose senior career so far consists of a one-minute 1-1 draw with Chelsea last month, has videos on the skills on YouTube – one titled “The Jewel of Madrid: Who’s Manchester United Wonderkid” – and more more of 850,000 followers on Instagram.

“Alejandro comes one night and doesn’t touch the ball, but he got the reception for two minutes … I don’t think you will get that in other clubs,” Binnion added. “It’s the culmination of years and years of work, he’s done something most people will never do in their lives and he will go on and get better and better.”

“Literally, he was in this group a month ago, and now he’s part of the first team. It’s inspiring because there are guys in the group who feel they’ll be better than him, and you have to have faith in yourself as a player. The boys in the group will to believe ‘if he can do it, I can do it for sure.’ You can’t put a price on that. “

Win or lose against Forest, the main goal is to turn some of these U18s into regular first team players. Some could even be part of Erik ten Haag’s first pre-season tour in Thailand and Australia this summer.

During negotiations on the appointment of Ten Hague as the next permanent manager, the Dutchman recalled United’s desire to see young players being promoted to the first team. One of the reasons he got the job was his record at Ajax, another club with a famous academy. He made his first-team debut for more than 20 graduates during his time at Ajax and is expected to continue the trend when he takes over Old Trafford.

But for now, most fans will be content with a youth team that will secure a small silver line after a miserable season. To you, children.


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