This time two years ago, plenty was being written about Manchester United’s failing U-18 team. Paul McGuinness, son of former United manager Wilf, was in charge of the team and was suffering a dreadful losing streak.
The side lost 12 games on the bounce before McGuinness, who had been a coach at the club for 25 years, stepped down. United were bottom of the table and had just been thrashed 5-1 by Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup.
Brian McClair had left his post as Head of Academy the summer before and wasn’t replaced, showing how we had left our pride and joy to go to rot.
Days after McGuinness left, Nicky Butt filled the role vacated by McClair and six months later Kieran McKenna was appointed as the U-18 head coach.
The following season, United finished second in the league, nine points behind Manchester City, and ahead of Liverpool on the same points thanks to a goal difference superior by 15.
As it stands now, United’s U-18 team are top of the table, having won eight of the 13 games they’ve played this season.
United’s record of including a youth team graduate in every first team match day squad has now surpassed the 80-year mark. Jesse Lingard is scoring all the time while Marcus Rashford has played in every single game this season.
Scott McTominay also has a few appearances under his belt, while Angel Gomes, who is only 17, came on in our FA Cup win over Yeovil on Friday night.
With United’s academy thriving again, Butt spoke earlier in the season about what he sees his role to mean in respect to the development of players for the first team.
“My job is to get players to the first team and the best example I can give is that, a couple of years ago, we were given an absolute doing by Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup,” he said. “I was sat in the stand, I wasn’t in my current role at the time, bit I was still cringing. But fast-forward two years and we have Marcus playing over 50 first-team games last season – more than anyone else in the squad – and playing for England. With all due-respect, Chelsea haven’t produced one of their players for the first-team, and the end game for me is to get players into the first-team.”
When looking at the Chelsea team who beat United 5-1, Tammy Abraham is the only name that stands out. He is currently on loan at Swansea. Despite a bright start, he’s now gone 14 games without a goal, last scoring in October.
We would all like to see our academy graduates play more often, especially in cup competitions, but it’s a relief to see that the development of players has been made a priority again, and that the plan is working.