Manchester United’s emphasis on the development and use of youth is nothing new. In the 50’s Joe Armstrong and Jimmy Murphy recruited and trained a set of young men that went on into the first team and under Sir Matt Busby became ‘The Busby Babes’. At the time this was a rarity as rather than develop players, teams usually just bought them but the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards and Liam Whelan more than proved they were worthy of first team football with their outstanding talent and performances. Sadly in 1958 the dynasty was cut short after 8 of the babes were killed in the Munich air disaster.
In the early 90s another United dynasty was built under Brian Kidd and Eric Harrison, they would go on to become ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’. Consisting of Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Robbie Savage and Keith Gillespie amongst others whilst some would depart and forge careers elsewhere the core of the team would remain at Old Trafford and help set United on their way to a period of dominance in English football that is yet to be replicated.
United’s youth set up and scouting system is one of the most revered in football and rightly so. It has spotted as well as produced some real talents of the game that have gone on to shine not only at Old Trafford but elsewhere.
Ryan Shawcross of Stoke has so impressed at the Britannia stadium that he is being linked with a move back to Old Trafford whilst Chris Eagles is an integral part of a Burnley squad looking to stave off relegation. United’s players can be found all over the league with Frazier Campbell, Sylvan Ebanks Blake and Jonathan Greening all in the top flight whilst the likes of Giuseppe Rossi and Gerard Pique are now making their name in Spain.
So now with a new wave of talent at Old Trafford, who is responsible for what could possibly be another great United dynasty?
Previously Ricky Sbragia managed the reserve team developing the likes of Darren Fletcher and Kieran Richardson whilst Les Kershaw was the director of the academy but now there are new faces in charge of the development of United’s promising youth.
Rene Meulensteen as well as being a first team coach helps with the teaching of technical skills, he has held the position before as well as previously managing the reserves so has experience working with youngsters.
Tony Whelan is the assistant academy director and is in charge of the development of all players at United aged 9-16. He was invited to coach at United’s centre of excellence in 1990 and when the academy was established in 1998 he joined the full time staff. Having previously played for the club he has been with United for over 20 years.
The son of a Busby Babe, Paul McGuinness’ role at the club is very important as well as being assistant academy director he is in charge of the development of players aged 17-21, a vital stage in their careers. If you combine this with his position as u18 manager, then McGuinness probably has a great say in who progresses into the first team at United.
The most recognisable of United’s youth staff is current reserve manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After gaining his coaching badges in 2008 Sir Alex Ferguson wasted no time in making him the reserve manager and he impressed instantly winning Manchester Senior Cup as well as the Lancashire Senior Cup and finishing second in the reserve league but it is not only his on field success that makes him a useful addition. He builds a rapport with the players making them want to perform for him as well as proving a useful figure in attracting young talent to the club.
This is team is headed by former United forward Brian McClair who has run United’s academy since 2006 following years of shadowing Les Kershaw the previous head. He is in charge of the development of over 150 kids amongst other things and travels abroad to see United’s talent based abroad. He previously managed the u19s as well as the reserve side handing the reigns over to Solskjaer.
Together this team is responsible for nurturing the talent that will look to carry on the rich tradition at the club and with players like Davide Petrucci, Reece Brown, Ryan Tuncliffe, Paul Pogba and Nick Ajose it is definitely an exciting time.